There is a breed of lawyer that writes long-winded filings to the court, thinking that the length and complexity of his/her words will impress and win over the judge. Roya Behnia does not agree. Ms. Behnia, recent senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Pall Corporation, wrote “Simplicity bias: Lessons for lawyers from industrial design” for the abajournal.com‘s The New Normal section. In the article, she imparts her legal writing learning curve:
When I was a young lawyer, I was asked to draft an important brief for a major client. After days of research, I wrote my masterpiece (really a tome) that would anticipate and destroy any possible avenue the plaintiff would have for evading summary judgment. . . . When I met with [the partner]. . . what became obvious was that unnecessary complexity didn’t serve the needs of our clients who came to us for forceful but clear advocacy. In drafting my epic brief, I forgot to adapt to the intended audience, . . . In losing the judge, I would lose the client.
Ms. Behnia raises an important point that all attorneys should consider. Verbose filings often lose the reader — clients and judges alike — and are rarely persuasive. Effective legal writing is most often simple and clear.
And that point can be carried forward to all attorney/client interactions, which should also be simple and clear.
In the New Normal, the lessons of good industrial design teach us to keep in mind how the client experiences the delivery of legal services. That means taking the noise of complexity out of our interactions and changing how we require clients to interact with us in a legal process that usually is designed for our ease as lawyers rather than the client’s.
We applaud Ms. Behnia and The New Normal for stepping back and viewing the legal profession through the eyes of the legal consumer. Hopefully they have persuaded numerous attorneys to do the same.