Courtside: Studying the language of briefs

The National Law Journal's Supreme Court Insider



A massive study of the language used in Supreme Court briefs has found that federal agencies and northern states produce the most complexly worded briefs, but overall the writing presented to the Court is getting more and more readable.

Scholars in the growing field of empirical legal studies downloaded nearly 9,000 briefs filed with the high court between 1969 and 2004 and analyzed them with the same methods used to determine the reading level of books and texts. They tallied the length of sentences and the complexity of words, along with other variables. A report of the study appears in the current issue of The Journal of Appellate Practice and Process.

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Reprinted with permission from the January 10, 2011 edition of THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL © 2011 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382, or visit #005-01-11-14