3. Shrinking Fonts, (4) Condensing Kerning, (5) Narrowing Margins
In Sanctions for Evading Maximum Page Limits on Court Filings, Prof. Douglas E. Abrams collects cases where litigants used dishonest measures to exceed page limits in court filings. In each case, the lawyer was caught and publicly embarrassed for the effort, and sometimes the consequences were dire for clients.
Why It’s Problematic
Reduced font size, condensed kerning, and narrowed margins add up to additional pages, which, much like reduced line spacing, gives a litigant more opportunity for argument. Letter-spacing and -tracking refers to the uniform spacing over a range of characters; kerning refers to the spacing between pairs of characters in a proportional font. According to Butterick, it is acceptable (and preferred) to turn on kerning. But it is not acceptable to condense letter-spacing in a court document. If line-spacing reductions bring sanctions, then condensed letter-spacing is sure to anger a judge. Save condensed and expanded letter spacing for artistic efforts outside of court.
Beware the Benchslap
As judges grow more frustrated with lawyers’ tactics and chicanery, they publish more “benchslap” opinions to embarrass the feckless lawyers. These benchslaps quickly go viral on social media and can lead to lasting reputational damage. Converting Benchslaps to Backslaps has more on this trend.
Save Your Reputation with Rigorous Editing
If you’ve tried those formatting tricks and you’re lucky enough to get a second chance, you’ll need disciplined editing to bring your over-sized brief within the court’s limits. Here are four ways to shrink your brief without hurting your reputation.
1. Wipe Out Wordy Phrases
In 8 Secrets to Writing Clearly& Concisely, WordRake founder Gary Kinder explains the eight signs of wordiness: or, as, of, in that, there-that, it-that, to be verbs, and periods. Look for these signs and delete the extra words or replace the phrases with concise alternatives. Take this quiz to see if you can spot the signals.
2. Nix Nominalizations
Search for words ending in -ion. These are likely nominalizations, which are nouns created from adjectives or verbs. Nominalizations invite wordiness and confusion. Try converting nominalizations into active verbs using tips from 3 Secrets to Writing Bright & Lively Sentences.
3. Rewrite Redundancies and Repetition
Search for phrases like “brief summary” and legal doublets like “depose and say.” These words will expand your brief without adding value. Rewriting these phrases will make your document shorter and punchier.
4. Cut Crutch Words and Throat-Clearing
Avoid empty lead-ins and filler words like accordingly, as such, in any event, to be sure, in other words, suffice it to say, what is more, clearly, and the fact that. These words allow us to ramble while feeling erudite. Cut them and you’ll improve your brief. For more tips on what to cut, check out So Many Useless Words, So Little Time.
An Easier Way to Meet Word Limits
Let WordRake help you meet page- and word-limits at the push of a button. WordRake uses complex, patented algorithms to find needless words, weak lead-ins, clichés, dull phrases, redundancies, unnecessary modifiers, and more. Then it presents its suggestions to you in the familiar track-changes style. It can make any document clearer and shorter. Try WordRake free for seven days!
Disciplined editing will make your work better and your arguments stronger. If you’re short on time, or too close to your document, WordRake can help jumpstart your editing process. And if you still can’t bring your brief within the limit, ask for permission to file an over-limit brief.
About the Author
Ivy B. Grey is the Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for WordRake. Prior to joining the team, she practiced bankruptcy law for ten years. In 2020, Ivy was recognized as an Influential Woman in Legal Tech by ILTA. She has also been recognized as a Fastcase 50 Honoree and included in the Women of Legal Tech list by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. Follow Ivy on Twitter @IvyBGrey or connect with her on LinkedIn.