January 29, 2013Signposting, Linking, and Flow
When asked about their pet peeves about lawyers practicing in their courts, judges often complain about briefs that come in at the page limit. Of course, judges prefer to read fewer pages rather than more, and a brief at the page limit means more pages for them to read. But a page-limit brief says more than that: it says that this lawyer sat down to write a brief, kept writing until he or she ran out of room, and then stopped. Or—not much of an improvement—he or she wrote a longer brief, and then cut things out until the brief fit the page limit, and then stopped.
Don’t stop cutting until you are done. Never stop just because you’ve removed “enough.” If a paragraph, a sentence, or a word doesn’t belong in the brief, then it is weakening your argument and should come out.
A properly constructed brief has a naturally correct length. That length may be two pages, or three and three quarters, or nine. It is very unlikely to happen to be exactly the length that the jurisdiction in question has prescribed. That is one reason why a page-limit brief implies poor work: it shows a lack of respect for the integrity of the argument and for the court’s time.
When your argument really and genuinely requires more pages than the court has allotted, even after you have made your best effort to cut it down, ask for leave to file more, and explain why. This should happen just a few times in your whole career. Almost all briefs can come in noticeably under the page limit, and many can come in well under. Nothing shows respect for the judge, confidence in your own position, and mastery of the facts and law like a three-page brief when your limit is fifteen.