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On notable occasions, the format of a message acquires a heritage equal in significance to the message itself. Because of its history, familiarity, intrigue, or sheer repetition, an account's style of presentation may serve not only to characterize the account, but also to condition its recipient to a pre-ordained demeanor of expectation. Style and substance are thus comingled, and the medium subsumes the message.

It should come as no surprise that the described phenomenon claims a special affinity to the law and to legal "messages." Much of the information transmitted in law and in legal circles projects history, familiarity, intrigue, and repetition, and its accounts bear highly distinctive styles of communication. Pivotally dependent upon a process of revelation, law defers to no other professional domain in its preoccupation with definitive prerequisites of presentation. The "legal literature" of forms, reports, and assorted other prescribed species of documentation assumes a medium of unparalleled significance.

One of the law's most unique styles of presentation is the per curiam judicial opinion. When an appellate court reports its judgment in a case via a per curiam opinion, it employs a format of legendary status. Resoundingly rooted in history and popularly perpetuated by custom, the per curiam opinion constitutes a fixture of jurisprudential communication. Few "forms" of legal literature are more familiar.

Upon closer examination, however, a second feature of this fixture also provokes observation. Despite its air of comfortable familiarity, the per curiam judicial opinion concurrently emits an aura of frustrating imprecision. Among the disquieting aspects defying neat categorization are the precise origins of the technique, its practical as opposed to technical definition, possible prerequisites for its utilization, and both the frequency and circumstances of its traditional invocation. How can a format so familiar be at once so illusive?

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