News – 6/6/2014

June 6, 2014

Using Acronyms in Briefs Is Always a Bad Idea, Particularly in the D.C. Circuit

A judge on the D.C. Circuit filed a concurring opinion today in order to scold a lawyer for using too many obscure acronyms in a brief.  He explained that “we never see that in a brief filed by well-skilled appellate specialists.”  The use of acronyms “has been almost a marker, dividing the better lawyers from the rest.”  

The D.C. Circuit has specific rules and guidelines concerning the use of acronyms in briefs.  The D.C. Circuit Handbook of Practice and Internal Procedures warns, “parties are strongly urged to limit the use of acronyms. . . . parties should avoid using acronyms that are not widely known.”  Judge Silberman’s concurrence suggests that the frustration and “aggravati[on],” however, stems not just from the rules and guidelines, but also because “the practice constitutes lousy brief writing.”  

The Circuit’s handbook also has other helpful tips for briefs.  It instructs lawyers to refer to parties by name or descriptions rather than “appellant” and “appellee,” and also cautions against making substantive arguments in footnotes.  Although not all appellate courts have such style guidelines, following these practices helps to avoid “lousy brief writing.”

See Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. FERC, No. 13-1015  (D.C. Cir. June 6, 2014) (Silberman, J., concurring).