New Court Word Limits – How WordRake Can Help

NOTE: The following information was provided by WordRake, a terrific redaction program. I tried the 15-day free trial and loved it. I encourage you to give it a try in your office. The WordRake weekly newsletter is also very helpful and would be worth subscribing to. More information is available at


Text Rules written on the blackboard with hand holding white chalk aside.

Three days ago, the New York Times published an article about a new limit of 13,000 words for all briefs filed with federal appellate courts. Lawyers are not happy. “There are cases where the facts are complicated,” complained one, “and where areas of the law are complicated.” In a radio interview, the Ninth Circuit’s Judge Alex Kozinski countered, “The more complex the case, the more the lawyers should strive to make the explanation simple and easy to understand.” Lawyers in over 7000 law firms  know WordRake helps.

42 Million Words Judge Kozinski estimated that the “average case has three briefs, so that’s close to 40,000 words in every case, and we get 35-40 of those cases a month.” My math tells me that that comes to almost 20,000,000 words a year. (The article estimated 42,000,000.) The average hardback book published in New York runs about 100,000 words, so the average federal appeals judge has to read at least 200 “books” a year.

But the “books” are not written by professional writers edited exhaustively by professional editors. They’re written by harried lawyers with myriad cases and clients demanding their time. Judge Kozinski observed that too many lawyers “leave the writing of the brief till the last minute . . . . and don’t leave themselves time to go back and cut and polish and winnow the arguments.” Even if that describes you, in a few minutes—at the last minute—WordRake can help you “cut and polish.

Federal Courts Use WordRake Although many individual federal and state judges and clerks use WordRake to help them draft memoranda, orders, and opinions, whole federal courts in Washington and Florida have integrated the WordRake editing software. Recently, one of the three biggest law firms in the world bought 2,500 WordRake licenses. Big firms and federal courts don’t commit to software unless they know it’s a sound investment.

Not Just the Federal Courts The Times article addresses the new word limit only in federal appellate courts, but local and trial courts all over the country are imposing similar restrictions. Last month, the King County Superior Court (trial courts in Seattle) posted a new rule, that pleadings and motions would now have a word limit instead of a page limit.

“I Can Heartily Recommend WordRake” In the list serve discussion that followed, a colleague wrote: “I can heartily recommend WordRake, a program that is not very expensive, that automates a good bit of the editing for you. It particularly pares down flabby text (the very kind my first drafts normally have in great abundance).”

WordRake will not make your case less complex; it will help you make your brief more clear and succinct. A sample real-time edit from WordRake.

The effect of the amendment was to increase The amendment increased, by over $400,000, the amount of amusement tax that Sunnyvale would need to must collect and remit to the Borough on an annual basis annually.

A Tip (I’ve Taught to Litigators and Appellate Lawyers for 28 Years)

Submit a Shorter Brief Judges can lift a brief and tell you exactly its number of pages. Purposely write your brief to come in about 20% under that weight. If it feels lighter than the limit, the judge turns to page one, feeling good about the lawyer who wrote it. Judge Kozinski: “If it’s important, and you want to win, the best way to do it is to write a short brief.”

More Tips (A Bonus Just for Sticking with Me This Long)

Never Confuse a Fact with a Relevant Fact  – facts suggest issues; when we include irrelevant facts, we suggest irrelevant issues; that confuses judges.

Never include a Name, a Date, or a Number Unless It’s Important  – names, dates, and numbers carry the aura of importance, so judges try to keep track of them; if they’re not important, judges still try to keep track of them, because they don’t know; that also confuses them.

A Collaboration WordRake starts your editing process. It will spot dull and unnecessary words you are too close to notice, too tired to  see,  or don’t know to look for. It will give you an accurate edit 95% of the time. But even if it changes the meaning—we’re dealing with almost 200,000 words and their permutations—you will often see its intent and make the edit yourself. You and WordRake will work well together.