Electronic Scrolling: Cat Memes, Selfies, and Legal Briefs

By Rebekah Page-Gourley posted 12-23-2019 11:30


Back in 2013, I wrote about how to tailor legal writing for electronic screens. TL;DR, the tips I gleaned from attorney Robert Dubose boil down to these:

  • Make skimming easy with headings, short summaries, and an F-pattern focus on content.
  • Keep it short: fewer words on the screen = longer time spent on the page.
  • Make your arguments plain with an intuitive logical structure.
  • Use white space to
    • give the reader a break,
    • add visual interest, and
    • make your arguments pop.

The Michigan Supreme Court’s October 23, 2019, Administrative Order No. 2019-6, Briefs Formatted for Optimized Reading on Electronic Displays, makes it clear that the future of legal e-reading is now. The order announces a two-year pilot program in which lawyers and pro per parties in the supreme court and court of appeals can file briefs specifically formatted “to be more readable on electronic displays, such as computer monitors, laptops, and tablets, instead of complying with the current formatting rules.” Briefs filed using this option must include “Filed under AO 2019-6” in bold in the caption and comply with the format requirements in the order:

  • Specific word count limits
  • At least 12-point font in the body of the brief
  • Line spacing between 133% and 150% of the point size of the text
  • At least 1.5-inch left and right side margins
  • Text-searchable PDF format, bookmarked and with a table of contents

Notably, under Administrative Order No. 2019-37, which amends AO 2014-23 effective February 1, 2020, licensed attorneys must e-file in the Michigan Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals via the MiFILE system absent a court order or motion showing good cause. (Self-represented litigants may e-file but are not required to do so.)

I’ll be interested to hear whether lawyers have success filing briefs using the pilot project's new parameters, especially given the e-filing requirements going into effect in February. While e-reading is widespread, I know there are still some holdouts, especially in the legal community. I talked to Judge Ewell of Wayne County Circuit Court just this year, and he still requires a print copy of briefs to mark up by hand. As a person who owns a Kindle but still loves the smell of a bookstore, I can definitely relate.