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"When numbers get serious": a study of plain English usage in briefs filed before the New York Court of Appeals.

B. Grade Level

The ideal trajectory of the Grade Level variant of the Flesch-Kincaid test should be exactly the opposite of the ideal Reading Ease trajectory, marking the transition from higher grade level (less plain) to lower grade level (more plain) writing. Figure 8 shows the ideal trajectory of Grade Level scores over the study's forty-year timespan, again showing a relatively flat decade and then a steady decrease in Grade Level scores as legal-writing education becomes more established in the legal academy and places more graduates into law firms and government positions where they put the Plain English principles of the academy into practice.

By contrast, but consistent with the actual Reading Ease scores, Figure 9 shows the trajectory of actual Grade Level scores, taken by decade.

The average Grade Level score for 1969-1978, the first decade of the study, was 12.2, with a dip to 10.7 in the second, 1979-1988 decade, and then a steady rise in Grade Level score, from 12.6 in the 1989-1998 decade, and 14.2 in the 1999-2008 decade.

As with the Reading Ease scores, the trajectory of Grade Level scores can be seen when viewed year by year, as shown in Figure 10.

The study begins in 1969 with a score of 11.5, and then reflects an improving trend through 1990, where the low score of 8.3 is achieved. The next year, however, the reverse of that trend begins to assert itself, with the score jumping to 10.1 in 1991 and reaching the peak score of 15.8 in 1996. The study records five additional scores higher than 15: in 1989 (15.5), 2000 (15.6), 2003 (15.1), 2004 (15.3), and 2005 (15.1), and with the exception of one starting dip to 9.2 in 2007, scores stay at or above the levels found in the 1970s, before the influence of legal-writing education could have had an effect on lawyer writing. The Grade Level combined scores for both civil and criminal briefs are as follows:

Grade Level: Civil and Criminal Scores Combined

Year   Score

1969    11.5
1970    13.6
1971    13.2
1972    11.7
1973    12.9
1974    11.5
1975    11.4
1976    12.4
1977    12.9
1978    10.9
1979     9.7
1980    10.5
1981     9.4
1982    12.9
1983    11.3
1984     9.5
1985    11.3
1986    10.7
1987    10.5
1988    11.3
1989     9.4
1990     8.3
1991    10.1
1992    10.8
1993    13.6
1994    14.5
1995    14.8
1996    15.8
1997    13.9
1998    14.6
1999    15.5
2000    15.6
2001    14.7
2002    14.8
2003    15.1
2004    15.3
2005    15.1
2006    14.6
2007     9.2
2008    12.3


As with the Reading Ease scores, while there are differences between Grade Level scores of briefs drafted for civil and criminal matters, both share the same general trajectory. The civil briefs begin with a score of 11.6 in 1969 and remain at about that level for more than two decades, rising to 14.8 the next year but returning to 11.4 in 1973, dropping to 10.0 in 1978 and returning to 11.8 in 1981, rising to 15.6 in 1982, dropping to 10.4 the next year, and coming back to 11.5 in 1988. After a two-year drop in score, to 9.3 in 1989 and the low score of 8.0 in 1990, the scores begin a steady climb thereafter, to a high score of 17 in 2003, followed by a drop to 9.3 in 2007 and 9.7 in 2008. Figure 11 charts the scores for civil cases.

The briefs filed in criminal cases begin with a score of 11.3 in 1969, and as with the civil scores, return to around that score for two decades, with a high score of 14.4 in 1973, a low score of 7.0 in 1981, and a score of 11.3 in 1987 and 11.2 in 1988. After a quick drop to the second-lowest score recorded--8.7 in 1990--the scores trend higher, peaking in 1996 and again in 2004 with scores of 16.2. After a similar dip to that shown in the civil scores in 2007, with a score of 9.2, the last year of the study shows a criminal brief Grade Level score of 15. Figure 12 charts the scores for criminal cases.

The Grade Level scores for both civil and criminal briefs are as follows:

Grade Level: Civil

Year   Score

1969    11.6
1970    14.8
1971    13.2
1972    13.2
1973    11.4
1974    10.3
1975    11.9
1976    13.1
1977    12.5
1978     10
1979    10.3
1980    10.2
1981    11.8
1982    15.6
1983    10.4
1984    10.3
1985    12.2
1986    11.3
1987     9.6
1988    11.5
1989     9.3
1990     8
1991    10.2
1992     9
1993    12.4
1994    13.6
1995    14.5
1996    15.4
1997    13.4
1998    14.9
1999    16.3
2000    16.3
2001     15
2002    15.8
2003     17
2004    14.4
2005    14.3
2006     15
2007     9.3
2008     9.7

Grade Level: Criminal

Year   Score

1969    11.3
1970    12.4
1971    13.2
1972    10.2
1973    14.4
1974    12.8
1975     11
1976    11.7
1977    13.4
1978    11.8
1979     9.1
1980    10.8
1981     7
1982    10.3
1983    12.3
1984     8.7
1985    10.5
1986    10.1
1987    11.3
1988    11.2
1989     9.4
1990     8.7
1991     9.9
1992    12.6
1993    14.9
1994    15.5
1995    15.1
1996    16.2
1997    14.5
1998    14.4
1999    14.7
2000    14.9
2001    14.5
2002    13.9
2003    13.1
2004    16.2
2005    15.8
2006    14.2
2007     9.2
2008     15


As with the Reading Ease scores, the trend can perhaps more readily be seen in the decade averages. Figure 13 shows the average for civil scores, beginning with the 1969-1978 decade's score of 11.2, an almost unchanged average score of 11.3 in the 1979-1988 decade, and then an increase to 12 in the 1989-1998 decade, and 14.3 in the 1999-2008 decade.

The criminal-brief scores show an improvement in Grade Level scores for the first two decades of the study, from 12.2 in the 1969-1978 decade to 10.1 in the 1979-1988 decade. Thereafter, though, the same trend as the civil scores can be seen, with a score of 11.6 in the 1989-1998 decade and 14.1 in the 1999-2008 decade. Figure 14 charts the decade average for Grade Level criminal scores.

C. Average Words per Sentence

One of the principal tenets of Plain English is that a sentence should contain as few words as possible. (67) Although opinions can differ as to how short an ideal sentence should be, at least one legal-writing textbook recommends sentences of "no more than twenty to twenty-five words." (68)

The study's per-decade-average scores show, however, that after a decline in the 1970s, briefs filed in the New York Court of Appeals have been getting wordier since the late 1980s. Figure 15 shows that the average score for the decade 1969-1978 was 17.8 words per sentence, dropping to 15.9 words in the 1979-1988 decade, and then climbing to 20.4 words in the 1989-1998 decade and 34.7 words in the 1999-2008 decade.

The study shows that the combined civil and criminal briefs followed the Plain English recommendation of staying below twenty to twenty-five words in the 1970s and 1980s, and then have become steadily wordier since. In 1969, the first year of the study, briefs had an average of 21.7 words per sentence, and that number climbed to 27.7 the next year. Thereafter, though, the average number of words per sentence dropped steadily to a low of 10.9 in 1989. The number started to climb in the next year, jumping from 15.8 in 1992 to 26.3 the next year, and reaching a high of 33.6 in 2004. The last two years of the study showed a precipitous drop in the average number of words in a sentence, from 27.4 in 2006 to 8.3 in 2007 and 18.1 in 2008. The trend for the last two decades, however, suggests that these two years were anomalous. Figure 16 charts the average words per sentence for both civil and criminal briefs.

The combined average word scores for civil and criminal briefs are as follows:

Average Words per Sentence: Civil and Criminal Combined

Year   Score

1969    21.1
1970    27.7
1971    25.5
1972    19.7
1973    21.4
1974    19.4
1975    19.3
1976    20.9
1977     21
1978    17.5
1979    12.9
1980    17.6
1981    15.4
1982    22.5
1983    16.4
1984    13.1
1985    16.6
1986    14.8
1987    14.4
1988    15.6
1989    10.9
1990    11.2
1991    15.4
1992    15.8
1993    26.3
1994    24.4
1995    27.7
1996    29.7
1997     26
1998    27.8
1999    28.7
2000    28.9
2001    26.6
2002     31
2003    28.3
2004    33.6
2005     27
2006    27.4
2007     8.3
2008    18.1


Civil and criminal briefs both followed similar tracks, with briefs getting less wordy during the first decade of the study and then getting progressively wordier thereafter. Civil briefs started at an average of 20.1 words per sentence, climbing to a high of 29.7 words in the next year and then dropping over the next twenty years, with one notable leap to 29.7 words in 1982, to a low of 9.2 words in 1989. After that, the average number of words in civil briefs climbed from 10.5 words in 1990 to a peak of 32.7 words in 2003. The last two years of the study showed a drop from 25.4 words in 2006 to 8.9 words in 2007 and 9.2 words in 2008. Figure 17 shows the average number of words per sentence for civil briefs.

A similar pattern is evident in the criminal-brief scores, with a starting average of 22.1, rising to 27.7 in 1973 and then dropping gradually to a low of 9.6 in 1990, jumping to 15.3 the next year and climbing to an average high of 41.2 words per sentence in 2004. As with the civil briefs, criminal briefs experienced a downward plunge in average word scores towards the end of the study, with scores falling from 29.4 in 2006 to 7.7 in 2007, but then rebounding to a score of 26.9 in 2008, the last year of the study. Figure 18 charts the average word score per year in criminal briefs.

