Unpersuasive Formatting

Screen Shot 2012-07-09 at 7.59.17 AM

Screen Shot 2012-07-09 at 7.59.17 AM

Working on a brief this morning, I took a look at a fellow lawyer's brief for another appellant in the same case. The lawyer works with a firm with an excellent reputation for appellate representation in the Fifth Circuit. When I opened the brief to the table of contents, I was surprised at the firm's formatting. The picture above is a screen shot of the two issues that the firm is asserting on appeal.

I'm not sure where lawyers learned to capitalize all the words in a sentence. I know that they don't teach this in law school. Maybe long ago there was a famous lawyer who wanted his briefs to stand out from the pack, so he decided to capitalize all his issues, and not-so-famous lawyers, much like lemmings, decided to follow him off the formatting cliff.

The problem with all-capital sentences is that they are hard to read. Why make something harder than it needs to be? The whole idea behind legal writing is persuasion—the advocate presents his argument to a neutral tribunal in an effort to persuade it that his client is in the right. Therefore everything he does from grammar to logic to even formatting should be fine-tuned to that end. Yes, some legal documents, such as disclaimers of warranty, require all-capital sentences, but briefs don't. If the appellate advocate (or any lawyer for that matter) wants to be more persuasive, he should drop this kind of formatting altogether.

Legal WritingSmythe PC