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Brevity is the Soul of Wit

Daniel Patrick Moynihan is a name that may be familiar to most. He was a United States Cabinet official, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, and a United States Senator from New York. He was also an author of many articles on urban neighborhoods. When I was in college in the 1970s, Moynihan was a sought after commentator. I remember a professor telling my class that Moynihan’s articles tended to be lengthy and repetitive because he was paid according to the number of words.

What relevance does this have to law and trial practice? The old cliché, actually coming from Shakespeare, that brevity is the soul of wit applies in that context. To be boring and repetitious is not something that gets rewarded. Possibly one reason for this is that jurors have been known to express contempt for lawyers who are endlessly repetitious. I wouldn’t know this from talking to jurors because lawyers are precluded from doing so. However, lawyers do talk to judges and judges talk to jurors after a trial, primarily to thank them for their service. Consequently, I have made sure that the pace of a trial, to the extent that I can control it, is thorough but quick.

I grant you that it is hard to know when an advocate is being repetitious as opposed to appropriately methodical. I would say that after a while, you acquire a sense of how your presentation is sounding. Of course, it helps to have a friendly ear in the courtroom and I can say unashamedly that I bring many ears to the courtroom.

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