The art of the single sentence paragraph

Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 1:46 pm
William Barnes

Sometimes you’re reading a case, feeling weighed down by some section, and then you hit a beautiful, understated single sentence paragraph that just makes you burst out laughing. I think that the single sentence paragraph doesn’t get enough attention. People love the Denning style openers, but they’re often so contrived that you feel awkward for the rest of the judgement. If nothing else, the Denning opener sets you up for a let down because no matter how funny the first few sentences are, at some point you have to back to work. One sentence paragraphs, on the other hand, are uplifting. The relieve the stress of the preceding paragraphs. Consider the example below. Feel the weight of the numbers and then the relaxation of the beautiful understatement at the end (and don’t peek). That is how to write a judgement.

2 The case is an example of what is best described as ‘mega-litigation’. By that expression, I mean civil litigation, usually involving multiple and separately represented parties, that consumes many months of court time and generates vast quantities of documentation in paper or electronic form. An invariable characteristic of mega-litigation is that it imposes a very large burden, not only on the parties, but on the court system and, through that system, the community.

3 Before briefly explaining the issues in the case and the outcome, I wish to record some of the features of this particular example of mega-litigation.

4 The trial lasted for 120 hearing days and took place in an electronic courtroom. Electronic trials have many advantages, but reducing the amount of documentation produced or relied on by the parties is not one of them. The outcome of the processes of discovery and production of documents in this case was an electronic database containing 85,653 documents, comprising 589,392 pages. Ultimately, 12,849 ‘documents’, comprising 115,586 pages, were admitted into evidence. The Exhibit List would have been very much longer had I not rejected the tender of substantial categories of documents that the parties, particularly Seven, wished to have in evidence.

5 Quite apart from the evidence, the volume of written submissions filed by the parties was truly astonishing. Seven produced 1,556 pages of written Closing Submissions in Chief and 812 pages of Reply Submissions (not counting confidential portions of certain chapters and one electronic attachment containing spreadsheets which apparently runs for 8,900 or so pages). The Respondents managed to generate some 2,594 pages of written Closing Submissions between them. The parties’ Closing Submissions were supplemented by yet further outlines, notes and summaries.

6 In addition, the pleadings amounted to 1,028 pages. The statements of lay witnesses that were admitted into evidence run to 1,613 pages. The expert reports in evidence totalled 2,041 pages of text, plus many hundred pages of appendices, calculations and the like. The transcript of the trial is 9,530 pages in length.

7 I have not been idle these past nine months.

If you didn’t laugh, I probably built it up too much. Part of the trick to a proper single sentence paragraph is that its unexpected. Next time you run across one, though, you should savour it.