Friday, August 21, 2015
Appearing in the current issue of the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies is an article by Gregory C. Sisk and Michael Heise entitled "'Too Many Notes'? An Empirical Study of Advocacy in Federal Appeals."
The warp and woof of U.S. law are threaded by the appellate courts, generating precedents on constitutional provisions, statutory texts, and common-law doctrines. Although the product of the appellate courts is regularly the subject of empirical study, less attention has been given to the sources and methods of appellate advocacy. Given the paramount place of written briefs in the appellate process, we should examine seriously the frequent complaint by appellate judges that briefs are too long and that prolixity weakens persuasive power. In a study of civil appeals in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, we discover that, for appellants, briefs of greater length are strongly correlated with success on appeal. For the party challenging an adverse decision below, persuasive completeness may be more important than condensed succinctness. The underlying cause of both greater appellant success and accompanying longer briefs may lie in the typically complex nature of the reversible civil appeal. In light of our findings, the current proposal to reduce the limits on number of words in federal appellate briefs may cut more sharply against appellants. Experienced appellate advocates submit that familiarity with appellate courts, the honed ability to craft the right arguments with the appropriate style in briefing, and expertise in navigating the appellate system provide superior legal representation to clients. Our study lends support to this claim. We found a positive correlation between success and experience for lawyers representing appellees, thus warranting further study of lawyer specialization.