In recent years, both the federal and New Mexico appellate courts have imposed word limits on briefs, as alternatives to page limits. Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32(a)(7) limits principle briefs to 14,000 words, and reply briefs to 7,000 words. New Mexico Rule of Appellate Procedure 12-213(F)(3) similarly limits principal briefs to 11,000 words and reply briefs to 4,400 words. The rules also allow one to use a count of lines of text.
It would be tedious to manually count the words in a brief to determine compliance, so both federal and New Mexico rules allow attorneys to rely on the word-counting function in their word processing programs. Sounds simple, right?
Well, apparently not, because different word processors arrive at different results when counting up words. Texas attorney Don Cruse, who maintains the Supreme Court of Texas Blog, conducted an experiment using four word processing programs, and discovered that each of them counted a different number of words in the same text lifted from an appellate brief. Mr. Cruse’s must-read post is here. As he concludes, “The clear choice for verbose people is Microsoft Word.” I wonder whether the same is true for line counts? Perhaps that will be the subject of his next post . . .
Congratulations to Mr. Cruse for taking appellate nerd-ery to new heights (I mean this in the most complimentary way), and providing both appellate lawyers and courts with a bit of practically useful information.