The average words per sentence scores for civil and criminal briefs are:

Average Words per Sentence: Civil

Year   Score

1969    20.1
1970    29.7
1971    26.1
1972     23
1973    15.2
1974    17.7
1975    17.9
1976    21.2
1977    17.5
1978    14.1
1979    14.5
1980    16.7
1981    19.6
1982    29.7
1983    14.2
1984    14.4
1985    20.4
1986    17.4
1987    12.9
1988    14.6
1989     9.2
1990    10.5
1991    15.5
1992     11
1993    22.2
1994    20.3
1995    26.8
1996    27.5
1997    23.7
1998    26.9
1999    29.1
2000    26.1
2001    26.1
2002    31.7
2003    32.7
2004     26
2005    27.2
2006    25.4
2007     8.9
2008     9.2

Average Words per Sentence: Criminal

Year   Score

1969    22.1
1970    25.7
1971     25
1972    16.5
1973    27.7
1974    21.1
1975    20.6
1976    20.7
1977    24.4
1978     21
1979    11.3
1980    18.5
1981    11.2
1982    15.3
1983    18.7
1984    11.8
1985    12.8
1986    12.2
1987    15.9
1988    16.5
1989    12.6
1990     9.6
1991    15.3
1992    20.6
1993    30.4
1994    28.5
1995    28.6
1996     32
1997    28.2
1998    28.7
1999    28.4
2000    31.6
2001    27.1
2002    30.4
2003    23.9
2004    41.2
2005    26.8
2006    29.4
2007     7.7
2008    26.9


Given the fluctuations in yearly averages, the trend towards more words per sentence can best be seen in the decade averages shown in Figure 19, starting at 20.2 in the 1969-1978 decade, dropping to 17.4 in the 1979-1988 decade, and then climbing, first a little--to 18.4 in the 1989-1998 decade--and then more sharply, to 24.2 in the 1999-2008 decade.

As with the civil briefs, the initial trend in criminal briefs towards fewer average words per sentence, and the later reversal of that trend, can best be seen in the decade average scores, with a starting number of 22.5 for the 1969-1978 decade, falling to 14.4 in the 1979-1988 decade, and then climbing sharply to 23.4 in the 1989-1998 decade and climbing again to an average of 27.3 words per sentence in the 1999-2008 decade. Figure 20 charts the average decade scores.

D. Average Sentences per Paragraph

Another central pillar of the Plain English movement is that paragraphs should be short. Although "short" is, of course, a relative concept, at least one legal-writing textbook suggests an upper limit of eight to ten sentences in paragraphs. (69) While that number assumes that the writer has also followed the advice to keep the number of words per sentence down, the good news is that the study suggests that legal writers are aware of the wearying effects of long paragraphs and have been consistently careful to keep the average number of sentences per paragraph low, and substantially lower than the recommended maximum of eight to ten sentences.

In fact, over the forty years of briefs considered by the study, the average number of sentences per paragraph has only increased by one sentence, from 3.29 sentences in the 1969-1978 decade, through 3 sentences per paragraph in the 1979-1988 decade, and up to 4.2 sentences in the 1989-1998 decade, a number that was maintained during the 1999-2008 decade. Figure 21 shows the results of the average scores by decade. The changes look more dramatic than they are because of the sensitivity of the scale.

Similarly, while the year-to-year averages appear to have more dramatic peaks and valleys, the numbers do not reflect significant changes. The combined civil and criminal scores begin in 1969 with 2.9 sentences per paragraph, and stay around the three-sentences-per-paragraph average until 1990, when there is a one-year spike to 6.6 sentences. The number of sentences per paragraph drops back to 3.2 in 1991 and then rises to 4.2 in 1993, hovering thereafter around the 4.0 sentences per paragraph level. Figure 22 shows the average year-to-year scores.

These averages are reflected in both the civil and criminal brief analyses. For civil briefs, the average number of sentences per paragraph begins at 3.0 in 1969, drops to 2.3 in both 1979 and 1980, jumps to 4.2 in 1981 and 4.1 in 1982, and then drops back to an average of around 3.0 sentences per paragraph in 1983, specifically 3.4. The highest number of sentences is recorded in 1990, with 6.7 sentences per paragraph, and the numbers then fall back to 2.6 in 1991, and hover around a 3.0 sentences-per-paragraph average during the 1990s, increasing to an average of 4.0 sentences per paragraph in the 2000s. Figure 23 shows the results of the civil-brief analysis.

Figure 24 shows the decade average scores of civil briefs, reflecting slightly more than a half-sentence increase, from 3.0 sentences per paragraph during the twenty years between 1969 and 1988, and a 3.6 average in the twenty years between 1989 and 2008.

The criminal brief results are similar, starting with 2.7 sentences per paragraph in 1969, leaping to 6.0 sentences per paragraph in 1971, and falling back to 2.7 sentences the next year. As with civil briefs, 1990 produces a spike, with an average number of 6.5 sentences per paragraph, although the high point for criminal briefs is reached in 1998, with an average of 6.7 sentences per paragraph, with the numbers receding thereafter. Figure 25 shows the average sentences per paragraph for criminal briefs.

As with civil briefs, the decade averages are relatively constant, with an average of 3.5 sentences per paragraph in the 1969-1978 decade, 3.0 in the 1979-1988 decade, 4.3 in the 1989-1998 decade, and 4.7 in the 1999-2008 decade. Figure 26 shows these decade average scores.

E. Incidence of Passive Voice

The final aspect of lawyer writing studied was the incidence of passive voice occurring in a brief, expressed as a percentage of the whole sample. Legal-writing instructors, like most writing instructors, prefer the active voice to the passive. (70) One reason often given for this preference is simple expediency: Active voice takes fewer words than passive, and is therefore a simple way of cutting down the number of words in a document. (71) Some writing-instruction texts offer more colorful reasons for avoiding the passive voice. Stephen King, for example, claims that the passive voice is "safe. There is no troublesome action to contend with ...." (72)

This study suggests that, in general, lawyers appear to have heeded the Plain English message about passive voice. The combined decade scores for both civil and criminal briefs show that passive-voice use is decreasing, with the sampled portions of briefs registering 14.3% of passive voice in the 1969-1978 decade, a drop to 9.5% in the 1979-1988 decade, and then a modest but stable increase to 11.6% in the 1989-1998 decade and 11.8% in the 1999-2008 decade. Figure 27 shows these scores.

As one might expect, the year-to-year scores show considerably more fluctuation, beginning in 1969 with 17.2%, dropping to a remarkable low of 1.5% in 1990, and then rebounding to 20.6% in 1997 and 22.1% in 2006, followed by a drop to 5.3% the next year. Figure 28 shows these year-to-year scores.

The civil-brief scores reflect this pattern, starting at 25.2% in 1969 and oscillating, sometimes dramatically, as in the six-year span beginning in 1971, which had a score of 14%, followed by 9% in 1972, 15.2% in 1973, 11.2% in 1974, 9.2% in 1975, and 17.2% in 1976. The score dropped to a low of 2% in 1990, and reached a high of 27% in 2006. Figure 29 shows this up-and-down trend.

The decade averages smooth out these year-by-year differences and show that in the 1969-1978 decade, the sampled civil briefs had an average passive-voice incidence of 13.4%, dropping to 9.8% in the 1979-1988 decade, and then climbing to 10.6% in the 1989-1998 decade and 12.3% in the 1999-2008 decade. Thus passive-voice use in civil briefs, while still greater in the most recent decade than it was in the previous two, is still lower than it was in the first year of the study. Figure 30 reflects these scores.

The year-by-year average criminal-brief scores show a slightly different pattern, with an initial score of 9.2% in 1969, rising to a high of 24% in 1977 and falling to 5.2% in 1981. After a drop to 1% in 1990, (73) the percentages rebound to 20.2% in 1992 and 21.5% in 1997 before settling back down, although the seven-year period between 2001 and 2007 shows surprising volatility, with 13.5% in 2001, 5.5% in 2002, 16.5% in 2003, 15.7% in 2004, 9.7% in 2005, 17.2% in 2006, and 6% in 2007. Figure 31 shows the year-to-year scores for passive-voice use in criminal briefs.

Once again, the average decade scores show a clearer picture of the trend towards less use of the passive voice, with 15.2% in the 1969-1978 decade, 9.2% in the 1979-1988 decade, a jump to 12.7% in the 1989-1998 decade, and then a slight falling-off to 11.3% in the 1999-2008 decade. Figure 32 shows these scores.

IV. ANALYSIS

It would be easy to use this survey's results to support a "Chicken Little"-like concern that the legal-writing sky is falling, but that would be a mistake. The numbers reflected in this study are not intended to be statistically significant, and they only represent a snapshot taken of one court. Accordingly, they should not be thought of as representing the state of legal writing across all practice areas in every jurisdiction in the country.

But the survey's results should not be minimized either. The court involved is attended by lawyers from many law schools--located in New York state and elsewhere--and the numbers mirror the anecdotal observations of lawyers and judges that lawyer writing is not improving, despite the efforts of legal-writing faculty to inculcate Plain English principles into the writing techniques of graduating law students. Moreover, the fact that the results are generally consistent between civil and criminal practitioners suggests that the survey's results are capturing something beyond doctrinal genre expectations.

