Lawyers are not always known as professionals who value brevity. Indeed, when I worked as a lawyer at a Biglaw shop, we routinely fought with space limitations when drafting briefs. Lawyers can be especially long-winded when it comes to written communications, and numerous attorneys could be more succinct when drafting emails to lawyers and clients. If attorneys are too dense in their communications, there is a solid chance that emails will not be read. Sometimes, less is more when putting things into written communication.
I did not always realize that brevity can be an asset in the legal profession. Earlier in my career, I was much more likely to send dense, long emails. I thought that if I made a number of solid points to my adversaries, I would be more likely to obtain benefits for my clients. Moreover, I thought that if I was extremely detailed with clients, they would better understand a legal position and would appreciate the thought I put into our legal strategies.
When I started dealing with adversaries and clients more directly after opening my own shop, I realized that being brief was often better than being detailed. For instance, before a closing one time, I sent my client a long email describing the closing process, steps that needed to be taken before and at the closing, and items that needed to be brought to the closing. I wanted to provide all of the useful information my client needed for a successful closing in one place so that my client could refer back to this communication when preparing for the closing.
When it came time to appear at the closing, I asked my client if she had brought an item that I told her to bring to the closing. The client replied that she did not know that she had to bring the item to the closing. I then pulled up the email in which I specifically asked the client to bring that specific item to the closing. While I felt like I had covered myself by conveying in writing that my client needed to bring the item to the closing, this still did not fix the situation. Luckily, the client was able to go home and bring the item, but if I had kept the email briefer and highlighted the items the client needed to bring to the closing, it is possible we would not have ended up in the situation to begin with.
Dense emails between counsel can also cause problems. One time, I was working with some co-defendants’ counsel about scheduling depositions and dealing with certain discovery-related issues. Because discovery was complicated, the emails were dense, and counsel discussed alleged discovery deficiencies in long-winded ways. In one email, a lawyer said that a given deposition date worked for the lawyer, but the attorney buried this information in a dense email about other issues related to discovery.
Several weeks later, when the proposed date for the deposition came, counsel circulated a follow-up email about whether a given date still worked for a party’s deposition. Some of the lawyers had not seen that the given lawyer was indeed free for a particular deposition related to the case and so the attorneys did not calendar the deposition to go forward. This delayed the case, since we needed to go back and forth a second time about dates that worked for the deponent and all of the attorneys to hold the deposition. Had the lawyer been clearer the first time about the critical issue at hand (i.e., whether a given date worked for a deposition), the lawyers would have saved a ton of hassle in scheduling discovery in that case.
In any case, the expression “less is more” definitely applies to the legal profession, and wordy lawyers should consider if they can embrace brevity. Using less space to get a point across can usually have a number of benefits in communications with counsel and clients.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.