Two Times Twelve Doesn’t Necessarily Equal Twenty-Four

In the august halls of a federal courthouse, things aren’t always what they seem.  Say, for example, court rules require that briefs must “be double-spaced and in 12-point font with 1-inch margins.”  Knowing that a “point” is 1/72 of an inch, you might assume that the font should be 12/72, or one-sixth, of an inch high.  And you’d be right.

But what about the double-spacing?  Spacing is measured by the height of the font.  So in a 12-point font brief, double-spacing means 24-point (i.e., 12 X 2) spacing, right?  Wrong, according to a blistering order recently issued by a federal court for the Southern District of New York—and not just wrong, but punishable.

Ruling that 24-point spacing failed the double-spacing requirement, the court fined the lawyers who prepared the offending document.  The court accused them of “subverting” and “flouting” court rules in “a deliberate choice . . . to gain some slight advantage in this litigation.”

Once upon a time, those lawyers would have been correct: double-spacing a 12-point font brief did mean 24-point spacing.  Two times 12 was 24.  You can blame Microsoft for the change.  According to a company spokesman in 2007, Microsoft altered its Word program to make its single space 115% of font height rather than 100%.  That means that Microsoft’s double-space is 230% of font height rather than 200%.  And when court rules describe spacing requirements, they’re talking about Microsoft spacing, whether they say so or not.

What’s the practical effect of the change?  When there’s a margin and page limit, the writer gets 15% fewer words.  In a 12-point font brief with one-inch margins, a lawyer loses about seven lines a page.


The case is CafeX v. Amazon Web Services, Case 1:17-cv-01349-VM (S.D.N.Y., Mar. 30, 2017, order).

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