Last week I had to get out my decoder ring.  I received a text message from a person 20 years my junior.  In a world where dyslexic keypads seem to be the norm, websites like google and urban dictionary help me decipher the twittersphere.

Thus, although I often find myself desperately trying to bring an appellate brief within the word count limit, I can sympathize with appellate judges’ frustration with the use of excessive and obscure acronyms. As reported by Above the Law, Judge Laurence Silberman of the D.C. Circuit recently issued a concurring opinion condemning a university professor’s use of “obscure acronyms” in a brief.  Judge Silberman also revealed what he considers a trademark of a good appellate lawyer.

The use of obscure acronyms, sometimes those made up for a particular case, is an aggravating development of the last twenty years. Even with a glossary, a judge finds himself or herself constantly looking back to recall what an acronym means. Perhaps not surprisingly, we never see that in a brief filed by well-skilled appellate specialists. It has been almost a marker, dividing the better lawyers from the rest.

To be sure, acronyms can be extremely useful. No judge wants an appellate brief to repeatedly use a client’s long-winded, formal name (i.e., The Association of Better-Than-You Appellate Lawyers Who Never Abbreviate Anything).  However, rather than using an acronym like “TAOBTYALWNAA” to describe the client, consider using a short, descriptive phrase, like “Appellate Association,” to avoid the decoder ring problem.

While acronyms will never be completely eliminated from legal writings, I’ll keep Judge Silberman’s perspective in mind next time I need to bring a brief within a word count limit.

TTYL–Beth Scherer

H/T to John Bowers for pointing this opinion out to me!