If you are trying a case in in federal court after December 1, 2011, you’d better bring a new copy of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Don’t lose any sleep, because the substance of the Rules hasn’t changed, they’ve only been “restyled.” This reworking of the FRE was aimed at making the Rules more consistent in their use of terminology, to stick to “plain language” and to make the language more “user-friendly.”

The Committee leading this effort (and there was a herd of committees) tried to be clear that its changes were not substantive. The Committee Note to virtually every changed Rule says that “these changes are intended to be stylistic only. There is no intent to change any result in any ruling on evidence admissibility.” The Committee avoided making changes to what it called “sacred phrases” in the Rules, which it felt would have been substantive.  “Sacred phrases” are those phrases that had become “so familiar in practice that [their] alteration would be disruptive..” In other words,  that means "phrases that have become so familiar as to be fixed in cement."

Do you know any of those? The only one that has stuck in my mind like cement over the years has been an out of court statement “offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted.” That definition of hearsay was indeed deemed “sacred,” but there have been other rewritings of the hearsay rules that make them more digestible.

The new Rules aren’t on the level of as good a read as, let’s say, John Grisham’s new book, The Litigators. But they certainly are easier to read than they were before. There’s a side by side comparison of the original Rule against the restyled Rule available to look at if you have an affection for a particular Rule or Rules. Oh, and the new Rules won a Burton Award.  Those awards are "designed to reward major achievements in the law ranging from literary awards to the greatest reform in law." The restyled Rules won the Reform in Law Award.

These changes have been in the works since 2006, so freshly graduated lawyers ought to be familiar with them. The luminaries working on this five year restyling effort included Professor Ken Broun of UNC Law School, who was a consultant to the Advisory Committee. Another professor involved, Joseph Kimble of the Thomas Cooley Law School, was the “style consultant” for the project. He wrote a series of four articles explaining improvements in specific Rules. You can read those here, here, here,  and here.

Professor Broun, incidentally, is not taking a break from the Rules of Evidence after this multi-year effort.. He is leading a project to create a resource that” would describe the federal common law on evidentiary privileges.” A very detailed draft on attorney client privilege and the marital communications privilege as presented to the Advisory Committee on Evidence Rules is available (at Tab IV).

I wonder if we could get restyling going on the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure. They are sludge.