December 09, 2010
The Decline of the Blue Book
Posted by Erik Gerding

Every December my hand cramps reflexively as my muscles remember years and years of furiously writing exams in blue books.  Times have a changed.  I have 160 exams to grade this December.  So far, I have seen only two blue books.  I am more than a little disappointed -- not because of romanticism for penmanship, a Luddite view of laptops, or a desire to weaken my eyesight further.  Instead, I've found (in a non-statistical study) that blue book exams are not only more concise, but generally evidence clearer and more cogent thought.  (Should any of my students from this past semester read this, don't take this as a commentary on your performance.  I am only starting my grading later this afternoon).  Unable to cut and paste with two keystrokes and a mouse click, blue book writers seem to take a lot more care in crafting their sentences and paragraphs.  The big shift towards lap top usage may have a large downside not only for class participation, but for the quality of legal writing and analysis.

This applies to lawyers and law professors as well.  I used to practice with a partner who insisted that I write the first drafts of agreements long hand.  What seemed like a vast waste of time up front, yielded a much better first draft that required fewer revisions and less time overall.  My academic writing also tends to improve when I write the first draft by hand.

Drafting long hand may yield not only better written product, but better lawyering as well.  Consider how much of the financial products at the root of the financial crisis -- mortgage-backed securities, swaps, cdos -- were susceptible to assembly-line cut-and-paste lawyering.  The time saved with ctrl-x, ctrl-v is unlikely to be spent asking bigger picture questions on risk.

So if you are searching for a New Year's resolution, consider writing more in long hand.  Now if I could only hand write blog entries.

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