Vigorous Legal Writing is Concise

By | November 24, 2016

Vigorous writing is concise.

-Strunk and White (Third Edition, 1979)

The Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure have varied in its recommended length of court-filed motions and briefs in civil litigation. I’ve always figured that the judges know what they think, and what they want, when it comes to the piles of paper we litigators throw at them. I also know that our Colorado district court judges do not have the level of law clerk support as that found in the federal courts.

C.R.C.P. 121 Sec. 1-15 has varied over recent years, suggesting 15 pages be the maximum, then amending that language to encourage greater brevity stating, “Motions or briefs in excess of 10 pages in length… are discouraged” (emphasis added).  Going from 15 pages (often a challenge) to 10 was an encouragement from the courts I attempted to take to heart. That the pleadings in excess of 10 pages were merely discouraged (not a mandatory cap), sometimes my pleadings drifted over the mark. I attempted to make that a rare occurrence.

Today, the rule in Colorado litigation is hard-and-fast. Without the court’s permission otherwise, ordinary motions and briefs are limited to 15 double-spaced pages (not more than 4,000 words) and reply briefs are limited to 10 pages (but not more than 2,500 words).  Motions for summary judgement are limited to 25/15 pages respectively.

While federal district court judges in Colorado have their own standards, the reasoning for limiting the length of motions and briefs is the same.  If the reasons are not clear, this benchslap from from U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson as reported recently in the Aspen Times pretty much sums it up:

…please understand many, many lawyers believe their issues are so important and difficult that more pages are needed. What they don’t realize or won’t accept is that judges do not agree. With the volume of cases and motions presented to this court, I frankly do not have the time and perhaps not the patience to wade through 44-page briefs. If you can’t explain your position and provide citations to the key authorities in 15 pages, then in my view the problem is yours. A longer brief is not a more persuasive brief, either in general or in this case. If anything, it makes me wonder whether you really do have a good, clear legal argument.

The red-lines for the 2016 rule change is here and below:



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