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Why Lawyers Must Always Be Sure To Have Clean Briefs

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Earlier this week, while I was running word searches though the legislative history of a statutory provision (using Hein Online, one of the many resources available through the amazing Jenkins Law Library ), I stumbled across some language that seemed awfully familiar. When I clicked on the term, I was taken to the written testimony on natural gas pipelines that I’d given two years earlier before a Senate energy subcommittee. What struck me as odd, however, is that the actual submission, just as I’d printed and formatted it in Word was simply bundled as is into the Committee Report.

Seeing my testimony with its somewhat awkward font and formatting (I had less than a day to prepare it) made me cringe. After all, had I known that my testimony would be preserved in perpetuity, I’d have taken more care with its appearance.

My experience made me realize that just as it’s important to always wear clean underwear (because after all, you never know when someone might need to see it), likewise, we lawyers must always be sure to have clean briefs because we never know who’ll be reading them.  Although lawyers’ briefs have always been available in digital format (on LEXIS and Westlaw) or accessible through PACER, now, they can are accessible in their original format on Casetext ’s new Brief Finder (take a look at my review and video at 9:04 to see it in action).  And of course, lawyers’  cease and desist letters  have made their rounds on the Internet for years.

The point is that most of the documents that we produce are no longer shielded by a cloak of practical obscurity.  So when you file a brief with a jarring or unreadable font and improper formatting, it’s not only opposing counsel and the judge who will see it, but generations of lawyers to come.

Editor’s Note – If you’re looking to improve the styling of your legal documents, check out Typography for Lawyers , Matt Butterick’s blog and book on the subject – with these ten takewaways posted at Lawyerist if you don’t have the time to go through the entire book.

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