Unpersuasive Formatting

Bryan Garner is right when he says that clients hire lawyers to persuade. Sometimes I think that we forget that. Recently, I was appointed to represent one of two defendants on an appeal in a federal criminal case. The first page is a page from the co-defendant's counsel's brief. Without reading a word, you can see how his lack of care in formatting his work renders the brief uninteresting and unpersuasive (who'd want to read 40 to 50 pages like this?). What are the problems? First is his top paragraph, which happens to introduce a new point of error. He's not only capitalized everything in the paragraph, he's justified it on the right, and he's failed to set it off from the rest of the page. Second, he cites the sentencing guidelines, but he doesn't set that block quotation from the rest of the text either.

It's also justified to the right which gives it that boilerplate look (who reads boilerplate?). Third, he's capitalized things he shouldn't have. And, lastly, he's used Times Roman—a real no-no.

Laying aside questions of substance and block quotations, I reformatted the page with the judges in mind. Just a few formatting tricks makes a huge difference, don't they? Which one do you think a judge would be more interested in reading? Formatting, believe it or not, is extremely important in good advocacy.