MODERN LEGAL WRITING
BEN COHEN, J.
Many courts limit the length of filings. Back when courts did this through page limits, lawyers were known to fiddle with their page margins, line spacing, and font sizes to squeeze in more words. Once word processing software became the norm, permitting easy and precise word counts, smart judges realized that instead of straining their eyes to read tiny fonts, they could impose word limits instead of page limits, thereby removing incentive for stuffing more text onto a given page. Word limits are not yet universal, though. Many trial courts still impose page limits.
The first (and best) way to reduce word count or pages is to aggressively edit. This article provides some post-editing tips on how to meet word and page limit requirements without sacrificing content.
One easy way to save dozens or even hundreds of words is to omit needless spaces from the official Bluebook citation formats. Compressing record citation formats can also save words, if the appellate courts permit. And for those briefs that are still subject to page limits, there are ways to reduce pages without resorting to typographical tricks like shrinking fonts, margins, or line spacing.
This article also suggests a change to the Colorado Courts of Appeals' record citation format rules that would improve citation clarity while reducing the number of words the citations consume.
One brief but necessary warning and disclaimer: I do not advise anyone to violate any court rules, including rules regarding formatting or citation. To the extent that these suggestions butt up against existing court rules, I would urge the courts to reconsider their rules.
Addressing Word Limits
For principal appellate briefs, federal circuit courts currently permit 13,000 words (recendy reduced from 14,000), and Colorado appellate courts permit 9,500 words. The Committee Notes to F.R.A.P. 32's 1998 amendments explain die sound reasons for switching from page limits to word limits (e.g., to permit large fonts for easier reading). Fourteen-point type is required or preferred.2
Now that word counts have been in force for about two decades, most lawyers have had the experience of trying to trim words out of a brief to make a word limit. Yet most lawyers are unaware of a simple and effective trick that will reduce word count at absolutely no cost to t he substantive writing: omit needless spaces in citations.
Bluebook Abbreviation Format
When I have to trim someone else's brief down to comply with a word limit, one of the first things I do is close up citation formats.
I was on law review in law school, so I learned the official citation formats ordained by what was then called the Harvard Bluebook, and is now just called The Bluebook. One of Bluebook's many arcane rules for citations is Rule 6.1 for abbreviations:
In general, close up all adjacent single capitals [b]ut do not close up single capitals with longer abbreviations. . . . [I]nsert a space adjacent to any abbreviation containing two or more letters.
The examples given include:
■ F.Supp. 2d
If these citations were closed up (i.e., internal spaces eliminated), they would be counted as one word instead of two or three words by Microsoft Word, the dominant word processor used by lawyers.4Closing up all needlessly spaced-out abbreviations can save hundreds of words in a brief.
Similar savings can be obtained by closing up other familiar abbreviations. For example, I use "F.R.C.P." or "F.R.Civ.P." (if context doesn't indicate that the "C." means "Civil" rather than "Criminal") instead of "Fed. R. Civ. Proc." And in state court briefs, I always use "Colo.App." in my case citations rather than Bluebook's "Colo. Ct.App."
It amazes me that some lawyers are so committed to following strict Bluebook citation format that they would rather sacrifice substantive argument to meet a word limit than violate a Bluebook citation rule or similar abbreviation convention. These rules are arbitrary. I can discern no reason for inserting spaces in abbreviations per the Bluebook rule. Nor can such august authorities as Judge Posner of the Seventh Circuit.5To the contrary...