What would a better legal brief look like?

What would a better legal brief look like? What would it be to submit writings for the judge’s consideration in ways that are more formally structured — so that these communications could:

1) be laid out systematically for the judge & her clerks (think in tables or side-by-side comparisons),

2) perhaps even made machine-readable (so that computers could process them and give the judge more ways to read/compare/index them), and

3) be composed by the lawyer/litigant in more straightforward ways (less laboring over blank pages in Microsoft Word, and more using universally accepted templates or forms).

I’ve hinted at this possible redesign in earlier posts  that one after a conversation with a clerk who wished that she could have tools to help her systematically compare & analyze opposing sides’ arguments. Now I’m picking up that conversation after speaking with an appeals court judge from Milan, Italy, who is exploring ways to formalize both judges’ opinions & lawyers’ briefs.

Redesigning legal briefs for judges and lawyers

It isn’t the hardest redesign — it’s a matter of prototyping:

  • what the key fields of information for a brief/opinion are
  • how we can lay them out with prompts/questions in clear ways
  • how to adapt the current ways of composing briefs & opinions into this new layout/model
  • how we build tech tools that help us gather, process, and make these new briefs/opinions usable

The main thing to redesign, though, is the culture of practices. It’s a matter of changing what we think is legitimate as a legal submission or pronouncement — and how we as lawyers, clerks, and judges go about processing and composing information. This could be hard — but like the appellate judge in Italy proposes, it has a lot of value for the legal system to be more formalized & tech-enabled.