GET READY TO CHANGE YOUR FONTS . . .

[Posted December 3, 2007] “All printed matter must be in at least 12 point type.” That sentence has governed the preparation of briefs and other pleadings in the Supreme Court (Rule 5:6) and Court of Appeals (Rule 5A:4) of Virginia for a long, long time. But effective February 1, 2008, the rules will change, and briefs will never look the same again.

On Friday, the Supreme Court announced changes in the rules that will increase the size of type and sharply limit the fonts that pleaders may use. The new format requires at least 14-point type (consistent with what has long been required in the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure). And the court will only accept briefs in three fonts: Courier, Arial, or Verdana. Everything else (including my beloved Georgia) will be officially unwelcome in less than ninety days.

As you can imagine, a larger type size means that the same numbers of words will take up more space, and therefore more typewritten pages. The court considered that effect and took up the question of whether to permit proportionally longer briefs, to make up for this change. In the end, the justices decided not to amend the page limits, thus effectively reducing the number of words you can send them in briefs. (Personally, I think this is a welcome development; I have crusaded for shorter briefs for some time now, and this will force attorneys to become better editors, and more efficient writers.)

Here’s a link to the text of the new rules.  In case you’re wondering what the new types look like, Arial is the normal font for this web site, and this sentence is written in it.  This sentence is written in Courier; it basically recreates what old typewriters looked like, and the court uses it for its own opinions.  Finally, this sentence is in Verdana; like Arial, it’s a sans serif font that is fairly informal looking.  (Unlike the change in size, I greatly regret the limitations on fonts.  But I didn’t get a vote; I just get to comply with the new rules like everyone else.) 

In case you’re worried, I’ll add that submitting a brief on the last possible day with the wrong font will not cause your appeal to be dismissed.  It just means that the Clerk will send it back to you, and give you a short but reasonable amount of time to file one that’s rules-compliant.  But readers of this web site now know what few others do, and will remain where I trust they have long been — ahead of the curve.