Changes to Legal Writing in the Era Of Virtual Courts
Our legal landscape has changed dramatically in the past two years, and so has legal writing.
That was one of the takeaways of Supreme Court Justice Gerald Lebovits’ very popular May 11 seminar on legal writing hosted by the New York State Bar Association.
He opened the class by saying “Now, only a few things have changed with legal writing in the past 20 years, but the pandemic has dramatically changed legal writing and the profession.”
The advent of virtual hearings, conferences, and depositions has spurred a new emphasis on legal writing, he said, and because the future is in the virtual realm, now is the time to master communicating within it. That means writing documents that will be read on a screen.
“What you want to do in your E-filing is make sure that your E-documents are easy to read, more so than in the past, you want to have an easy-to-read font like a Times New Roman or Century.” He says legal writers need to increase the amount of white space on the page and use internal bookmarks to allow the reader to move quickly to an exhibit or piece of evidence. Simplicity is key and offering graphs, maps and photographs will aid the reader.
In the past, bullet points and larger margins were frowned upon but Lebovits says that is no longer the case. Many writers bristle at the thought of being edited by a colleague. Judge Lebovits admonishes students for this view and encourages employing a ruthless editing partner to review and improve your work.
“You should accept edits from people you’ll learn from it, even if you don’t accept all their suggestions, you should consider all of them and be thankful and grateful. Editors have only one person in mind and that’s the reader who happens to be the only person who counts,” he said.
Lebovits went on to challenge the students to drop the legalese and focus on plain English. He suggests avoiding cliches, jargon and acronyms. “If you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it and then you’ll get rid of all your fancy highfalutin $25 words and legalisms. Avoid legalese. It is harder to quit using legalisms than it is to quit smoking I’m afraid.” Write for an intelligent high schooler, he says, and if they can understand it, a judge will too.
These are just some of the illustrious legal nuggets taught in “Legal Writing with Lebovits.” He covers additional topics like grammar pitfalls and overcoming writer’s block. To learn more, we invite you to purchase the recorded class here.