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Any intelligent/educated guesses by people who perhaps work more or less full time as lawyers as to how much time it would have taken the judge to research and to write up all of the precedents and to address all of the different aspects of the vexatious party's peculiar quirks would be welcome. Alternatively, are there any mechanisms by which one could possibly learn on a less speculative basis, perhaps by a FOIA request or the local equivalent, for the judge's timesheet entries that might have logged his efforts deliberating and working on that case as a government employee? Or simply writing to him on an informal and candid basis inquiring as to how long this impressively comprehensive reference on vexatious litigation tactics took him to produce?

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Judges don't have timesheet entries (and are often expressly excluded from FOIA obligations). They get paid salaries and are expected to work hard enough to clear their dockets in reasonable periods of time, however long that takes.

If you wanted a more direct evidentiary estimate, you could estimate that a judge and his clerk together probably work 90-120 hours a week, figure out how many trials and hearings of what length were conducted and deduct that time spent on that from the total, and then divide the remaining hours by the number of opinions one can estimate that the judge wrote (or better yet, a reasonable estimate of the number of pages of opinions that one can estimate that the judge wrote).

Typically, a lot of the legal research grunt work and more boilerplate parts of an opinion are written by the law clerk under some general instructions from the judge, with the judge writing the more substantive sections personally and heavily (or lightly, depending upon the quality of the law clerk) revising the draft opinion as a whole. The longer the opinion, the more likely it is that a substantial portion of it was written by the law clerk.

For similar kinds of legal writing (e.g. appellate briefs and motions for summary judgment and proposed orders or written closing arguments) one to six hours per page from all professionals working on the document would be in the right ballpark.

Judicial opinions come with some efficiencies, because once a judge decides a point of law or reaches a factual conclusion it doesn't have to be belabored in the same way that a litigant who isn't sure if their reasoning will be persuasive or not must.

But, judicial opinions also typically have to spell out a greater proportion of legal and factual foundation for the end analysis that isn't hotly contested, will summarize all of the material points from the evidence presented in the case, and will frequently also recap in some detail the arguments made by the advocates for both sides of the case before actually engaging with those arguments in an analysis section.

On balance, those factors probably pretty much balance out.

If the judicial opinion is shorter, elegantly written, contains pithy turns of phrase, and/or contains lots of legal citations or factual analysis not raised by either party, it is probably closer to five or six hours per page or more. If the opinion is longer, has a rote and mechanical feel to it, and has very little factual analysis or references to law not mentioned by the parties, it is probably closer to one hour per page or even less. When some of these factors go one way, and other of these factors go the other way, it is probably in between in terms of hours per page.

This said, sometimes it takes a judge a long time to write an opinion, but the end product is very short and elegant. In these situations, often what happened is that the judge and the judge's clerk spent lots and lots of hours writing a long and detailed first draft, then got an insight that provided a much more efficient and succinct way to reach a resolution to the case. In those circumstances, there would be dozens or scores of hours of work that went into the discarded first draft, only to be superseded by a half a dozen or dozen hours devoted to a much shorter final draft. In those cases, the final draft of the opinion might be ten or twenty hours per page or more once you include the time spent on the discarded draft.

Of course, another factor is that some judges are just more efficient legal writers than others, and some judges have more familiarity with some areas of law than others. A opinion that might take one judge twenty hours to write might take another judge presiding over the very same case and producing an opinion of the same length and quality a hundred hours to write.

The opinion in Meads v. Meads was 176 pages. If I had to make a best guess, I'd estimate that it probably took about 600 hours to write, probably about two-thirds of which was law clerk hours and probably about one-third of which was judge time.

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  • You overlook that most of the legal research is done by the litigants and submitted in the course of the case. The judge usually just has to decide between competing points of view.
    – Dale M
    Jan 28, 2023 at 4:49

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