At the beginning of every school year, my legal writing students face a double, daunting challenge: to learn to write about a topic they are unfamiliar with (the law) in a dialect that they are unfamiliar with (legal discourse). They go bananas when I tell them they must do so as concisely as possible.
(I say “go bananas” with the utmost love and affection for my students.)
Basically, when I put a strict word limit on the first major writing assignment, my students inevitably–every year, year after year–insist that the assignment cannot be completed within the limit. They struggle with concision, with the balance between precision and concision.
At one point, someone finally wails [again, I say this with affection], “Why?!? Why are you making us do this?”
Often, I pull up the rules of appellate procedure or some other rule of court and show them the very short, and very strict, page limits on court documents.
But nothing does the job as well as this recent order from a federal district judge in Florida.
Here’s how the order begins:
On August 3, 2012, the plaintiffs moved (Doc. 22) for leave to submit a motion that exceeds the page limit. The motion states, “The complex factual and legal issues involved make it difficult to meet the page limitation of twenty-five  pages.” Two hours later and without leave, the plaintiffs submitted (Doc. 23) a twenty-nine-page motion. Based on the mistaken premise that this FLSA collective action presents atypically complex issues, the motion to exceed the page limit (Doc. 22) is DENIED. The motion for conditional collective status (Doc. 23) is STRICKEN.
Oy. None of my students would ever do this. If they learned anything, they learned not to turn in an assignment that breaks the word limit. Jeez.
It gets better! The judge then provides a little instruction to the poorly trained lawyer on how to edit:
A review of the proposed, twenty-nine-page motion’s commencement confirms that a modicum of informed editorial revision easily reduces the motion to twenty-five pages without a reduction in substance.
A “modicum,” people. A “modicum.”
The judge then proceeds to actually edit the first paragraph of the motion, not-so-subtly implying that the lawyer needs to get his act together. Excellent! Editing on the record.
Check out the full order here: Merryday Editing Order.