Document Appreciation: Some Characteristics of Legal Documents (and Talking with Students About Them)
This working paper is about legal documents. It describes (from a practitioner’s point of view) some characteristics of documents, makes observations about useful habits of mind for lawyers working with them, and offers a few thoughts for law school teachers who introduce students, in the clinic or the classroom, to these products of the trade. The idea is that we might be inspired by others who make refined objects and help novices learn to make them. Engineers, for example, study bridges. Mechanics examine engines. Artists contemplate sculptures. All step back and consider the objects’ variety, features, properties, and fabrication, and the qualities demanded of the maker. For us lawyers, talking generally about the characteristics of the products we make, whether the mention be a simple riff in a classroom discussion, a comment in the margin of a draft, or a more systematic curricular move, may help students build facility with these materials, convey a sense of the imagination and discipline needed to produce them, and reinforce important messages about practice and craft. At least that’s the suggestion here; stepping back may provide a step up, and spark deeper understanding and appreciation of the product. This paper secondarily is intended for designers interested in law and legal documents. For designers, who begin a development process with deep study of user and context, the paper provides information about legal materials and some ways lawyers understand them.