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Why lawyers write excruciatingly long sentences

By November 18, 2009September 20th, 2023legal writing

There are so many reasons why legal writing is tedious and ineffective. For example, lawyers who write tedious, run-on sentences.

Why does this happen? And why does it happen more with older lawyers?

Think about how the West Digests are constructed.

You know, the headnotes maintained by West that are filled with blurbs about legal principles.

Anyway, I’m at the Fifth Circuit Law Library (availing myself of their West books and the free wifi), and I was reminded of something about the digests that’s really strange.

The digests have a convention about how they’re written that encourages lawyers to write long-winded sentences.

That’s probably one factor, although I’m sure there are many others (including an unhealthy obsession with “accuracy”).

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  • I’m sure the convention is that this will divert attention from the real issue at hand. To the layperson law writings can be extremely confusing and by making them long-winded will distort the issue at hand.

  • David Bustamante says:

    And may I add… In summarizing the holdings of a case, digest writers will try to incorporate all of the various facts and circumstances that serve to narrow the holdings and distinguish them from those of other cases, past, present, and future. This way they tend to withstand the test of time better than those summaries that rely too much on unqualified generalities.

  • Andrewraff says:

    Is each headnote deliberately written to stay within a single sentence?

  • Brett Allen says:

    Not being a lawyer, but having a great interest in law, could you show us some examples so those who don’t know what you’re referring to can have a guess?

  • mgcarlucci says:

    [Already have a wave invite, it’s great!]

    My professional responsibility professor said lawyers write long sentences to protect themselves, confuse others, and convince clients that they know the law, because the law is long and a short statement looks less prepared than a long one.

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