In fact, at first glance, the numbers generated by this study might lead an observer to believe that the increased emphasis on legal-writing education in the American legal academy over the past twenty-five years had, at best, done nothing to improve lawyer writing, and at worst, had actually helped to make the situation worse. But closer reflection makes clear that there are many reasons a writer might adopt a particular writing style when drafting an appellate brief that this study does not take into account, and that the study cannot support any causal conclusions for its results.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember while considering the study's results is that any form of writing is difficult to do well, and persuasive legal writing is a particularly difficult skill to master. A lawyer seeking to convince a court of a position in writing must employ rhetorical and narrative strategies, emphasize positive facts and law, and minimize unfavorable facts and law, while being bound by strict ethical and regulatory constraints. Lawyers are further limited by genre expectations that place practical limits on how experimental they can be when trying to write persuasively. Persuasive written advocacy is certainly not a task that can be mastered in the short time allotted to legal-writing programs in law schools. (74)

Even if legal writing were to get substantially more time in the academic curriculum, (75) it is unclear how much this would help; law practice exerts time, cost, and consequential pressures that can only be simulated to a degree by law schools. In any case, becoming a fluent and accomplished legal writer would almost certainly take longer than the three years of a traditional law degree, no matter how much time a student could devote to learning the skill. (76)

Further, not all law students come to law school displaying the same degree of writing competence. Criticism of the quality of incoming law student writing skills is not new. In 1950, Arthur Vanderbilt observed that there was "well-nigh universal criticism respecting the inability of [incoming] law students to think straight and to write and speak in clear, forceful, attractive English." (77) And writing in 1969, the first year of the current study, Albert Blaustein noted:

   [Law schools] have put the major blame on the failure of high
   school and college English composition teachers to send a better
   trained writer on to the graduate schools. But, to their credit,
   the law schools do more than assign blame. By now, practically
   every law school has some kind of legal writing program designed to
   produce better lawyer-writers. Yet no one is satisfied. (78)


Blaustein is not quite right. students are quite satisfied with their writing skills, at least when they enter law school. In a survey I conducted of students from several law schools in the summer of 2006, more than seventy percent of responders ranked their writing skills as "strong" or "very strong," while just over thirteen percent of responders ranked their skills as "average" or "weak." (79) The survey noted how much the students had written recently and in their previous academic careers, (80) concluding that:

   Almost one quarter of responding students indicated that they only
   prepared one draft of papers [as undergraduates], meaning that they
   had little or no experience in the editing, proofreading, and
   rewriting, skills most legal writing teachers identify as crucial
   to generating polished and technically correct writing. Even when
   drafts were prepared, 20% of responding students indicated that
   they "never" submitted drafts to their teachers, and almost 15%
   indicated that they "never" discussed drafts with teachers or
   teaching assistants. This was so even though slightly more than 20%
   of responding students indicated that they had taken six or more
   classes that focused primarily on writing and 57.7% indicated that
   they had taken between one and five such classes. (81)


These survey results caused me to speculate that incoming law students' overestimation of their writing skills might lead to unhappiness with their legal-writing course and its teachers, (82) and it might also be the case that a misguided overconfidence in their writing skills might cause law students to diminish the value of the writing instruction they receive in law school. And that would, in turn, perhaps cause lawyers to misjudge the importance of continuing to work on improving their writing skills while in practice.

In their study of how legal writing is perceived, Susan Hanley Kosse and David ButleRitchie suggested twelve possible reasons for poor legal writing in practice, suggesting that:

Lawyers do not write well ...

1. because they did not take a legal writing class in law school.

2. because law schools devalue legal writing classes.

3. because they do not get enough practice in law school.

4. because poor writing promotes their economic interests.

5. because of inertia.

6. because of deficiencies in their early education.

7. because the profession offers very little continuing education on improving writing skills.

8. because of time and financial constraints.

9. because they do not know they write badly.

10. because of the Generation X factor (in the case of new lawyers).

11. because of technology.

12. because they do not write regularly. (83)

Some of these reasons do not advance the discussion far. It might have been true, for example, that many lawyers in the past did not take a legal-writing class in law school, but it is unlikely that most lawyers who graduated since the rise of legal writing as a recognized discipline within the American legal academy, (84) and especially since the MacCrate Report's emphasis on the importance of legal-writing skills, have not taken at least one writing class in law school. (85) Similarly, while the problems of legal writing's status within the legal academy are well documented, (86) and some students, at least, are doubtless persuaded by these status issues to take their legal-writing studies less seriously than they otherwise might, it seems unlikely that this is a significant cause of this study's results. (87)

But while some of the Kosse and ButleRitchie factors might not be at issue, the present study also suggests that other items on their list might indeed be at play. For example, the generational shift in the lawyer population might well be reflected in the survey. Generation X, in its broadest definition, "sweeps in those individuals born between 1961 and 1981." (88) That means that apart from a few advanced members of the cohort, Generation X law students started arriving in law schools in 1982, when they were twenty-one years old, and were beginning to enter practice three years later, in 1985. Allowing for a few years in order for these junior lawyers to gain the seniority necessary to draft appellate briefs in New York's Court of Appeals, one might expect to see their work reflected in the study beginning around 1988.

And the study does suggest that some change happened around this time. The combined civil and criminal Reading Ease score, for example, reaches a peak of 53.4 in 1990 and drops steadily from then for several years: 47.7 in 1991, 43.6 in 1992, 34.6 in 1993, 30.2 in 1994, 29.8 in 1995, and 29.5 in 1996. (89) Scores rebound somewhat thereafter--36 in 1997 and 34 in 1998--but never again ascend to pre-1991 averages. (90)

As one would expect, the Grade Level scores show a similar trend, with a low score of 8.3 in 1990 and then a steady increase for the next several years--10.1 in 1991, 10.8 in 1992, 13.6 in 1993, 14.5 in 1994, 14.8 in 1995, and 15.8 in 1996--before a slight fallback to 13.9 in 1997 and 14.6 in 1998. (91) Thereafter, scores remain consistently higher than they had pre-1990, with the exception of a one-time dip to 9.2 in 2007. (92)

Kosse and ButleRitchie's observation that neither law students nor practitioners write enough to refine and improve their writing skills is also doubtless correct and significant. Finding ways to allow law students to write more carefully-supervised work while in law school, and finding ways to allow new lawyers to continue to write in a supervised environment once they reach practice, (93) would likely help to produce better results than the study observed.

There might also be a technological explanation for some of the study's results. The observed decline in Reading Ease scores, and the parallel increase in the Grade Level scores, begin at roughly the same time that the traditional dictate-and-type model of document creation in law offices was being replaced by the current word-processor model. (94) It is possible that the move from a model where a lawyer and assistant worked together to create a document to a model in which the lawyer can, if so desired, act as sole writer, editor, proofreader, and publisher of the document has led to a deterioration in standards. (95) The ability to make more rapid changes in a document, and to wait until later before a document is locked into final form, might also make it possible for a lawyer to spend less time on reflection and editing and more time in the document's primary drafting stage, thereby leading to a less polished final product. This reasoning would suggest that time and financial constraints might indeed be significant reasons for the way lawyers write.

Most significantly, though, Kosse and ButleRitchie's suggestion of "inertia" in law practice could explain why the message of Plain English appears not to be heard by the practice community. As Kosse and ButleRitchie note, "a junior member in a firm may be reluctant to write clearly and concisely if the senior partners write in a more labored style. And some clients may insist on the 'traditional' style of writing." (96) In addition, Professor Wayne Schiess observes that "[i]t's easier to drag out the old form, copy it, and file it. It's harder to justify the cost or the time to reformat the old form into contemporary style and revise it into plain language." (97)

Kosse and ButleRitchie and Schiess use the word "inertia" to describe this phenomenon, but perhaps "choice" would be better, or, at least, more accurate. The role of time and expense, observed by Schiess, is hardly a minimal one, and in contemporary law practice, it is entirely possible that a lawyer might consider the cost--to both the client and to the lawyer, in terms of lost time to perform other tasks, of preparing multiple drafts of a document and seeking to refine the writing style until it is as plain and clear as possible--with the benefit to be gained by such refinement. As rational economic actors, behaving in their own enlightened self-interest, lawyers would likely seek to improve their writing only if they believed that the benefit would outweigh the costs, leading to the possibility that they are aware of, but are unconvinced by, the claims of Plain English advocates.

If this is the case, the fate of Plain English in the law is likely to be an unhappy one. Lawyers will only change their writing style if they believe that the penalty for failing to do so will be so severe that it is in their best economic or professional interests to do so. Assuming that their documents are sufficiently competent to escape censure from a court, most lawyers would--correctly--assume that judges will decide a case based on the facts and the law, not on the lawyer's writing style. Accordingly, without the threat of actual negative consequences attaching to their poor writing, lawyers have little incentive to improve their writing, even if they know judges are ill-satisfied with the way they write.

Or perhaps lawyers are unconscious of how their writing is perceived by clients and judges and do not realize they write badly. The present generation of lawyers, at least, appears to have entered law school with an unrealistic belief that they are good writers. (98) If law school did not alter that belief, then those students might enter practice with the same exaggerated belief in their writing abilities.

After all, the lawyers who drafted the documents analyzed in this study continue to write in much the same style as lawyers have always written. If so, perhaps this false perception might be the reason why lawyers give little attention to improving their writing skills. Put simply, if lawyers think they write well, they likely will see no reason to improve skills they already believe to be adequate.

And it might be the case that lawyers simply do not like the idea of Plain English. George Gopen has likened legal language to its guild symbol, or "livery," (99) and Robert Benson has noted that legalese is "at best a symbol of alienation and at worst a tool to intimidate and exploit the public." (100) A more benign way of expressing this notion is David Crump's point that "[o]ne of the legitimate functions of formal language is to convey dignity, solemnity, and gravity ...." (101) If lawyers want to use language as an extracommunicative sign of their profession, then no amount of persuasion that Plain English is a more effective way of writing will likely stop them.

This study, then, offers the tantalizing prospect of providing data to support some long-held beliefs about the reasons for poor lawyer writing. But such a prospect is a chimera, a mirage that cannot form a tangible reality. Is the reason for a decrease in writing standards generational? Technological? Cultural? Perhaps a result of the decline in reading standards that has been observed by the National Endowment for the Arts? (102) A change in the way writing is taught in American schools? Choice? Ignorance? Other factors? A combination of factors? This survey cannot answer these questions, limiting itself to a description of effect without being able to suggest cause.

