There is a proposed change to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure to lower the word limit for principal briefs to 12,500 words and replies down to 6250.
The process for commenting and the reasoning behind the proposal is spelled out here:
The deadline for comments is February 17, 2015.
Personally, I think this is a bad idea. The explanation provided is that when they shifted from a page to a word count, they goofed and didn't make the word count the equivalent to the previous pages limits. Now I know a full 14,000 word brief is longer than 50 pages, even when you strip it of the parts that don't count, but that's in a 14 point font. If it's longer that 50 pages even in a 12 point font, it's not by much.
In any event, particularly with replies, it's tough sometimes to deal with lots of issues or complicated ones without using some space. I remember when I clerked, replies in particular were useful because they honed the questions presented and the relevant case law surrounding them. I know that the courts are understaffed and work very hard, but there are fewer appeals these days, not more, and I'm not sure that this will make their lives easier. Is it really going to help them to have a replies that can't address the question presented as thoroughly as the party wants?
I know we have become a world of sound bites and tweets, and I'm sure some people abuse the existing length limits to blather on endlessly when they would profit from being more concise. But aren't we all (or most of us) grown ups, and is the abuse so widespread that we have to do this?
I've blogged multiple times before how the brief has got to change as it is read electronically and we move to the world of shorter attention spans. That's a fact of life. And in the future, briefs will be structured differently (or should be) based on the fact that briefs are going to be given to the judges and their clerks with hyperlinks straight to the case and the record in the cites in the text (this is already in the works in some jurisdictions). So the reader is going to be going back and forth, back and forth, when reading, from the brief text to the decision, to the record etc. This requires a certain type of writing, and will probably reduce the need to include block quotes.
But we aren't there yet, and until we are, can we give the bar some slack? With oral arguments shortened or non-existent, is it really a bad thing just as a matter of due process to let people say as much as they want to say within the existing limits?