I chair the Appellate Law Section of the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel. Members of our section recently put on a great program on how to make legal briefs more effective for judges and law clerks who read them on electronic devices rather than on paper. While the Massachusetts state appellate courts still have not implemented electronic filing, the SJC posts briefs online, the First Circuit has electronic filing, and some judges and justices (or their law clerks) may be reading your brief on an iPad or other similar electronic device. When reading on such a device, people tend to skim the text more, looking for visual cues and parts of the text to focus on more intently. Here are a few tips I gleaned from the FDCC program on how to make your brief more effective for someone who is reading a brief on an electronic device:
- Use more headings, lists, and bullet points to guide the reader.
- Use shorter paragraphs, with well-crafted topic sentences.
- Use summaries that not only provide a roadmap but explain your key points concisely.
- Use more white space (although when you have a page limit, rather than a word limit, this can be challenging). Electronic readers tend to focus more on the top portion of a page, so if you can, you may want to place the most important content at the top of a new page rather than the end of the previous page.
- Consider visual aids, such as a photograph, chart, or side-by-side comparison, where appropriate.
- Consider using hyperlinks, internal or external. There likely will come a day when it is standard procedure required by court rules to provide direct links in briefs to cases cited and to the appendix.
Most of these tips were key features of strong paper briefs before the advent of electronic readers. I think it is now especially important to keep these tips in mind for every brief you write.