Equally, the survey does not allow for any conclusions about the effect of legal-writing programs on the observed changes in legal writing. While a positive result might have been attributable to legal-writing training, particularly if it was directly correlated in time to the change, the negative results observed by the study cannot be similarly attributed to legal-writing training. It is much more likely, in fact, that the numbers would have been substantially worse had legal-writing programs not been doing what they could to improve writing standards among law students.

Accordingly, while the data suggest that writing in the studied briefs underwent a change in the late 1980s and early 1990s from which it has not yet recovered, the study cannot allow a researcher to tell if that change was the result of pedagogical decisions made years before, of technological or generational changes over which teachers have no control, or some unidentified reason. And while speculation over potential causes might be interesting, it is ultimately fruitless unless some additional research can more specifically identify the reasons for the observed changes in lawyer writing.

V. CONCLUSION

The present study appears to flatly contradict the optimistic assessment of the Coleman/Phung study that "[a] gradual historical trend towards plainer writing is revealed over recent decades." (103) There are several possible reasons for this disparity, including methodological differences and the use of a corpus of documents from different jurisdictions. But even the Coleman/Phung study revealed equivocal results when studying the analysis section of its studied briefs, the same part of the brief analyzed in this study. (104) So while the Coleman/Phung study suggests that lawyers are writing their Statement of Facts in a more "plain" style, especially in documents filed before the Supreme Court, it does not necessarily contradict this study's findings that the same cannot be said for the analysis section of briefs, especially in those filed before the New York Court of Appeals.

While this survey identifies an effect, it cannot point to a particular cause. But while the survey might not support causal conclusions for its results, it does allow for some more definite suggestions about possible solutions to the effects it records. Most significantly, while some, or perhaps even all, the problems causing a decline in the quality of lawyer writing might be outside the control of legal-writing programs, the survey's results nonetheless suggest that the role of legal-writing programs in the legal academy should be reviewed and substantially enhanced. If the problem is the quality of writing education our students are receiving before they enter law schools, then law schools should consider expanding the role of legal-writing programs to engage students before they enter law school. (105) And law schools might also consider enhancing entrance standards in order to emphasize the crucial importance of skillful writing. (106) Difficult though both of these steps might be to implement, it is worth remembering that, for most lawyers, the legal-writing classes they take in the first year of law school are the last formalized writing instruction they will ever get. Viewed in that light, finding ways of improving their writing before they come to law school seems to be a crucial step along the path of improving lawyer writing.

Most importantly, though, in order to help improve the quality of written work product produced by practicing lawyers, law schools should consider expanding their pedagogical reach to include their alumni, in an attempt to counteract the potential effects of lawyer inertia or choice and poor practice habits on lawyer writing. Every practicing lawyer is an alumnus of a law school and the study suggests that a substantial number could use help to improve their writing skills. (107) Technological developments in recent years make it possible for law schools to offer such help to their alumni base, (108) even when those alumni might be geographically dispersed and unable, or unwilling, to return to the campus.

Such an approach would require resources, of course, both in terms of people and technology. And teachers devoted to such activities could not also be expected to maintain full teaching loads within the institution. But given the current turbulent times for legal education, (109) a law school that demonstrates to its alumni and to its students' prospective employers that it has a dedicated commitment to the long-term improvement of its alumni's writing, might well be able to carve out a niche that sets it apart from other, less involved, law schools.

All of this suggests a central role for legal-writing faculty in all stages of a lawyer's development, from before entry into law school, through the three years of intense study in law school, and on into practice, as lawyers strive to improve their skills. Practitioners--or, to give them their alternative title, alumni--should insist that law schools do as much as possible to support the development and maintenance of highly skilled legal-writing faculty who can help the entire law-school community to improve lawyer writing. Alumni should have a reasonable expectation that the law schools, to which they paid so much in tuition, and which now seek alumni's financial support, will not consider their educational responsibilities to end once students have crossed the stage at commencement.

The data in this study might not suggest that legal-writing education is at fault for an apparent failure to improve the quality of legal writing, but it does suggest that the anecdotal reports about the poor nature of legal writing are correct. The entire legal academy--not just one segment of that academy--has the ability, and arguably, the responsibility, to work at arresting the decline in practitioner writing standards and to make an affirmative change in the quality of legal writing in practice. Making the institutional commitment necessary to effect such changes might require time, energy, and cost, but the potential institutional and societal benefits to be garnered from such efforts are too substantial to be ignored. And failure to make such a commitment could exacerbate the problems currently facing the legal academy, to the detriment of all.

(1.) See generally Kristin B. Gerdy, Introduction to the Legal Writing Institute: Celebrating 25 Years of Teaching & Scholarship, 61 MERCER L. REV. 759 (2010). For a concise discussion of the history of legal writing as a discipline, see generally Linda L. Berger et al., The Past, Presence, and Future of Legal Writing Scholarship: Rhetoric, Voice, and Community, 16 LEGAL WRITING: J. LEGAL WRITING INST. 521 (2010), and Mary S. Lawrence, The Legal Writing Institute--The Beginning: Extraordinary Vision, Extraordinary Accomplishment, 11 LEGAL WRITING: J. LEGAL WRITING INST. 213 (2005). It is difficult to date with precision the origins of legal writing as a subject of study. Lawyers were giving each other advice on how to write in the nineteenth century. See, e.g., Irwin Taylor, Preparation of a Legal Brief, 6 AM. LAW. 219 (1898), quoted in Helen A. Anderson, Changing Fashions in Advocacy: 100 Years of Brief-Writing Advice, 11 J. App. Prac. & Process 1, 9 n.23 (2010). The publication of David Mellnikoff's The Language of the Law, in 1963, and his Legal Writing: Sense and Nonsense in 1982, helped to provide a contemporary basis for the study and teaching of legal writing in the American legal academy. The MacCrate Report, more properly, A.B.A. SEC. LEGAL EDUC. & ADMISSIONS TO THE BAR, LEGAL EDUCATION AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: AN EDUCATIONAL CONTINUUM (Robert MacCrate ed., 1992) [hereinafter MACCRATE REPORT]--with its emphasis on writing as a core lawyering skill--was instrumental in persuading almost all American law schools to provide legal-writing education to all their students in the first year of law school. The Legal Writing Institute has been holding biennial conferences since 1984 and has published a newsletter since 1985. See Carol McCrehan Parker, The Signature Pedagogy of Legal Writing, 16 Legal Writing: J. Legal Writing Inst. 463, 464 (2010).

(2.) These are the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD), the Legal Writing Institute (LWI), and Scribes: The American Society of Legal Writers. See generally ASS'N OF LEGAL WRITING DIRS., http://www.alwd.org (last visited Dec. 26, 2012); LEGAL WRITING INST., http://lwionline.org/index.html (last visited Dec. 26, 2012); SCRIBES: THE AM. SOC'Y OF LEGAL WRITERS, http://www.scribes.org (last visited Dec. 26, 2012). Both the LWI and ALWD mount substantial biannual conferences. The legal writing section of The Association of American Law Schools is also an active organizer of conference presentations about legal writing, as are the numerous organizing committees of regional legal-writing conferences around the country. In addition, there have been three biennial Applied Legal Storytelling conferences and a seventh Global Legal Skills Conference was held in March 2012. See GLOBAL LEGAL SKILLS, http://globallegalskills.net/ (last visited Dec. 26, 2012); Storytelling Conference, STURM COLL. OF LAW, http://www.law.du.edu/index.php/ storytelling-conference? (last visited Dec. 26, 2012).

(3.) The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing, The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute, and Legal Communication and Rhetoric: Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors. Shorter, more pedagogically based articles can be found in Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing, a collection of short articles that was in print from 1992 to 2010 and is now an online journal, located at https://info.legalsolutions.thomsonreuters.com/signup/newsletters/9.aspx, and The Second Draft, the LWI's newsletter, located at http://www.lwionline.org/the_second_draft.html. The LWI also has an online journal as part of the Social Science Research Network, located at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/JELJOUR_ Results.cfm?form_name=journalbrowse&journal_id=902240.

(4.) A relatively comprehensive bibliography of scholarship written by legal-writing faculty was published in 2005. See Terrill Pollman & Linda H. Edwards, Scholarship by Legal Writing Professors: New Voices in the Legal Academy, 11 LEGAL WRITING: J. LEGAL WRITING INST. 3 (2005); see also Kathryn Stanchi, Persuasion: An Annotated Bibliography, 6 J. ASS'N LEGAL WRITING DIRECTORS 75 (2009); Carrie W. Teitcher, Legal Writing Beyond Memos and Briefs: An Annotated Bibliography, 5 J. ASS'N LEGAL WRITING DIRECTORS 133 (2008).

(5.) LRWPROF-L is a closed listserv devoted to discussions between legal-writing scholars and faculty. For more information on this listserv, see Legal Writing Listservs, LEGAL WRITING INST., http://www.lwionline.org/mailing_lists.html (last visited Dec. 26, 2012). The DIRCON listserv is a closed listserv for members of ALWD. See Contact, ASS'N LEGAL WRITING DIRECTORS, http://www.alwd.org/ contact.html (last visited Dec. 26, 2012). The Legal Writing Prof Blog provides information and updates of interest to those interested in legal writing. See generally LEGAL WRITING PROF BLOG, http://lawprofessors. typepad.com/legalwriting/ (last visited Feb. 6, 2013).

(6.) A full bibliography of such books would be lengthy and pointless. The catalogs of legal text publishers--especially Aspen/Wolters Kluwer, Foundation Press, and Carolina Academic Press--should give a sense of how many textbooks are directly and tangentially related to legal writing.

