Bancroft and the space bar: word counts in appellate briefs

The space bar seems so unimportant. Despite hogging half a row of keys to itself at the bottom of the keyboard, its function is often unnoticed. It is, after all, the absence of text.

When filing an appellate brief, one is often constrained by difficult word counts. This is particularly true for Supreme Court briefs, when a party may have much to say, and when the briefs are the primary mechanism for alerting the Court of the legal issues.

Word counts are tricky things. It turns out that word counts can vary based upon one's word processor, which I've discussed before. Words counts may vary depending on how a program uses spaces or punctuation marks to distinguish words.

When reading the recent case brief filed by Bancroft PLLC in American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo, I noticed that petitioners cited their appendix as "Pet.App.5" (if citing page 5 of the appendix). I noticed it because it's unusual to consolidate the abbreviations for a citation. The Bluebook rules dictate that "all adjacent single capitals" should be closed, but not single capitals with longer abbreviations (Bluebook Rule 6.1(a)); for instance, "N.W." and "S.D.N.Y.," but "D. Mass" and "S. Ct." This is, of course, advised, but not required, practice.

And it turns out that this is not the only time Bancroft has filed a brief with such abbreviations. Consider Bond v. United States (PDF), with a similar absence of spaces.

But, it is not the sole way that Bancroft briefs such cases. Consider this brief (PDF) in Northwest v. Ginsberg. There, ordinary spacing rule apply: "Pet. App. 5."

Word counts are what they are. But they can be a little more than they are with the right use of the little space bar.