Rookie 5th Circuit Judge Don Willett’s first opinion is out. It’s a sad criminal tale involving 143 of 144 hand-grenades being duds. Don’t worry, he went there:

Maturino’s plan for live grenades fell short, but close counts in horseshoes and hand-grenade cases.

My Take:

I’d hate to be the dude who sold 143 defective grenades to the drug cartel.

More interesting than the decision is the format of the opinion. Here’s how I break it down:

  • Font: century schoolbook
  • font size: 13
  • margins: justified
  • use of footnotes: prolific
  • footnote font size: 11.

There are both very happy and very sad appellate lawyers today. Appellate lawyers love to argue about font, margins and footnotes.

Obviously, font causes the most heated arguments. There are 3 camps:

  1. Times New Roman;
  2. Century Schoolbook, Arial, other decent fonts; and
  3. goofballs.

Times New Roman is the Buick of fonts.

Goofballs spend all day locating the goofiest font in Word and then use it on some case cracker motion. Everyone’s first reaction to the motion is: “Good God! What’s that font?”

Century schoolbook is a nice font. I used it until switching to Equity Text a few years ago.

I paid for Equity Text. That’s right. I spent money on a font. Complete nerd.

After font, the biggest cause of bar fights among appellate lawyers is whether to put citations in footnotes. I’ve used footnotes for 20 years since attending a Bryan Garner workshop. Garner loves footnotes and hates legalese (hereby, wherefore, whereby, etc.).

Some people don’t like briefs with footnotes. I’m going to start citing this opinion in my first footnote in every brief as “see U.S. v. Maturino….” with no parenthetical explaining why.

Judge Willett indented his footnotes the same length as new paragraphs. I don’t indent footnotes at all. To me they look better with no indention.

Whether to justify margins is hotly debated. I do. Some judge don’t like it. One federal district judge in Jackson famously doesn’t like justified margins. I worry more about whether a judge likes my margins than the font or footnotes.

The important thing for young lawyers is knowing that you have to write all briefs in the presiding judge’s preference for font, font size, footnotes and margins. They aren’t going to tell you what they are. You have to figure it out. Guess wrong, and you’re sure to lose.