(7.) The American Bar Association's Sourcebook on Legal Writing Programs suggests "each professor in a required first-year legal writing course should have no more than 30 to 35 students." A.B.A. SEC. LEGAL EDUC. & ADMISSIONS TO THE BAR, SOURCEBOOK ON LEGAL WRITING PROGRAMS 89 (Eric B. Easton et al. eds., 2d ed. 2006).

(8.) For purposes of this Article, I use the commonly accepted division between "doctrine," those subjects that are principally involved with the identification and study of legal principles-torts, contracts, evidence, and so on--and "skills," those subjects involving the practical application of legal doctrine--including legal writing, legal research, clinics, trial advocacy, and so on. In fact, such distinctions are unreliable and are frequently blurred; students in contracts classes might be asked to draft a simple contract, for example, and students in legal-writing classes are often asked to identify and study legal principles related to their writing assignments. Given the speed with which legal writing has established itself in the American law-school curriculum, it is entirely possible that such distinctions will be unrecognizable when the LWI celebrates its fiftieth birthday.

(9.) Things might have improved recently for some legal-writing faculty, but few would disagree that Kent Syverud's assessment of many legal-writing teachers' status in 1992 still has relevance ten years later: "The terms and conditions of employment reflect the [lower caste] status [of legal-writing teachers], with caps on terms of employment, low salaries, and other restrictions--including resistance at many schools even to the use of a Professor or Faculty title." Kent D. Syverud, The Caste System and Best Practices in Legal Education, 1 J. ASS'N LEGAL WRITING DIRECTORS 12, 15 (2002). As Kathryn Stanchi observed, "[t]he legal writing profession is a place where the complexities of institutionalized inequality, economics and gender bias intersect." See Kathryn M. Stanchi, Who Next, the Janitors? A Socio-Feminist Critique of the Status Hierarchy of Law Professors, 73 UMKC L. REV. 467, 469 (2004). See generally Jan M. Levine, Legal Research and Writing: What Schools Are Doing, and Who Is Doing the Teaching, 7 SCRIBES J. LEGAL WRITING 51 (2000); Jan M. Levine, Voices in the Wilderness: Tenured and Tenure-Track Directors and Teachers in Legal Research and Writing Programs, 45 J. LEGAL EDUC. 530 (1995). An improving trend in legal-writing-faculty status was recorded in a later article. See generally Susan P. Liemer & Jan M. Levine, Legal Research and Writing: What Schools Are Doing, and Who Is Doing the Teaching (Three Years Later), 9 SCRIBES J. LEGAL WRITING 113 (2004).

(10.) The 1992 MacCrate Report is perhaps the best-known formal recognition of the importance of legal-writing education. See generally MACCRATE REPORT, supra note 1. That report, however, acknowledges an earlier ABA report as support for the proposition that "[t]here is a general recognition among legal educators and the practicing bar that effective communication skills are essential to competent legal practice." Id. at 175-76 (citing A.B.A. SEC. LEGAL EDUC. & ADMISSION TO THE BAR, REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE TASK FORCE ON LAWYER COMPETENCY: THE ROLE OF LAW SCHOOLS 9 (1979)) (listing writing as one of seven fundamental skills required for "[l]awyer competence"). More recently, the Carnegie Report has recognized that legal-writing education in law schools helps students "begin[] to cross the bridge from legal theory to professional practice." WILLIAM M. SULLIVAN ET AL., EDUCATING LAWYERS: PREPARATION FOR THE PROFESSION OF LAW 105 (2007).

(11.) See, e.g., Leigh Walton & Edward Meade, Latest Developments in Exempt Offerings, in REPRESENTING THE GROWING BUSINESS: TAX, CORPORATE, SECURITIES, AND ACCOUNTING ISSUES 565, 586 (2005) ("Lawyers should ... consider utilizing plain English when drafting PPMs [Private Placement Memorandums] because plain English risk factors provide more appropriate disclosure under the 'bespeaks caution' doctrine, assure consistency with later public offering documents and, once learned, it will be easier to draft all offering documents in the same style."); Christopher Cox, Chairman, SEC, Keynote Address at the Center for Plain Language Symposium (Oct. 12, 2007), available at http://www.sec.gov/news/ speech/2007/spch101207cc.htm ("The truth is, companies can better control their litigation risk if they present material information to their investors in plain English.").

(12.) See, e.g., Christopher R. Trudeau, The Public Speaks: An Empirical Study of Legal Communication, 14 SCRIBES J. LEGAL WRITING 121, 141-42 (2012) ("The vast majority of clients & nonclients prefer plain language. Respondents chose the plain-language version about 80% of the time. In fact, the plain-language version won handily in all 11 questions .... Clients were 5% more likely to choose the plain-language version than were nonclients."). In his preface to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's Plain English Handbook, Warren Buffet, one of the more prominent consumers of corporate legal writing, notes that "[i]f corporate lawyers and their clients follow the advice in this handbook, my life is going to become much easier." Warren E. Buffet, Preface to OFFICE OF INVESTOR EDUCATION AND ASSISTANCE, SEC, A PLAIN ENGLISH HANDBOOK: HOW TO CREATE CLEAR SEC DISCLOSURE DOCUMENTS 1, 1 (1998).

(13.) After conducting an empirical study of judicial preferences, Sean Flammer concluded:

   The results are clear: judges prefer Plain English to Legalese.
   Whether a judge is an appellate or trial judge or a federal or
   state judge plays no role in whether the judge prefers Plain
   English. Nor does the judge's gender, age, years of judicial
   experience, or years of experience in the legal profession. Whether
   a judge's district is rural or urban plays no role, either.
   Judges--by a two-thirds margin--find Plain English more persuasive
   than Legalese. Thus, it is in the litigator's interest to submit
   pleadings in Plain English.


Sean Flammer, Persuading Judges: An Empirical Analysis of Writing Style, Persuasion, and the Use of Plain English, 16 LEGAL WRITING: J. LEGAL WRITING INST. 183, 211 (2010).

(14.) See, e.g., Maria Mindlin, Is Plain Language Better? A Comparative Readability Study of Court Forms, 10 SCRIBES J. LEGAL WRITING 55, 55 (2006) (describing study of sixty citizens on a Sacramento jury panel showed "a marked and statistically significant improvement in reader comprehension when court forms are converted to plain language").

(15.) In particular, legislatures seem to be concerned that documents affecting consumers be written in plain English. In defining the concept, the Plain Writing Act of 2010 notes that "[t]he term 'plain writing' means writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience." Plain Writing Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-274, [section] 3, 124 Stat. 2861, 2861. George Gopen has critiqued this language from a Plain English perspective, wondering "what 'best practices' have come to be established." George D. Gopen, IRAC, REA, Where We Are Now, and Where We Should Be Going in the Teaching of Legal Writing, 17 LEGAL WRITING: J. LEGAL WRITING INST. xvii, xxv (2011). For discussion of other Plain English legislation, see Louis J. Sirico, Jr., Readability Studies: How Technocentrism Can Compromise Research and Legal Determinations, 26 QUINNIPIAC L. REV. 147, 148 nn.5-6 (2007) (citing CONN. GEN. STAT. ANN. [section] 42-152 (West 2012); MINN. STAT. ANN. [section] 325G.31 (West 2012); N.J. STAT. ANN. [section] 56:12-10 (West 2013); N.Y. GEN. OBLIG. LAW [section] 5-702 (McKinney 2012); OR. REV. STAT. ANN. [section] 180.545 (2012); 73 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. [section] 2205 (West 2012)).

(16.) While no one disagrees that lawyers should write as clearly as possible, at least one study suggests that a client's chances of winning an appeal are not improved by the writing skills of the client's lawyer. See generally Lance N. Long & William F. Christensen, Does the Readability of Your Brief Affect Your Chance of Winning an Appeal?, 12 J. App. PRAC. & PROCESS 145 (2011). Viewed one way, this is a disappointing result for one who teaches legal writing, who would like to believe that writing skill would be recognized and rewarded. A more realistic view, though, is that this is precisely the result society should wish for. Were the result to have been otherwise, and were it true that good writing always prevailed over bad, the legal system would be dominated by the law-school graduates who showed themselves to be the most skillful writers and justice would be in the hands of those who could afford to pay those writers the most money. It is, therefore, reassuring to note that judges appear to reach their decisions based on the factual and legal merits of the case, not just on how those merits are presented.

(17.) In 1566, a lawyer "expanded what should have been a short pleading to 120 pages." George D. Gopen, The State of Legal Writing: Res Ipsa Loquitur, 86 MICH. L. REV. 333, 346 (1988) (citing Milward v. Welden, 21 Eng. Rep. 136 (Ch. 1566)). In response to the lawyer's inability to keep the document short, the judge "ordered a hole cut in the middle of the document, through which the offender's head was thrust; this interlocking pair was then to be led around Westminster Hall during court sessions as an example to future padders and expanders." Id. More recent criticisms abound. See, e.g., Albert P. Blaustein, On Legal Writing, 18 CLEV.-MARSHALL L. Rev. 237, 237 (1969) ("Virtually all legal writing is atrocious!"); Ian Gallacher, "Who Are Those Guys?": The Results of a Survey Studying the Information Literacy of Incoming Law Students, 44 CAL. W. L. REV. 151, 153 n.7 (2007) ("'Do [law] students of the nineties write better or at least as well as students of the sixties and seventies? The answer is: no, they do not even write as well!'" (quoting David M. Becker, My Two Cents on Changing Times, 76 WASH. U. L.Q. 45, 53 (1998))); K.N. Llewellyn, On What Is Wrong with So-Called Legal Education, 35 COLUM. L. REV. 651, 660 (1935) ("I want every law student to be able to read and write. Half of my first-year students, more than a third of my second-year students, can do neither."); William L. Prosser, English As She Is Wrote, 7 J. LEGAL EDUC. 155, 157 (1954) ("[V]ery, very many of [my students] are hopelessly, deplorably unskilled and inept in the use of words to say what they mean, or, indeed, to say anything at all."); Fred Rodell, Goodbye to Law Reviews, 23 VA. L. REV. 38, 38 (1936) ("There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content."); Arthur T. Vanderbilt, A Report on Prelegal Education, 25 N.Y.U. L. REV. 199, 209 (1950) (noting there is a "well-nigh universal criticism respecting the inability of law students to think straight and to write and speak in clear, forceful, attractive English").

