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MAKE YOUR BRIEF EASY TO READ

February 28, 2019

 

You want judges to read your brief with care, but if it is hard on the eye or jarring to the internal ear, the judges are likely to skim it in frustration and move on to something else.

 

      Here are some simple rules to make your brief a pleasure to read:

          Avoid full justification. Although your left margin should be aligned, the right margin should not. Otherwise, the spaces between words will be wider in some lines and narrower in others. Wide spaces accelerate the reader’s internal voice, while narrow spaces do the opposite. This stop-and-go sensation distracts the reader from what you are trying to say.

          Avoid single-spaced indented quotations. They are almost as indecipherable as the hieroglyphics in the photograph, and many readers skip them entirely. The only proper purpose of an indented quotation is to prove what you said in your text. The unwritten prelude to any indented quotation should be, “If you don’t believe what I just said, read this; if you do believe me, move on.”

          Limit footnotes, and situate them properly. Although footnotes sometimes are necessary, every time you insert a footnote you interrupt yourself. A surplus of footnotes does not make a brief look scholarly; it makes it look cluttered. Therefore, minimize footnotes and avoid putting them in the middle of a sentence.

          Avoid small print. For example, footnotes should be in the same type size as the text. If you include them at all, they should not be hard to read.If you include them at all, they should not be hard to read. 

          Avoid unnecessary parentheticals. The ones in an introductory sentence like “Plaintiff John Smith (‘Smith’) sues defendant Mary Jones (‘Jones’) to enforce a contract dated May 1, 2018 (‘the contract’)” are superfluous and silly. And imagine the Gettysburg Address beginning “Four (4) score and seven (7) years ago . . . .”

          Refer to litigants properly. Once you have introduced them, refer to the parties of your case by name (Smith) or description (the railroad) rather than procedural status (plaintiff, appellant) unless some unusual circumstance makes greater specificity awkward. Some lawyers preface every reference to their clients with Mr. or Ms. in the hope of endowing them with dignity, while many government attorneys in criminal appeals refer to the defendant as appellant rather than by name in an effort at dehumanization. Both practices are ineffective, transparent, and tedious.

          Simplicity is beauty. A brief is nothing but a vehicle for the ideas it contains. It should have no annoying features that distract from its substance by calling negative attention to themselves.

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