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E-Filing Briefs: Do Judges Read Online Pleadings Differently?

By Jason Beahm | Last updated on

A new trend is sweeping the world of legal writing. Like most developments in legal technology you can fight it, you can ignore it, you can criticize its flaws. But at the end of the day, you're probably going to be waging a battle that is already over.

The trend is e-filing online pleadings and briefs. Paper motions have already gone the way of the do-do in all federal courthouses. So it's fair to assume judges are increasingly reading your pleadings on a computer screen.

It's time to start considering this fact when you file online pleadings.

There are a number advantages to this shift, including lower copying, printing and handling costs, less paper, portability, increase ease of referring to citations and exhibits and greater access for everyone. More and more trial courts and some appellate courts are now taking the step of requiring that lawyers file briefs electronically.

While e-filing briefs has a lot of upside, it also causes judges to read differently, according to a recently study. Online readers "jump around, skimming and seizing on bits of text,"Houston appellate attorney Martin Siegel writes. "Eye-tracking studies show they seek content in an F-shaped pattern, looking down the left side for structural cues and then focusing on headings and first sentences of paragraphs. Heaven help the content provider with important text consigned to the bottom right of the screen."

So what should you do differently? Lawyers should get to the point quickly and always put their most important points in headings and the first sentences of paragraphs, according to Houston appellate lawyer Robert Dubose and a law review article by University of Dayton law professor Maria Crist. Attorneys should also make use bullet points and lists, The ABA Journal reports. Shorter, brief paragraphs are preferred.

So fear not, fellow lawyers. This doesn't have to be seen as a radical change. It's just the next thing. One day there will be a new "next thing." So jump right in, the water's warm.

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