How Has the Length of a Brief Changed Over Time? You'd be Surprised.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently amended Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 2135, which deals with the length of briefs filed with the court. The order got us thinking: How has the length of an average brief changed over time? Just for fun we set out to answer that question[1].

As of today, our collection of Court Records and Briefs has briefs from over 300,000 cases from the PA Supreme, Commonwealth, Superior and US Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  Over 75,000 are PA Supreme Court cases dating back to Civil War Reconstruction, 1867.

We were around long before the Civil War. Unfortunately, the tools to digitize documents filed with the court are a more recent innovation. Our electronic records date back to 2005, when we started a program to digitize briefs filed with the aforementioned courts.  Still, that’s 10 years (’05 – ’14, inclusive) of briefs we can analyze.

Of course, this isn’t scientific. Due to some technical issues better left unwritten, we can’t get a page count of 100% of our post-2005 collection, but we certainly have a representative sample of over 1,400 briefs. We also can’t exclude documents from the count that are attached to briefs filed, which certainly inflates the figure.

So after all that, it’s just barely a back-of-the-envelope calculation, and it comes with one more, brief[2] caveat: Our work did not involve a conference call with Nate Silver (but let us know if you’re available, Nate). Don’t use these statistics for anything but your own enjoyment.

The results? Since 2005 the average length of a brief in our collection has increased by over 50%, up by 20 pages. The increase has happened slowly over time, with 2014 holding the record of over 60 pages.

We should not jump to the conclusion that attorneys are writing more, but there are a variety of explanations. We measured pages, not word count, and we can’t exclude addendum, etc. submitted with the original brief. 

If that 50% growth rate is sustained, will briefs (and everything attached to them) push 100 pages by 2020? No matter how long they get, Members can find PDF copies on our website. Just check the page count before sending your items to the printer.


[1] Other conversation topics: Can we get through a post about lengthy briefs without invoking a pun?

[2] Nope.