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Monday, September 22, 2014

BP Lawyers' Brief Formatting Shenanigans

Students entering law school often remark that law school writing assignments are difficult because of their maximum page requirements. This is different from many students' undergraduate experiences, where writing enough to exceed the minimum page requirement is the daunting task.

Law students are trained to adhere to strict maximum limits in their writing because brevity and efficiency is an important component of legal writing. And courts often have strict formatting rules and page or word limits on briefs that parties submit in legal proceedings.

Unfortunately, it appears that lawyers for oil company BP didn't understand the lesson and relied on an "old-school trick" to circumvent the court's formatting requirements. NPR reports on a recent order of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. This order is one small chapter of the complex litigation that is unfolding over BP's massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010.

From the order:

Finally, the Court must address the format of BP’s opposition memorandum. The briefing order allowed BP’s counsel to file a response of up to 35 pages, double-spaced. (Rec. Doc. 13154). This is 10 pages over the usual limit for response briefs. BP’s counsel filed a brief that, at first blush, appeared just within the 35-page limit. A closer study reveals that BP’s counsel abused the page limit by reducing the line spacing to slightly less than double-spaced. As a result, BP exceeded the (already enlarged) page limit by roughly 6 pages.

The Court should not have to waste its time policing such simple rules—particularly in a case as massive and complex as this. Counsel are expected to follow the Court’s orders both in letter and in spirit. The Court should not have to resort to imposing character limits, etc., to ensure compliance. Counsel’s tactic would not be appropriate for a college term paper. It certainly is not appropriate here.

Any future briefs using similar tactics will be struck.
Word limits and formatting guidelines don't fade out of existence at the end of law school. Legal writing professors would do well to share this opinion with students who are inclined to protest the strict rules of writing assignments.

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