Eighty years ago, Judge Benjamin N. Cardozo discussed the “nature of the judicial process” in a series of lectures he delivered at Yale University. More recently, Judge Frank M. Coffin has reflected on the process of judging, attempting to get some perspective on some of the “stubborn problems,” “the approaches that worked,” and “the benchmarks of craftsmanship” in rendering appellate opinions. Scribbling “on tickets, menus, court docket lists, [and] baggage checks,” Judge Coffin found himself following Henry David Thoreau's advice to “[k]now your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.” In the end, Judge Coffin's search focused on the question being asked by citizens “[a]t all levels of sophistication ...: Why must we entrust justice to the wisdom, mercy, and objectivity of this small and elite group, the judges?” By identifying this central question, Judge Coffin acknowledges the judiciary's responsibility to communicate clearly with its various audiences as the essential ingredient in achieving the goals of our judicial system. This article explores the purposes of appellate decisions and presents some ways appellate judges might improve their opinion writing by becoming more conscious of the needs of the audiences for whom they are writing. The article concludes with an exhortation to judges to keep the needs of their audiences firmly in mind as they go about their work and to make every choice regarding tone or content of opinions with an eye to preserving respect and credibility for our judicial system.

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