Footnote Limits

I just came across the following standing requirement from Judge Mark Goldsmith’s (E.D. Mich.):

Court policy prohibits excessive footnotes being used in briefs. The brief supporting a motion, or responding to a motion must not include more than 30 footnotes. A response brief should not exceed 15 lines of footnotes.

Although this may be the official view of one judge, my impression is that many other judges share a similar viewpoint. This is my view of briefs, not articles. Others may differ (and it all depends on your knowledge about the preferences and court compositions).

  1. It should always be included in the text if it is vital. It should not be included in the text if it isn’t important.
  2. Not the last, but the most crucial part of the brief should include citations to statutes, cases and other legal authorities (including treatises).
  3. Citations of newspaper articles, law reviews articles and web sources tend to be less important and more intrusive. Sometimes, those are well worth including in the footnotes.
  4. String citations that are there just to confirm that the body of law you call solid really is solid might be worth putting in the footnotes (to support the key citations in the text)—though they might often be worth just deleting.
  5. Sometimes there may be a minor detail that is important to include but which you believe the court will not care much about. For example, this could be any procedural or factual detail that one party doesn’t yet have to raise but that an interested reader might want to know about. This might be something worth adding to the footnote. However, think twice.

Because law review articles serve different purposes and readers have differing expectations, the rules for these articles can be different. For short articles, however, it is best to keep footnotes as minimal as possible.