, , , , ,

First Impressions Endure, Even In Brief Writing, by Bryan A. Garner, ABA Journal


We have a long history of judges saying that (1) little errors in a brief betoken bigger mistakes, (2) less is more, and (3) good briefs demand little physical or mental effort from the reader. Even so, briefs in most courts are astonishingly ill-proofread, they are rarely tight, and lawyers seldom confine themselves to two or three points. There’s a disconnect between what judges say they want and what lawyers give them. Curious.

There’s also a tendency to disbelieve things that can’t be scientifically proved. Hence I’ve heard lawyers say they don’t care so much about what judges say they find persuasive in written arguments. Those judges might not actually know what motivates them, the skeptical lawyers say. They want proof.

So let’s take the three points mentioned at the outset and see whether, when it comes to judging, there’s any scientific evidence to back up the anecdotal evidence that good writing enhances persuasion. We’ll use the findings of Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, the Princeton psychologist and economist who wrote a superb book: Thinking, Fast and Slow. What he says is most illuminating. . . .