January 18, 2022

Volume XII, Number 18

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Circuits and Judges Weigh In On Proposed Reduction In Appellate Brief Word Count Limit

We will discuss the proposal to reduce the word limit for federal appellate briefs from 14,000 to 12,500 words, explaining that the reduced limit would probably not be a problem in most cases, but might pose a formidable obstacle to more complex or record-intensive appeals.  Now, data from the Eighth Circuit indicates that, even with the current 14,000 word limit, only about 15% of briefs over 30 pages (briefs under 30 pages do not require a word count) exceed 12,500 words.  

There exist interesting alternate suggestions by the National Immigration Justice Center: when submitting a brief between 12,500 and 14,000 words, counsel would have to make an “attestation” that the complexity of the issues and/or argument warrant the length of the brief.  It is possible that such a requirement might make attorneys think twice before exceeding 12,500 words. On the other hand, the attestation could become boilerplate.

The comment period does not end until February 17, but there is already a “circuit split”: the Ninth Circuit has submitted a comment opposing the decrease, while the Tenth and D.C. circuits have submitted comments supporting it. Judge Easterbrook of the Seventh Circuit weighed in individually to oppose the decrease, pointing out that “[m]any cases in courts of appeals are every bit as complex as those in the Supreme Court,” and that “cases have more issues on average, and lawyers often must devote substantial space to discussing evidence.”  Judge Silberman of the D.C. Circuit disagreed with the analogy to Supreme Court practice,  and amicably quipped that  Judge Easterbrook’s position might stem from his “unique technique” in reviewing briefs: “if he is not persuaded by the opening brief, he stops reading.”  It is also worth noting that the Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure is currently chaired by the Sixth Circuit’s own Judge Sutton, whose opinions embody his well-known preference for concise, straightforward legal writing.

Even if the proposed decrease is not adopted, appellate counsel would do well to take heed of the views and preferences expressed by judges and/or circuits in the comments when writing and—most importantly—editing their appellate briefs.

© Copyright 2022 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLPNational Law Review, Volume V, Number 42
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About this Author

Larisa Vaysman, Squire Patton Boggs, appellate litigation
Associate

Larisa Vaysman’s practice focuses on general and appellate litigation. She has represented clients before the Sixth, Ninth and DC Circuits, as well as a range of state and federal courts. She has also represented petitioners and amici curiae before the US Supreme Court. Prior to joining Squire Sanders, Larisa clerked for The Honorable R. Guy Cole, Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. While in law school, Larisa worked as a summer associate for a Cincinnati law firm.

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