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April 2018

Only one space after sentences. Not two—not ever.

While on the subject of typography, here is an absolute rule, not subject to serious debate: Unless you’re banging out your briefs on an Underwood manual typewriter, put only one space—not two—between the end of one sentence and the first letter of the next sentence. On this point, the authorities are unanimous:

“Use even forward-spacing in your documents: one space between words and one space after punctuation marks (including colons and periods).” Bryan A. Garner, The Redbook § 4.12 (2013).

“Some topics in this book will offer you choices. Not this one. Always put exactly one space between sentences.” Matthew Butterick, Typography for Lawyers 41 (2010) (emphasis in original).

“A single character space, not two spaces, should be left after periods at the ends of sentences (both in manuscript and in final, published form) and after colons.” The Chicago Manual of Style § 2.12 (15th ed. 2003).

Space between sentences. In typeset matter, one space, not two (in other words, a regular space), follows any mark of punctuation that ends a sentence, whether a period, a colon, a question mark, an exclamation point, or closing quotation marks.” Id., § 6.11.

Why I left-justify rather than full-justify

Many brief-writers use fully justified text, so that the text lines up with both the left and right margins. I don’t. When I make the typography decisions, I use left-justified or left-aligned text, with a “ragged-right” margin. This is not a matter of personal preference. It’s a matter of readability. If the text is generated by a word processor (e.g. Word, WordPerfect) rather than professionally typeset, left-justified text is easier to read because it avoids odd gaps between words. But don’t take my word for it. Consider these authorities:

“Except in the hands of a skillful typographer, fully justified text can be harder to read than unjustified (‘flush-left’) text. This is always true for office documents, and especially when they are unhyphenated as well. Forcing the text to both margins may result in lines with word spacing that is too wide or, worse, unevenly distributed across the page.... Setting the copy flush left has its own advantages, too: the uneven right margin gives visual clues that help the reader find the beginning of the next line. Readers don’t lose their place in the copy as often.” Bryan A. Garner, The Redbook 92–93 (3d ed. 2013).

“In my law practice, I almost never justify text. Why’s that? The justification engine in a word processor is rudimentary compared to a professional page-layout program. I find that word-processor justification can make text look clunky and coarse. Left-aligning the text is more reliable.” Matthew Butterick, Typography for Lawyers 136 (2010).

“For desktop publishing, then, the choice should be different. According to some experts, keeping the text left-aligned affords the greatest legibility because there is no adjustment needed to word spacing and because the resulting ‘ragged-right’ margin adds variety and interest to the page without interfering with legibility.” Ruth Ann Robbins, Painting With Print: Incorporating Concepts of Typographic and Layout Design into the Text of Legal Writing Documents:, 2 J. ALWD 109, 130 (Fall 2004).

“Do not justify your text unless you hyphenate it too. If you fully justify unhyphenated text, rivers result as the word processing or page layout program adds white space between the words so that the margins line up.” U.S. Ct. App. 7th Cir. Requirements and Suggestions for Typography in Briefs and Other Papers.

Sanctions for frivolous appeal under FRAP 38

Under Fed. R. App. P. 38, a federal appellate court may award damages for a frivolous appeal. How bad does an appeal have to be to incur Rule 38 sanctions? The U.S. Fifth Circuit answered that question in depth in Coghlan v. Starkey, 852 F.2d 806 (5th Cir. 1988). In that case, the appellant’s counsel filed a brief that “cite[d] only two cases, and fail[ed] to explain even those two.” Id. at 813. The brief also failed to address any of the controlling authorities cited in the lower court’s judgment. Said the Fifth Circuit, “This is poor appellate practice and an abuse of the appellate process.”

The lesson for the rest of us: don’t ignore adverse controlling authorities—especially when they’re cited in the trial court’s reasons for judgment.

Be a writer

Twice a year, I speak about appellate practice at a CLE seminar for newly sworn-in lawyers. One thing I continually warn them against is using someone else’s brief or writ application as a model. There are two reasons for this advice: (1) The model may not follow current court rules. (2) Following form like this tends to preserve bad legal writing. Today I can cite Mark Herrmann as a supporting authority for this advice. In a recent blog post at Above the Law, Mark tells this story from his early career:

It took a while for me to develop a sense of comfort when I started working at a small firm in San Francisco. I didn’t know how the quality of my written work compared to the quality of the written work of other new associates at the joint. (In fact, in my first week at the firm, I made the mistake of using a brief filed a few months earlier as a model for a brief that I was working on. When the partner told me my work was nothing special, I showed him the model I’d worked from. He explained an important lesson: Your obligation is never to recreate what we did last time; your obligation is to do the best you can do.)