What Accounts For This Increase in Length?
• Increasing regulation and legislation
displacing the common law;
• Word processing software;
• Judges not having (or taking) enough
time to write something short.
The wordiness in Washington
appellate decisions is not a phenomenon peculiar to Washington state
courts. The United States Supreme Court
has decided fewer cases with longer
opinions over time. 2
Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh
Circuit wrote, “[t]he longer the
opinion the more likely it is not to be
read carefully.” 3
Why Should Lawyers Care?
Lawyers should care because we have
to make sense of these decisions
when we counsel clients and when we
advocate for them in court. Judges
should care because they have to read
and understand these decisions in
order to apply them.
And because in Washington we
now can cite to unpublished decisions, practitioners and judges have
even more words to ponder. See GR
14. 1(a) (allowing citation to unpublished Courts of Appeals decisions
released after March 1, 2013). 4 This
requires more time by lawyers and
judicial officers and, therefore, more
My methodology was to go to the
• 182 Wn.2d (2014-2015): 57 reported
indices of these reporters, count the
number of reported decisions, and
calculate length. This is what I found:
• 84 Wn.2d (1974): 103 reported
decisions; an average of 9. 5 pages
decisions; an average of 16. 6 pages
• 11 Wn. App. (1974): 130 reported
decisions; an average of 6.02 pages
per decision (and 208 unreported
• 188 Wn. App. (2015): 60 reported
decisions; an average of 16.19
pages per decision (and 270
Some Modest Proposals:
Impose word limits on briefs. See, e.g., King County Local Civil Rules 7(b)( 5)
(B)(vi) and 56(c)( 3) (imposing word limits for civil motions in King County
Superior Court). How many appellate briefs have single-spaced footnotes that
seek to defy existing page limits? (And is the term "brief" oxymoronic?)
Reconsider GR 14. 1(a). If a Court of Appeals panel deems a decision not worthy
of publication, a party or a non-party may move for publication. The process is
not difficult. Alternatively, publish all Court of Appeals decisions, which is what
the new rule effectively does. We already have the bizarre world of “unpublished”
federal decisions published in the Federal Appendix (Humans can have an
appendix removed because it is unnecessary and infected—should the Federal
Appendix meet the same fate?).
Limit the statement of facts. In decisions dealing with appeal of a CR 56 motion,
what are the material facts in dispute? Why are they material, or not? What is the
dispute? That should be the focus. It is not necessary to include all the facts.
Use law clerks with care. Relying on law clerks to draft opinions may invite more
words than necessary. Terrific law school GPAs may allow for some remarkable
legal acumen. But that may not translate into telling the story of an appeal concisely.
Avoid string citations in decisions. And in briefing!
Both poet Robert Browning in 1855 and architect Mies van der Rohe, in 1947 wrote
that “less is more.” All writers—judges included—can benefit from that axiom.