What did you type this thing on?

We don't write legal briefs on these any more!

There are still lawyers who remember having briefs typed up on typewriters. Buttonhole them about it, and they will reminisce about a time when the last six pages of a brief needed to be retyped because someone decided to insert a line.

We no more use typewriters to prepare briefs these days than we smoke in our offices or complain about 90% income tax rates, but some of our briefs still look like they were generated by typewriters. We have inherited a lot of very bad habits from the era when the only characters available were those on the keyboard.

We’ll cover some of the more subtle negative legacies of the typewriter era in other posts, and I’ll elaborate on all of the vices listed below in other posts as well. Today’s post will just list some of the things that should never appear in any brief that you write. They exist in legal briefs today solely because people got used to doing things that way when they had no choice, and then didn’t realize they were no longer constrained by the sharp limitations of the typewriter. The excuse of younger lawyers is, I suppose, that they are copying their seniors without thinking about why they are doing so. Any such lawyers reading this post no longer have even that excuse. There are better ways of doing things.

With no further ado, then:

  • There are two kinds of quotation marks and apostrophes, straight and curly. Straight: (‘ “) Curly: (‘’ “”). Never use a straight quote (sometimes called a dumb quote) or apostrophe – ‘ or ” – except for very rare and special uses like feet and inches (“the assailant is 5’11″ in height”) or latitude/longitude (“the base being located at 75°14’50″ north latitude, it receives very little sunlight in the winter”). Turn on the “smart quotes” or equivalent feature of your word processor.
  • Never underline. Not for emphasis, not in titles, not in captions. Use italics or bold for emphasis. We’ll discuss this more in other posts as well.
  • After the title of the court on the first page of the brief–which is probably too embedded in tradition to be worth altering–never use all-caps text. Instead use bold, change the font size, or (occasionally) use small caps.
  • Never use any graphical symbol, such as ! or % or * or ), to form a line in a caption. See the tabbed images below for an illustration of this error and one way to correct it.

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