(18.) See generally Susan Hanley Kosse & David T. ButleRitchie, How Judges, Practitioners, and Legal Writing Teachers Assess the Writing Skills of New Law Graduates: A Comparative Study, 53 J. LEGAL EDUC. 80 (2003). The bottom line conclusion from that study was simple, direct, and pessimistic: "Nearly 94 percent, overall, of the respondents found briefs and memoranda marred by basic writing problems." See id. at 85; see also Kristen K. Robbins, The Inside Scoop: What Federal Judges Really Think About the Way Lawyers Write, 8 LEGAL WRITING: J. LEGAL WRITING INST. 257, 276 (2002).

   [A] significant percentage--twenty-one percent, thirty-nine
   percent, and twenty-six percent--said that lawyers' abilities range
   from poor to fair in mechanics, style, and tone, respectively. Only
   two percent rated mechanics as "excellent." Twenty-six percent
   rated mechanics as "very good," eleven percent rated style as "very
   good," and sixteen percent rated tone as "very good." Apparently,
   in addition to working better with the law, lawyers still need to
   brush up on--or develop--basic writing skills.


Robbins, supra, at 276.

(19.) See generally Brady Coleman & Quy Phung, The Language of Supreme Court Briefs: A Large-Scale Quantitative Investigation, 11 J. APP. PRAC. & PROCESS 75 (2010).

(20.) Id. at 76. The data set for the survey comprised "nearly every brief on the merits presented to the Court for the thirty-five years between 1969 and 2004." Id.

(21.) Id. at 103.

(22.) Id. at 85.

(23.) This is an understandable assumption. The United States Supreme Court is, after all, the pinnacle of appellate practice in this country and it is fair to assume that every lawyer with the chance to work on a brief to be filed there will work hard to produce the best possible work product. But given the importance of Supreme Court decisions, and the nature of law practice in this country, it is likely that the vast majority of Supreme Court briefs are corporate products, the result of numerous lawyers working together with the drafts being edited multiple times by committees. There is no way to know, of course, how a particular brief was drafted, and the survey's authors acknowledge the committee-like nature of written Supreme Court advocacy when they note that:

   Freshly minted law school graduates are less likely to write briefs
   to the Supreme Court than are more senior attorneys, of course,
   although junior attorneys employed at the Solicitor General's
   Office are presumably involved in the brief-writing process at a
   much earlier stage in their careers, to offer just one possible
   counter-example.


Coleman & Phung, supra note 19, at 103 n.45. The emphasis on "process" here is telling and is likely correct; junior attorneys, especially in the Solicitor General's Office, likely are involved in the process of generating Supreme Court briefs, but the final product is likely the product of a corporate sensibility that makes it difficult to identify stylistic trends, especially using empirical methods. Of course, any consideration of the process by which Supreme Court, or any court, briefs are generated is covered by the shroud of work product and attorney-client privilege and is, therefore, anecdotal and speculative.

(24.) Coleman & Phung, supra note 19, at 103.

(25.) Id. at 97. The survey did reflect changes in statements of facts under both the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid tests, as well as changes using the Fog Index. Id. at 95-101. Because the present survey looks only at the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid scores as calculated by Microsoft Word, I have focused on the comparable results here.

(26.) Id. at 97. The numbers correspond to a grade level in the U.S. educational system. "For example, a score of 8.2 would indicate that the text is expected to be understandable by a student in eighth grade." Id. at 84.

(27.) Id. at 101.

(28.) The third test employed by the authors--the Fog index--showed a similarly scaled reduction "from about 17.6 to about seventeen over our twenty-five-year time period." Coleman & Phung, supra note 19, at 96.

(29.) Id. at 103.

(30.) RUDOLF FLESCH, MARKS OF READABLE STYLE: A STUDY IN ADULT EDUCATION 9 (1943).

(31.) Sirico notes additional problems with readability tests, observing that "practically everyone in the readability field understands that the comprehensibility of a document depends on a number of factors that do not lend themselves to numerical testing, for example, the intellectual complexity of the contents and the syntactical complexity of the writing style." Sirico, supra note 15, at 149. Other criticisms of these tests are summarized by Long and Christensen in their article. Long & Christensen, supra note 16, at 151-52.

(32.) Richard C. Wydick, Lawyers' Writing, 78 MICH. L. REV. 711, 714 (1980) (reviewing RUDOLF FLESCH, HOW TO WRITE PLAIN ENGLISH: A BOOK FOR LAWYERS & CONSUMERS (1979)). For a detailed discussion of the development of the Flesch Reading Ease test, see Sirico, supra note 15, at 155-59.

(33.) Sirico, supra note 15, at 158 (quoting RUDOLF FLESCH, THE ART OF READABLE WRITING 213-16 (1949)).

(34.) Sirico, supra note 15, at 159. Documents falling below a score of 45 on the Flesch test scale are deemed to have failed the Reading Ease test. Gopen, supra note 15, at xxxii. Gopen notes that "[t]he idea that '45' has some magic qualities to it should have been dismissed in derision decades ago." Id.

(35.) See Sirico, supra note 15, at 161.

(36.) Id. at 150.

(37.) See generally RUDOLF FLESCH, THE ART OF READABLE WRITING (1994); RUDOLF FLESCH, HOW TO WRITE PLAIN ENGLISH: A BOOK FOR LAWYERS & CONSUMERS (1979); RUDOLF FLESCH, SAY WHAT YOU MEAN (1972); RUDOLF FLESCH, THE ABC OF STYLE: A GUIDE TO PLAIN ENGLISH (1964); RUDOLF FLESCH, HOW TO WRITE, SPEAK, AND THINK MORE EFFECTIVELY (1963); RUDOLF FLESCH, THE ART OF PLAIN TALK (1962); RUDOLF FLESCH, WHY JOHNNY CAN'T READ AND WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT (1955); RUDOLF FLESCH, THE ART OF CLEAR THINKING (1951); RUDOLF FLESCH, HOW TO TEST READABILITY (1951).

(38.) Sirico suggests three possible reasons for Microsoft's decision to incorporate the Flesch-Kincaid test into its word processor: "First, it bears the surname of Rudolph [sic] Flesch, a renowned researcher in the field. Second, it supplies the reader with an exact grade level [for the writing]. Third, because it was produced under a government contract, there is no requirement to gain copyright permission or make payment for its use." Sirico, supra note 15, at 166.

(39.) Id. at 165. Professor Sirico's article describes his failed attempts to uncover Microsoft's readability formula. Id.

(40.) Id.

(41.) Id. at 151-52.

(42.) Sirico, supra note 15, at 152. Quoting Seymour Papert, Professor Sirico defines technocentrism as "the fallacy of referring all questions to the technology." Id. (quoting Seymour Papert, A Critique of Technocentrism in Thinking About the School of the Future, SEYMOUR PAPERT, http://papert.org/articles/ ACritiqueofTechnocentrism.html (last visited Feb. 14, 2013)).

(43.) Even Professor Sirico, a stern critic of Microsoft's implementation of the Flesch and Flesch-Kincaid tests, notes that "[i]f every version of Word employed the Flesch-Kincaid test correctly, then researchers could rely on the results comfortably." Sirico, supra note 15, at 150.

(44.) Long & Christensen, supra note 16, at 154. As the authors revealed in the first sentence of their article, "[t]he short answer is 'no'--at least if by 'readability' you mean readability as judged by two of the several well-recognized readability formulas developed by researchers during the past fifty or sixty years." Id. at 145.

(45.) The study therefore uses the Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid tests in a fundamentally different way than those statutes that require various documents to achieve specific scores on the tests. See, e.g., 7 TEX. ADMIN. CODE [section] 31.14(d)(1)(C)-(D) (2012) (contracts for services for clients of private child-support- enforcement agencies must score at least forty-seven on Reading Ease test and no higher than 11.0 grade on Flesch-Kincaid test).

(46.) I use in this Article the phrase "Plain English" with both words receiving initial capital letters to distinguish this style of writing from its description, which is properly written as plain English.

(47.) Plain English is considered to be a desirable trait in other styles of writing as well, of course. This Article, however, focuses solely on legal writing.

(48.) Almost, but not quite. Writing in the early seventeenth century, Sir Edward Coke argued that some statutes should continue to be written in French rather than be translated into English, maintaining that:

   It was not thought fit nor convenient, to publish either those, or
   any of the Statutes enacted in those days in the vulgar tongue,
   lest the unlearned by bare reading without right understanding
   might sucke out errors, and trusting to their owne conceit might
   endamage themselves, and sometimes fall into destruction.


1 EDWARD COKE, THE SELECTED WRITINGS OF SIR EDWARD COKE 76 (Steve Sheppard ed., 2003). Writing almost four hundred years later, David Crump offered almost the same argument when arguing that transactional documents might benefit from not being written in plain English.

