Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bashman Post on Word Limit Reduction Proposal

Howard Bashman has a new post on How Appealing examining the new proposal to reduce the word limit for principal briefs in the U.S. Courts of Appeals. The proposal is to reduce the current 14,000 word limit to 12,500. Allegedly, the current 14,000 word limit was based on a misunderstanding about how many words fit on a printed page.

Is this a beneficial reduction that will promote concision and clarity? Or another limitation on the role of advocacy before the courts of appeals?

The preliminary draft of proposed changes and call for comments is available here, and Howard invites comments, pro or con, through his site. This seems to me to be yet another procedural reform that streamlines, and arguably reduces, appellate advocacy and judicial consideration. I welcome your thoughts on the issue as I consider whether to comment.

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I think it is arguable that this word limit reduction should *not* have the impact of a substantial reduction in appellate advocacy or judicial review. In fact, there's a chance that the impact could ultimately be an improvement in quality of appellate advocacy and, accordingly, judicial review.

Having worked with an appellate court for almost 20 years, I can say that a good percentage of appellate briefs could just as effectively -- perhaps even more effectively -- present valid issues even with a word limit reduction simply by being more effectively written, ie. being more concise, being more focused, being better proofread, etc.

I think this could provide a valuable teaching moment for law students, too. Think of it this way: their clients' cases aren't suddenly going to have "fewer" meaningful issues or potentially valid claims. So, attorneys are going to have to figure out *how* to more effectively present those same issues within the confines of a shorter word limit, or simply abandon some claims.

This only seems to me like it's likely to be a problem in those cases where the issues genuinely necessitate more space than the rules allow. In those situations, though, hopefully the attorney can get court permission to expand the limits imposed by the rules.

Posted by: Daniel Real | Aug 22, 2014 9:02:56 AM

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