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Firm Sanctioned Over Brief's Line Spacing

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 05, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When it comes to line spacing, Judge Victor Marrero does not play around. The SDNY judge fined the boutique litigation firm of Susman Godfrey $1,048.09 last week for breaking with his court's line space rule.

The firm's crime? Using 24-point spacing, instead of the court's required double spacing.

Making Your Big Brief Look a Bit Smaller

If you have kids -- or are young enough to have been a kid in the PC era -- you've probably seen students switch their font size from 12-point to 14, or expand Word's margins a quarter of an inch, so that their report on the causes of the Civil War will finally reach the four pages the teacher requires. These small tweaks are hard to notice, but they add up, allowing something smaller to appear just a smidge larger.

Susman Godfrey's line-spacing trick is the opposite of that. By altering the space in between lines, the firm was able to pack more into its 25-page brief, according to the court. Presumably, had normal double-spaced lines been used, the brief would have exceeded the limits.

Judge Marrero accused the firm, which was representing Amazon Web Services in a trademark and unfair competition suit, of "flouting this court's individual rules" in order to "gain some slight advantage in this litigation." His sanction amounted to the cost of preparing and filing a new, compliant memorandum.

Isn't 24-Points Double Spaced?

If you're scratching your head about the hubbub over line spacing, you're not entirely alone. The SDNY's local rules require that all memoranda "be double-spaced and in 12-point font with 1-inch margins."

But according to "Typography for Lawyers", using 24-point spacing would be the exact equivalent to double spacing when using a 12-point font. Further, it may be more accurate than the default:

Curiously, the so-called "double" line-spacing option in your word processor doesn't produce true double line spacing. Microsoft Word's "double" spacing, for instance, is about 15% looser, and it varies depending on the font.

To ensure accurate spacing, "you should always set it yourself, exactly," it recommends. Just not in the Southern District of New York.

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