   One case for which I had responsibility early in my practice
   involved an employment contract. The contract was written in
   relatively plain English, and it was headed with the words,
   "employment agreement." One of the parties to the agreement
   testified adamantly that the document "obviously" was "not a
   contract"; instead, he claimed, it was "a simple 'agreement', as
   simple as the agreements with which we began this deposition."
   Apparently, this individual had downgraded the importance of the
   document because its language was not abstruse enough.


David Crump, Against Plain English: The Case for a Functional Approach to Legal Document Preparation, 33 Rutgers L.J. 713, 734 (2002) (citations omitted). Professor Crump continues that by stripping away language that lawyers might consider boilerplate, such as the agreement "'witnesseth that,'" plain English placed one of the parties to the contract at a disadvantage because the document failed to convey the "dignity, solemnity, and gravity" of a binding legal contract. Id. See generally Jack Stark, Should the Main Goal of Statutory Drafting Be Accuracy or Clarity?, 15 STATUTE L. REV. 207 (1994) (arguing that proponents of Plain English know little about challenges of legislative drafting, where emphasis should be on accuracy, not clarity).

(49.) In addition to the many journal articles already mentioned here, no discussion of the role of Plain English in American legal writing could be taken seriously without mentioning the pioneering work of Professor Joseph Kimble, who has been a tireless advocate for its use. See, e.g., JOSEPH KIMBLE, LIFTING THE FOG OF LEGALESE: ESSAYS ON PLAIN LANGUAGE (2006); Joseph Kimble, How to Mangle Court Rules and Jury Instructions, 8 SCRIBES J. LEGAL WRITING 39 (2002); Joseph Kimble, The Great Myth that Plain Language Is Not Precise, 7 SCRIBES J. LEGAL WRITING 109 (2000); Joseph Kimble, Plain English: A Charter for Clear Writing, 9 T.M. COOLEY L. REV. 1 (1992).

(50.) At least two textbooks include Plain English in their titles: BRYAN A. GARNER, LEGAL WRITING IN PLAIN ENGLISH (2001) AND RICHARD C. WYDICK, PLAIN ENGLISH FOR LAWYERS (5th ed. 2005).

(51.) NANCY L. SCHULTZ & LOUIS J. SIRICO, JR., LEGAL WRITING AND OTHER LAWYERING SKILLS 3-4 (5th ed. 2010).

(52.) See MICHAEL D. MURRAY & CHRISTY H. DESANCTIS, LEGAL WRITING AND ANALYSIS 242 (2009); see also, e.g., BRADLEY G. CLARY & PAMELA LYSAGHT, SUCCESSFUL LEGAL ANALYSIS AND WRITING: THE FUNDAMENTALS 99 (3d ed. 2010) ("Express your thoughts in the fewest words that are adequate to cover the subject matter. Prefer short words. Prefer short sentences (no more than twenty to twenty-five words). Prefer short paragraphs (no more than eight to ten sentences)."); TERRI LECLERCQ & KARIN MIKA, GUIDE TO LEGAL WRITING STYLE 9 (5th ed. 2011) ("Most legal sentences are too long and too convoluted for easy reading."); MARY BARNARD RAY, THE BASICS OF LEGAL WRITING 6 (rev. 1st ed. 2008) ("If you have written previously in other academic fields, you are likely to find that legal writing requires shorter sentences, more obvious transitions, and a smaller vocabulary.").

(53.) DIANA V. PRATT, LEGAL WRITING: A SYSTEMATIC APPROACH 247 (4th ed. 2004).

(54.) SOURCEBOOK, supra note 7, at 25.

(55.) ANNE ENQUIST & LAUREL CURRIE OATES, JUST WRITING: GRAMMAR, PUNCTUATION, AND STYLE FOR THE LEGAL WRITER 127 (3d ed. 2009).

(56.) This number was selected in order to generate a large but not unwieldy body of briefs for analysis. No attempt was made to select a number that represented a certain percentage of the number of briefs filed in any given year.

(57.) These years were chosen so that a readability baseline that showed scores for the years before legal writing had become an established part of the law school curriculum could be compared to the scores for the years during and after the introduction of systematized legal writing education.

(58.) This limitation was imposed on the study in order to see if differences in writing style between practitioners in these two doctrinal areas could be identified. The impracticability of making more refined distinctions, such as between lawyers practicing primarily in tort and in contract, left this large doctrinal division as the only one susceptible to study.

(59.) The briefs were mostly selected at random, although sometimes the companion briefs in litigation--either civil or criminal--were selected. This was done with a view to comparing the writing styles of adversaries; to see, in short, whether one attorney's writing style affected the writing style of his or her opponent. That potential aspect of study was dropped, at least for the present study's purposes.

(60.) Once again, I need to acknowledge and thank my three research assistants, Juliana Chan, Rachel Barranello, and Meredith Burke who toiled through this process in order to generate the body of documents that were used in this study and to generate the numbers used throughout it. They accepted the grinding nature of this task with more good grace and humor than I had any reason to expect.

(61.) A seemingly irrelevant observation that nonetheless highlights one of the issues discussed in this Article. Until quite late in the writing of this Article, the start of this sentence read "[t]his error correction was so time-consuming that a decision was made to limit ..." The passive voice is powerful and pervasive, especially when the writer seeks to deflect responsibility--consciously or unconsciously--from the actor.

(62.) Again, there was no statistical significance attached to the decision to use three pages of each brief. The number was chosen in order to generate a sample that, for most briefs, would contain a substantial amount of lawyer-written sentences (as opposed to citations, which were included in the study as being part of the fabric of a brief) without making the error-correction process any slower than it already was. The decision to start the sample at the third page of the analysis section was a conscious attempt to avoid any introductory material and to look instead at the use of Plain English writing principles in lawyers' analytical writing.

(63.) The experience of conducting this research has suggested the truth of Sherlock Holmes's observation: "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Scandal in Bohemia, in THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES 162, 163 (1992).

(64.) This is true of the average scores. Predictably, individual briefs were often at variance--sometimes wildly--with the average.

(65.) See supra note 34 and accompanying text for a discussion of the notion that 45 is a passing score for the Reading Ease score and Professor Gopen's rejection of this number as a valid yardstick.

(66.) I use "significant" here in the nonstatistical sense of the word.

(67.) See supra text accompanying note 53 ("[S]hort direct sentences for important information ... [and] no unnecessary words.").

(68.) CLARY & LYSAGHT, supra note 52, at 99. Wydick recommends that the average sentence length should be below twenty-five words, while acknowledging that some sentences will be longer. WYDICK, supra note 50, at 38. George Gopen sounds an important cautionary note, however, when he observes that "[w]ell-written sentences longer than 22 words--all the way up to 200 words--can ring clear as a bell. A badly constructed 10-word sentence can cause major confusions." Gopen, supra note 15, at xxx.

(69.) CLARY & LYSAGHT, supra note 52, at 99.

(70.) See, e.g., PRATT, supra note 53, at 247.

(71.) See, e.g., WYDICK, supra note 50, at 27 ("[O]ne good reason to prefer the active voice is economy--the active voice takes fewer words.").

(72.) STEPHEN KING, ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT 123 (2000). King continues, "I think unsure writers also feel the passive voice somehow lends their work authority, perhaps even a quality of majesty. If you find instruction manuals and lawyers' torts majestic, I guess it does." Id. George Gopen, however, once again takes an important contrary position, noting that "[t]he passive is not only as good as the active: It is better than the active in all situations in which the passive does a better job than the active. It becomes our task to teach what those situations are and how to handle them." Gopen, supra note 15, at xxiv.

(73.) The frequency with which 1990 appears in the study's results with scores that differ from the averages in the years surrounding it suggests something anomalous with the briefs selected for that year.

(74.) Every year, the ALWD and the LWI conduct a survey of legal-writing programs. The survey's results show that in the fall of 2010, legal-writing programs received an average of 2.38 credit hours. ASS'N OF LEGAL WRITING DIRS., LEGAL WRITING INSTITUTE, REPORT OF THE ANNUAL LEGAL WRITING SURVEY iv (2011), http://www.alwd.org/surveys/survey_results/2011_LWI_ALWD_Survey.pdf. The spring 2011 average was 2.31. Id. Forty-eight schools reported a required class in the fall of a student's second year, with an average of 2.08 credit hours, and fifteen schools had required classes in the spring of a student's second year, averaging 2.20 credit hours. Id. Eight schools reported a required class in the fall of a student's third year, averaging 2.62 credit hours, and six schools had required courses in the spring of a student's third year, averaging 2.17 credit hours. Id.

(75.) It is unclear how much time would be desirable. The ABA Sourcebook states that:

   [L]egal writing courses should be assigned at least the same number
   of credits as each of the other doctrinal first-year courses, and a
   strong argument can be made that legal writing courses should be
   assigned more. In the majority of law schools, the legal writing
   course is the only one in the firstyear curriculum that teaches
   students the skills of researching and analyzing legal problems and
   then expressing their analyses in law practice documents. To teach
   these important skills in a sophisticated manner, legal writing
   faculty need a course with enough credits to allow for sufficient
   in-class and out-of-class time to introduce and practice these
   skills--including drafting and redrafting documents.


SOURCEBOOK, supra note 7, at 78. But because a law school's total number of credit hours is finite, any credit time added to legal-writing courses must come from somewhere else. The core doctrinal courses are crucial, especially in the first year of law school where most legal-writing programs are also situated; and it is equally important to allow upper-class students some time to pursue areas of the law that are of particular interest to them. Adding a writing component to doctrinal classes is one possible solution, but not all doctrinal teachers have the time, patience, or skill necessary to make a meaningful improvement in law-student writing. It is easy to say that legal writing should get more time in law schools, but more difficult to say from where that time should come.

(76.) There seems to be a growing understanding that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to achieve "mastery" in a subject.

