A Brief Housecleaning

Okay. I'm back. Just handed in my first legal brief, which means I can once again use my computer without feeling like I ought to be working on the brief. Word informs me that I spent just over 36 hours of editing time on it, which is an awful lot in some respects, and awfully little in some others. Compared with, say, the 2400 billable hours many junior associates are expected to produce each year, 36 hours is nothing.

I would like also to note, while the taste of sleaze is still fresh in my mouth and before I become inured to my new coating of slime, what I feel I have learned from this assignment. I have learned two new ways to lie. (I'm not going to include all of the familiar techniques. Anyone who's ever prepared a resume knows about selective quotation; anyone who's ever taken a lab science course knows how to fudge an unruly data point.)

First, there's brazen but unwarranted optimism. There's something breathtaking about heading straight for your opponent's best case and claiming that it supports your position. Of course, it doesn't, but what the hell, you were going to lose on that point anyway, and you've kept any unfortunate hint of negativity from sneaking into your argument. These lies are fun; they stare back at you, daring you to keep a straight face.

Second, there's the magical muddle. You openly and forthrightly concede your opponent's point, but you bury the concession in the middle of a logically messy paragraph. The more subtle the mess, the better. Words that can shift between multiple meanings are especially helpful. You're not so much trying to refute the point as keep your opponent from getting anywhere with it. These lies aren't so much fun; by their very nature, they're hard to produce purposefully.

The key to both these tricks is to channel Aarfy. When Yossarian starts giving you a hard time, you just grin and nod and pretend like you can't hear a thing he's saying. You either keep on disagreeing or agreeing with him, no matter what arguments he advances, all the while sending the discussion around and around in fruitless dizzy spirals.

In any case, brief-writing is an exercise in repeated lying. There's no way around it when, at the end of the day, one side has a winning case and the other side has a losing case. The losing's side's well-paid lawyers are well-paid in proportion to their ability to deploy these tricks. And having just emerged from the belly of the brief, I can say that I understand much better now why lawyers are so universally loathed.