Should I push my luck with typography?

The judge found my client liable for billions. Should I push my luck with typography?

Are you new here?

In 2010, a British Pe­tro­leum oil rig called the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon ex­ploded off the coast of Louisiana, even­tu­ally spilling 3.2 mil­lion bar­rels of oil. In 2014, fed­eral dis­trict judge Carl Bar­bier found BP grossly neg­li­gent for the incident.

Dur­ing the penalty phase, Judge Bar­bier re­buked BP for fil­ing a brief that “abused the page limit by re­duc­ing the line spac­ing to slightly less than dou­ble-spaced”. Ac­cord­ing to the judge, a dou­ble-spaced page with one-inch mar­gins and 12-point type “should have only 23 lines”. Each page of BP’s brief had 27.

Sev­eral at­tor­neys asked me: was Judge Bar­bier’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of line spac­ing cor­rect? And if not, per­haps I should let him know about his mistake?

There were at least 3.2 mil­lion rea­sons why that wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen. But here’s one more.

My coun­sel about line spac­ing is based on its con­ven­tional mean­ing. But as I say in how to in­ter­pret court rules, judges get the last word about how briefs should be for­mat­ted. If your judge wants dou­ble-spac­ing to mean 23 lines per page, then that’s your new rule.

I’ve heard of in­stances where judges were sim­ply un­aware of cer­tain for­mat­ting rules or con­ven­tions, and at­tor­neys suc­cess­fully ed­u­cated them. Well done. But there is a time and a place. And if your client is poised to in­cur bil­lions of dol­lars in li­a­bil­ity—or even just mil­lions—it’s prob­a­bly nei­ther. Make your stand on the sum­mit of Mt. Ty­pog­ra­phy some other day.

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