Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Monday, August 22, 2016

Keeping it Brief

On December 1, 2016, several important changes to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure will go into effect (assuming Congress doesn't act in the interim).  Among other things, these changes impact the length of federal appellate briefs, particularly those filed under the word limit listed in Rule 32(a)(7)(B).  Under the current rule, briefs must not "exceed 30 pages," contain "more than 14,000 words," or contain "more than 1,300 lines of text" using a "monospaced face."  Under the new rule, the first and third options remain the same; however, the word limit decreases to 13,000 words.  Why?

Attorney John E. Roberts explains:

In support of the rule change, the Advisory Committee noted that the current 14,000-word limit resulted from an attempt in 1998 to convert the 50-page limit then in effect into a cap on words. At that time, the Committee concluded that briefs generally contained about 280 words per page — and 280 words-per-page times 50 pages equaled 14,000 words. Now, the Committee has revised its view and concluded that appellate briefs prior to 1998 actually had closer to 250 words per page, which in its view justified reducing the word limit to 12,500 words. Pushback from appellate practitioners resulted in the new limit being upped from 12,500 to 13,000 words.

The whole package of rules changes can be viewed here.  Most of the changes do concern the length of filings.  As one can imagine, the changes have been opposed by some practitioners and bar associations.  As Roberts notes, "[t]he Rules do allow the Circuit Courts to extend word limits in particular cases or even in all cases by local rule."  It will be interesting to see if that happens.  Based on my experience, most federal appellate judges believe that even under the current rules briefs are just too long.  While there is that occasional complex case that might warrant a brief length extension, that is the exception and not the norm.  

Perhaps making the length of briefs a congressional campaign issue is the only option appellate practitioners have left!

| Permalink


Post a comment