With all federal courts, and an ever-increasing number of state courts, requiring electronic filing, more judges (and law clerks) than ever are reading filed documents on screens, primarily on computers or tablets. This post is the first in a series of short posts about how to write for an audience reading your brief on a screen.
- Tip 1: Help readers work less and save their mental energy for the deep processing and analysis you want them to do. You can do this by avoiding inelegant variation (referring to the same thing in different ways). Inelegant variation makes people do the extra step of figuring out what terms refer to the same thing
I. The district court committed reversible error by excluding Smith’s report
A. the lower court abused its discretion in not admitting Smith’s report
B. The trial court’s improper action by refusing to admit Smith’s report was not harmless error
I. The district court committed reversible error because it excluded Smith’s report
A. The district court’s exclusion of Smith’s report was error
B. The district court’s error in excluding Smith’s report was reversible
- Tip 2: Lay out all of the steps of your reasoning. If you’re discussing a legal rule, tie it back to the facts of your case.
Keep your eyes out for next month’s post, when I’ll discuss more ways to write effectively for the 21st century reader.