E-briefs – Organizing documents for E-Z Reading

Writing for on-screen readers –  Article by James D. Dimitri

Want to insure that your arguments, as presented within your electronically filed brief, are received well by the judge?  Courts are moving to required electronic filing of usdcnc_imagedocuments.  The Northern District of California requires that new civil cases be filed electronically.  (There are some exceptions.)

James D. Dimitri, in a recently released article (see link below to access full text document), provides suggestions on formatting an electronic filing and also discusses the reason why this is important.  The main one is to insure that your arguments are easily conveyed to the judge.

Here are some of the discussion highlights:

What difficulties do judges face when they use electronic devices to read briefs ? As we all do, they:

  • Struggle to see how the document is organized and, thus, may easily lose their place in the document.
  • Are distracted while reading the document.
  • Skim the document rather than reading it line by line, looking for cues that lead to the most important information in the document.

Here is a summary of some of Professor Dimitri’s suggestions on how to improve the layout for a brief to insure your work is read as you might wish:

  • Make headings a central feature of the document.
  • Use scientific enumeration to label headings. (“I.A, I.B, II.A, II.B, etc.” Discussed in Dimitri’s article.)
  • Use left-aligned, substantive point headings in briefs.
  • Use hyperlinks, but don’t overuse them.
  • Use bookmarks.
  • Be concise.
  • Use consistent terminology in the document to facilitate searching within the document.
  • Use clear, informative introductions and topic sentences.
  • Use lists.
  • Use reader-friendly pagination.

“WordWise: Writing for Screen Readers in the Wake of Indiana’s E-Filing Initiative” by James D. Dimitri, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of La, December 7, 2015  Full text available on Social Science Research Network site – HERE 

Here is the abstract of the article:

ABSTRACT: In light of this move to e-filing, lawyers should recognize that, in the near future, the documents they submit to Indiana’s courts probably will be read by judges on screen rather than on paper. Indeed, in other jurisdictions where e-filings are accepted, many judges prefer to use electronic devices — particularly electronic tablets such as iPads — to read documents.

Of course, this shift by judges to screen reading is important for the efficiency it will give them. They will be able to conveniently store, carry, and read many documents on a single, portable device when those documents were once stored and carried in cumbersome physical files.

But the courts’ shift to screen reading is also significant because it will require lawyers to change how they convey information to judges in the documents submitted to them. This “how” includes not only a document’s substantive content but also the document’s appearance on screen — in other words, the document’s design. This change is necessary because skillful writers tailor documents to their readers’ needs and preferences. And research indicates that readers read on-screen documents differently from the way they read paper documents.

This article will provide a basic discussion of why and how you, as a lawyer, may effectively design electronically filed documents to meet the needs of the screen-reader judge.


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