Crafty but Honest Tips for Trimming Briefs
We all want to write pithy briefs that come in well under the page or word limit. But the world conspires against us. You know what I mean: stingy court rules, terrible editors, and committees of other lawyers who receive nightly visits from the Good Idea Fairy.
So even if you’ve already polished your brief, you may still need another pass to shorten things a little more. I humbly offer a few ideas I’ve picked up over the years.
Before I begin, I recognize that some of these ideas, while honest, may be controversial. So let me make one thing very clear: No matter what I say, always follow your court’s rules. Now behold the tips.
Look for paragraphs with only a few words on the last line. You can gain an entire line of text just by shaving a word or two from that paragraph.
Look for numbers greater than nine. If they’re spelled out, use numerals instead. So if you see “forty-five,” turn it into “45.”
You can reduce your word count by hyphenating when appropriate. The word-counter in Microsoft Word counts a hyphenated phrase as one word. So if you hyphenate phrasal adjectives (as you should), “law of the case doctrine” (five words) becomes “law-of-the-case doctrine” (two words). I beg you not to abuse this tip; you’ll ruin it for the folks who hyphenate properly.
Record citations often waste a lot of space. Have you adopted a bloated citation convention? Often you can get away with a simple citation to a bates-numbered record or appendix. What if you could say “A142” instead of “Defendant’s Objections and Answers to Plaintiff’s First Set of Interrogatories, Interrogatory No. 12”?
Have you included a record citation after every sentence in your statement of facts? Consider a single citation at the end of several related sentences. So if four sentences in a row cite the same paragraph in an affidavit, consider citing the source just once, after the fourth sentence. It won't impose any additional burden on your readers—they’ll know where you got the information.
Be ruthless with string citations. If the proposition of law isn’t controversial, cite the best or most recent binding authority if possible. That’s usually all you need. Ask yourself: Are the extra citations really helping the court, or am I just making a show of my diligence?
Be ruthless with substantive footnotes; all too often, they’re dead weight. Again, does your note really help the court? The very fact that you’ve demoted the text to a footnote usually means it’s a drag on your argument.
Changing fonts can help. For example, Garamond consumes less space than Times New Roman.
Spacing between sentences can make a difference. I still use two spaces after a period (I have my reasons), but the digital age has made it acceptable to use only one. This could have a cascading effect that shortens the brief as a whole.
I hesitate to add this next one because it’s ugly—but it’s allowable. If you’re really desperate, you can deactivate the “widow/orphan control,” “keep lines together,” and “keep with next” attributes in your paragraph settings. This can buy you quite a few lines of text. But I repeat: Avoid this trick unless the entire universe is arrayed against you. It may reduce your page count, but everyone will see what you’re up to.
Things to avoid:
Overusing single-spaced block quotes to save vertical space—you’ll quickly earn the reader’s resentment.
Monkeying with margins to bypass the court’s rules, even a little bit—it’s cheating.
Using a microscopic font for footnotes—help the court, don’t induce eyestrain.
Tread very lightly before getting cute with paragraph spacing—some courts may not agree with you that “double spaced” includes the more compact “exactly 24 pt.” If your court allows it, great. But you need to make sure.
I’m sure I’ll get some hate mail for these, but that’s all part of the sport.