Saturday, February 4, 2012

New legal "skills" scholarship: "Does the readability of your brief affect your chance of winning an appeal?"

This one is by Professors Lance Long (Stetson) and William F. Christensen (BYU). It can be found at 12 J. App. Prac. & Process 145 (2011) and here on SSRN.  From the abstract:

The study described in this article suggests that the length of sentences and words, which is “readability” for our purposes, probably does not make much difference in appellate brief writing. First, we found that most briefs are written at about the same level of readability; there simply is not much difference in how lawyers write appellate briefs when it comes to the length of sentences and words. Furthermore, the readability of most appellate briefs is well within the reading ability of the highly educated audience of appellate judges and justices. Second, the relatively small differences in readability are not related to the outcome of an appeal in a statistically significant manner. Our study did show, however, that the opinions of judges and justices are less readable than lawyers’ briefs and that the opinions of dissenting judges or justices are the least readable of all the appellate writing we analyzed. Ultimately, we conclude that readability, as determined by the Flesch Reading Ease scale, is a non-issue for legal writing at the appellate level. Although readability did not appear to be related to outcome, there was a statistically significant relationship between the readability of the courts’ majority and dissenting opinions. Dissenting opinions are decidedly less readable than majority opinions.


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