Last week, federal district judge Steven Merryday admonished defense counsel for manipulating the standard letter spacing in their document so they could squeeze in more words but stay within the page limit. Highland Holdings, Inc. v. Mid-Continent Cas. Co., No. 8:14-cv-1334-t-23TBM (M.D. Fla. June 23, 2016). An excerpt is pasted below, along with a link to the full document.
I think the court should switch to a word limit. It might not solve all problems, but it removes the incentive for authors to use these tricks:
- manipulate line-spacing (use 1.9 line-spacing instead of true double-spacing, for example)
- manipulate font size (use 11.5-point font instead of 12, for example)
- manipulate margins (use 0.9-inch margins instead of 1-inch margins, for example)
- pick smaller fonts (use Garamond instead of Times New Roman, for example)
and a trick I’d never seen until now
- manipulate the letter spacing
I switched to a word count on student papers many years ago and am glad I did.
Mid-Continent’s response (Doc. 50) to Highland Holdings’ motion for summary judgment is disguised as a paper that conforms both to Local Rule 1.05(a), which requires each “paper tendered by counsel for filing [to] be typewritten, double-spaced, [and] in at least twelve-point type,” and to Local Rule 3.01(b), which limits the length of a response to “not more than twenty (20) pages.” Although neither rule explicitly proscribes manipulative letterspacing, the Local Rules assume that counsel engages in no manipulation to evade the effect of the rules and assume counsel’s use of the standard space between consecutive letters. Quite transparently, Mid-Continent’s response manipulates the space between consecutive characters in the response and adds approximately two words to each line. Tactics such as Mid-Continent’s letterspacing contribute to a burgeoning set of Local Rules, a phenomenon caused not by persnickety judges but by parties’ relentless efforts to gain an advantage by subverting a set of rules designed to ensure parity. Counsel is admonished; an attempt to subvert the Local Rules exposes the offending counsel to sanction.
 “Letterspacing (also known as character spacing or tracking) is the adjustment of the horizontal white space between the letters in a block of text.” Matthew Butterick, Typography for Lawyers 92 (2d ed. 2015).
Full text of the order is here.