Appellate Practice

Are longer appeals briefs better? Much ink is spilled over proposed 1,500-word cut in length limit

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A proposal to cut the length limit for main federal appeals briefs by 1,500 words has generated a lot of comments.

Most commenters oppose cutting the cap from 14,000 to 12,500 words, report the National Law Journal and University of Chicago law professor Will Baude, writing at the Volokh Conspiracy. Among those taking a stand are appellate practitioners, judges, bar associations and advocacy groups.

Many judges support the change, while many lawyers do not, according to Baude, who says that is his general impression after reading many, but not all, of the comments.

A recurring theme, Baude says, is that lower word limits will force lawyers to omit some arguments that could turn out to be successful.

Meanwhile two law professors are citing early results from a study of civil appeals in the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the National Law Journal says. When both sides were represented by counsel, longer briefs were strongly correlated with success, the study found.

“For the party challenging an adverse decision below, persuasive completeness may be more important than condensed succinctness,” according to a summary of the paper, available on SSRN. The authors are law professors Gregory Sisk of the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis and Michael Heise of Cornell University Law School.

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