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Benchslapped: Only Common Acronyms Accepted, Counselors

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. on March 27, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

D.C. Circuit judges benchslapped the parties in Illinois Public Telecommunications Association v. FCC with an order to submit briefs that eliminate the uncommon acronyms used in their previously filed final briefs.

The judges directed their attention over to the D.C. Circuit's Handbook of Practices and Internal Procedures and a Notice Regarding Use of Acronyms, which provide as much specific guidance as the order does regarding what's acceptable.

D.C. Circuit Rules

Under the D.C. Circuit's Handbook of Practices and Internal Procedures, the rule states that there must be a glossary defining abbreviations and acronyms other than those in common usage. In briefs, the use of acronyms other than those that are widely known should be avoided.

In 2010, the court issued a notice reminding appellants and respondents about the rule stating that the court strongly urges parties to limit the use of acronyms in general unless they are widely known. However, the terms "widely known" or "commonly used" are pretty subjective.

As a side note, what's interesting is that this isn't the first time Illinois Public Telecommunications Association (IPTA) and the FCC have filed briefs in the D.C. Circuit, but this might be one of the first times the court has called them out on their acronym usage.

So What's Acceptable?

Beginning with law school, lawyers are taught that it's too much effort to use full names when talking about the law. For example, business organizations inevitably becomes "biz orgs." So it's no surprise that complex litigation comes with complex legal terms, administration names, or regulations that need shortening.

One reason for using acronyms is to cut down on the word count. Depending on the type of brief filed, the word count can be between 4,375 to 14,000 words. The number also includes headings, footnotes, and quotations.

So while acronyms like FERC and FOIA are acceptable, ones like BOCs or LECs may not be. Those two were found in the FCC's brief.

The parties have until 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 27, 2014 to re-submit conforming briefs.

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