Peer Review: A Challenge for Your Next Legal Brief
I’ve just finished up an extraordinarily long brief. The legal issues that I’ve raised are a bit novel. After completing the brief, I take a break to work on something else for a bit. Then, with fresh eyes, I read back over the brief from start to finish. It makes perfect sense to me, but I’ve been entrenched with the law and facts of this case for several days. What will opposing counsel or, more importantly, the judge think? Have I laid out a cohesive argument that flows between relevant legal authority and the facts of my case, or have I choppily inserted law, fact, law, fact, rinse, repeat?
Peer review is commonly used in academic legal writing. See Peer Review and Legal Publishing: What Law Librarians Need to Know about Open, Single-Blind, and Double-Blind Reviewing by Nancy McCormack. In that context, there are three different systems of peer review. These systems each have their advantages and disadvantages, but they are regarded as a way to ensure that claims made by an article are legitimate. The same principle applies to legal writing completed in furtherance of a client’s case: Are you making valid, concise and cohesive legal arguments?
Peer review may have been a part of your law school legal writing class, but the use of a peer review practice is often discarded the moment you turn in that final paper. But why? Isn’t it valuable to have someone independently review your work to ensure that the message you intended to convey and the message that you actually conveyed are one in the same? I believe that it is and that we should all connect with a peer to exchange constructive criticism.
It may seem like just another arduous step before finally getting that brief filed, but someone else’s insight could mean the difference between winning your case or not. A critique of your work may also spur another, better idea on how to approach a certain argument. Plus, a peer review not only improves the work product then being reviewed, but it can even improve your skills for the next brief you tackle. Further, there are multiple benefits to reviewing someone else’s work. You may be exposed to new case law or arguments that you otherwise may not have considered. Reviewing someone else’s work also reveals strengths and weaknesses in their writing or analysis that you can apply to your own going forward.
As a small law firm, it is often difficult to find someone to give you a second opinion on your work. Even if you are cordial with other attorneys in your practice area, seeking input on your work is a big favor to ask. You know that in order for an attorney to conduct a meaningful review and provide a real, constrictive critique, it is going to take up some of their time. And their time truly has value evidenced by their hourly rate. Further, those same attorneys may be your competition, or they could one day end up as opposing counsel. It may take stepping out of your comfort zone a bit or engaging in some specific networking, but it is likely that there is some other like-minded attorney that is hoping for peer review of their work as well.
If you’re in a firm with even one other attorney, it may be easier to find a willing partner for peer review. Or perhaps you should consider a little persuasion. Saying, “Hey, let me buy you a coffee while you take a look through this brief!” could help you out. Ultimately, it is in the best interest of all attorneys in the firm that you are putting out your best possible work product.
The next time you produce written work product, I challenge you to seek peer review. You may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome, which might include personal growth in your own writing and a deeper understanding of the law.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success. Anyone who has ever met Jared will tell you h