Friday, April 3, 2015

Federal Appellate Brief Word Limit to Change?

proposed change to Rule 32 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure would put appellate briefs on an enforced diet:

  • a principal brief would max out at 12,500 words (rather than the current 14,000 words)
  • a reply brief would have half that.
Because the Judicial Conference uses, you can read the comments that have been submitted.

Some of the comments are from individuals. Many are from organizations, for example
  • Seth Waxman submitted a letter on behalf of the appellate practice groups of several large law firms (including his own firm, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP).
  • EarthJustice, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and Western Environmental Law Center submitted joint comments.
  • The American Academy of Appellate Lawyers also weighed in, approving changes to other rules but not Rule 32.
  • Judge Frank Easterbrook (7th Cir.) wrote supporting the current, 14,000-word limit, and also explaining its origin. 
Most of the comments are against the change, but some support it. See Mark Wilson, FRAP 32: Do Federal Appellate Briefs Need to Be Shorter?, Strategist (Feb. 17, 2015).

By the way, the corresponding rule in Washington (RAP 10.4) limits brief length in terms of pages, not words. Its limit is 50 pages for a principal brief, which might work out to be about the same as 14,000 words. Judge Easterbrook says that the old federal rule was 50 pages; to change to a word count, he calculated the number of words in 50-page briefs and found an average of just under 40,000 words.

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