   In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction
   writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master
   criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again.
   Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or
   twenty hours a week, of practice over ten years.


DANIEL J. LEVITIN, THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC: THE SCIENCE OF A HUMAN OBSESSION 193 (2006). This could be achievable for graduating law students, had they received intensive, constant, writing instruction during the eight years of their high school and undergraduate education, but that is an unreasonable expectation. And, of course, not every person who spends even this amount of time practicing a skill gets to the level that Levitin is talking about. As he notes, "this doesn't address why some people don't seem to get anywhere when they practice, and why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others." Id. Nonetheless, the amount of practice necessary to become even moderately adept at a skill such as legal writing is substantially more than can be provided in a law-school curriculum.

(77.) Vanderbilt, supra note 17, at 209.

(78.) Blaustein, supra note 17, at 239. Blaustein had already expressed his own level of dissatisfaction with law-student writing. "Virtually all legal writing is atrocious!" Id. at 237. As noted, it was not until the publication of the MacCrate Report, twenty-three years after Blaustein's article appeared, that legal-writing education in the American legal academy became an established and separate part of the first year curriculum. See supra note 10 and accompanying text.

(79.) Gallacher, supra note 17, at 172. The students were also asked to evaluate their spelling, grammar, and punctuation skills and reported similar confidence, with 57% reporting their spelling skills as "very strong" or "strong" and 26% ranking their spelling as "average" or "weak" and only 1% ranking their spelling skills as "poor." Id. For grammar, 65% ranked themselves as "very strong" or "strong" and 18% as "average" or "weak" and 0.4% as "poor." Id. For punctuation, 59% ranked themselves "very strong" or "strong," 24% as "average" or "weak," and 0.2% as "weak." Id. To put it mildly, the students' self-evaluation is at odds with the impressions of many of those who must work to help students improve their writing skills.

(80.) Id. at 173-77.

(81.) Id. at 187-88.

(82.) Id. at 187.

(83.) Kosse & ButleRitchie, supra note 18, at 93.

(84.) Legal writing was recognized as a teaching category in 1947. Id. at 93 (citing Marjorie Dick Rombauer, First-Year Legal Research and Writing: Then and Now, 25 J. LEGAL EDUC. 538, 540 (1973)). The more helpful date for the advent of legal writing as a recognized discipline, though, is 1984, the date of the first Legal Writing Institute. See supra note 1.

(85.) It is possible, though, that the inadequacy of legal-writing education prior to its establishment as a recognized discipline in the legal academy has a continued effect on the quality of contemporary legal writing because of older lawyers' inability to recognize that they do not write as well as they think they do and their influence on more junior lawyers' writing.

(86.) See supra note 9.

(87.) By asserting this, I recognize that I am disagreeing with Kosse and ButleRitchie, who claim that "[t]he impact [status problems for legal writing teachers have] on legal writing cannot be overestimated." Kosse & ButleRitchie, supra note 18, at 95.

(88.) Joan Catherine Bohl, Generations X and Y in Law School: Practical Strategies for Teaching the "MTV/Google " Generation, 54 LOY. L. REV. 775, 778 (2008).

(89.) See supra Figure 3.

(90.) Id.

(91.) See supra Figure 10.

(92.) Id.

(93.) Kosse and ButleRitchie note that "[n]ew lawyers in large firms are often given drudge tasks of research or discovery review that require little in the way of complex writing skills." Kosse & ButleRitchie, supra note 18, at 101. And while some might disagree with the observation that legal research could be grouped in the category of "drudge tasks," and others might note that what is true of large law firms might not be true of smaller firms or solo practices, it is likely true that all lawyers, new and less new, would benefit from writing more. On the other hand, if the documents on which law students and new lawyers work are not reviewed carefully with a view to improving lawyers' writing, more writing could simply solidify bad practices and make poor lawyer writing more entrenched.

(94.) IBM began to market the Personal Computer, or PC, in 1981. Apple began to sell its Macintosh, or Mac, computers in 1984.

(95.) I am grateful to Michael Brown for this observation.

(96.) Kosse & ButleRitchie, supra note 18, at 98. Kosse and ButleRitchie also identify the "reliance on forms and existing documents ... including poor organization, insufficient analysis, and arcane language and legalese" as other examples of inertia that might cause poor contemporary legal writing. Id.

(97.) Wayne Schiess, When Your Boss Wants It the Old Way, 12 SCRIBES J. LEGAL WRITING 163, 164 (2009).

(98.) See supra note 79 and accompanying text.

(99.) Gopen, supra note 17, at 339.

(100.) Robert W. Benson, The End of Legalese: The Game Is Over, 13 N.Y.U. REV. L. & SOC. CHANGE 519, 522 (1985). Benson also remarks that:

   just as it is obvious to every school child who has ever scrawled a
   dirty word on the chalkboard that language is power, so it ought to
   be obvious to all of us that lawyers' language is power exercised
   by a power elite and that the stakes in it are very real and very
   high.


Id. at 520.

(101.) Crump, supra note 48, at 734. Professor Crump makes clear in his article that he is speaking against the use of plain English in "preservation" documents, such as provisions in a commercial contract. Id. at 716. Even Professor Crump acknowledges the role of plain English in "persuasion" documents like appellate briefs. Id. But he contradicts himself when he argues against redrafting litigation documents such as complaints in a plain English style, which he contends could be expensive "without improving the function of the pleading." Id. at 742.

(102.) NAT'L ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS, READING AT RISK: A SURVEY OF LITERARY READING IN AMERICA (2004), http://www.nea.gov/pub/readingatrisk.pdf.

(103.) Coleman & Phung, supra note 19, at 103.

(104.) Id. at 97.

(105.) This is not a new suggestion for me. I proposed that law schools should do this in a 2007 article discussing the results of a survey suggesting that incoming law students overestimated their information-literacy skills. Gallacher, supra note 17, at 195-96. My proposal then was based on the relatively unhappy results of a survey of incoming law students that suggested incoming law students "have information literacy deficits that will affect them throughout their career in law school and on into the practice of law, and that they are unaware that such deficits exist." Id. at 192. I noted that "[t]he data also suggest that law schools are not fixing the students' problems." Id. at 193. What was true then is even truer now, given the results of the present study. There are many ways in which law schools might involve themselves in improving the writing skills of students before they come to law school, but almost all of them will require law schools to shed jurisdictional concerns and help students who might not ultimately matriculate at their institutions. It might be difficult to persuade law school and university administrators to expend any effort on behalf of students who might not become tuition-paying members of their institutions, but the long-term cost of not doing anything to improve the quality of incoming-student writing across the board is surely greater than the short-term benefit of only working with those students who pay tuition to a particular school.

(106.) Of course, the danger of taking such a step unilaterally is that students, being sophisticated consumers of education, will simply avoid the schools that make writing a core part of their application process and apply instead to schools with application standards that are more tied to objective results like undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores. And even suggesting that law schools unite to make writing skill a priority in the applications process is to acknowledge the futility of such a proposal. Yet the alternative to not taking bold action is to accept the possibility of writing standards slipping still more in the years ahead.

(107.) Such a suggestion supposes that alumni would be willing to accept help with their writing, or would have time to participate in whatever writing-support process a law school could put into place. Even those who might not take advantage of the opportunities offered by their law schools, however, would surely appreciate that the school had not forgotten its obligations to its students once they became alumni.

(108.) To even speak of current technology is to render oneself obsolete, since the available technological resources will surely have changed and improved from the time of writing to the time of reading. Without mentioning specific tools then, the advent and improvement of web-based technology, including video conferencing and group document-commenting software, allows for almost unlimited possibilities of providing writing instruction to people in offices across town or across the country. Using such technology to teach law-school classes is currently restricted by the American Bar Association's standards on distance-learning. The ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, 2012-2013 Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools, Standard 306 provides, in part:

(d) A law school shall not grant a student more than four credit hours in any term, nor more than a total of 12 credit hours, toward the J.D. degree for courses qualifying under this Standard;

(e) No student shall enroll in courses qualifying for credit under this Standard until that student has completed instruction equivalent to 28 credit hours toward the J.D. degree;

(f) No credit otherwise may be given toward the J.D. degree for any distance education course.

A.B.A. Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools, 2012-2013, at Standard 306(d)-(f), A.B.A., http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/misc/legal_education/Standards/chapter_3_ 2012_2013_aba_standards_and_rules.authcheckdam.pdf (last visited Dec. 26, 2012). But no such restrictions apply to nondegree courses that might be offered to alumni. Such possibilities are also available to law schools seeking to deliver writing support to prelaw school students.

(109.) See, e.g., Annie Lowrey, Law of Averages: Why the Law-School Bubble Is Bursting, SLATE (Mar. 18, 2011), http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2011/03/law_of_averages.html.

* This title is taken from a Paul Simon song of the same name. PAUL SIMON, When Numbers Get Serious, on HEARTS AND BONES (Warner Bros. 1983). For the lyrics of the song, see Paul Simon Lyrics: "When Numbers Get Serious," LYRICSTIME.COM, http://www.lyricstime.com/paul-simon-when-numbers-get-serious-lyrics.html (last visited Dec. 23, 2012).

Ian Gallacher, Professor of Law and Director, Legal Communication and Research Program, Syracuse University College of Law. Thanks to my indefatigable research assistants, Juliana Chan, Rachel Barranello, and Meredith Burke, who did the hard work on this project. Thanks also to Dean Hannah Arterian for her support. As always, this is for Julia McKinstry.
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Title Annotation:III. Methodology and Study Results B. Grade Level through V. Conclusion, with footnotes, p. 471-501
Author:Gallacher, Ian
Publication:Suffolk University Law Review
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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