Petitioner’s brief, unfortunately, was laden with obscure acronyms notwithstanding the admonitions in our handbook (and on our website) to avoid uncommon acronyms. Since the brief was signed by a faculty member at Columbia Law School, that was rather dismaying both because of ignorance of our standards and because the practice constitutes lousy brief writing.
— Judge Laurence Silberman of the D.C. Circuit, condemning a brief for an abundance of acronyms.
(More information — including the identity of the offending professor, and the full opinion — after the jump.)
The case in question is Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Yes, this is a scintillating FERC appeal. We won’t say anything more about its oh-so-thrilling substance, but if you want to read the opinions, they’re embedded below. Judge Silberman’s benchslap appears in his separate concurrence, which starts here. (The other members of the panel, Judge Janice Rogers Brown and Judge Harry Edwards, did not join in Judge Silberman’s concurrence.)
The lawyers representing the petitioners: Susan Jill Kraham, Jane P. McClintock, and Aaron Stemplewicz (who argued the case). Who’s the Columbia law prof of the trio? That would be Susan Kraham, a senior staff attorney and lecturer-in-law at CLS’s environmental law clinic.
Is Judge Silberman correct about the brief being “laden with obscure acronyms”? Judge for yourself: the brief, signed by Susan Kraham and Jane McClintock, can be accessed here (200-plus pages counting the addendum).
As regular readers of Above the Law will recall, this isn’t the first time the D.C. Circuit has publicly reprimanded practitioners for excessive abbreviations. Back in March, the court issued an order in a different case requiring both sides to “submit briefs that eliminate uncommon acronyms.” The order was issued per curiam, so we don’t know who was the main mover, but Michelle Olsen of Appellate Daily noted at the time that Judge Silberman “has strong feelings against acronyms.”
Feelings that he once again made clear in today’s benchslap. But the called-out lawyers shouldn’t feel too bad; many members of the bar feel sympathy rather than scorn for recipients of such benchslaps. In complex administrative law matters, abbreviations can be hard to avoid — even by the judges themselves.