A Guide to Standard Legal Document Sizes
When drafting and preparing legal documents, following standard paper sizes is crucial for proper formatting, organization, and filing. Unlike regular letter writing or other casual purposes, legal documents have specific accepted sizes that make handling and storing them much easier. This guide will overview the common standard paper sizes used for legal documents and explain the typical uses for each one.
The most ubiquitous size for legal documents in the United States is letter size, which is 8.5 inches wide by 11 inches long. Any legal correspondence like letters, memos, notices, motions, orders, pleadings, and briefs are typically drafted on letter-sized paper. It allows ample space for text while still being easy to work with and organize in folders and filing cabinets. Legal forms and documents printed for use in the US will be on letter-sized sheets the vast majority of the time.
When more text space is required on a page, such as for contracts, wills, estate documents, and lengthy legal briefs, the larger legal size may be used. As the name suggests, legal size paper is 8.5 inches wide but extends to 14 inches long, providing around 30% more area than letter size. Legal size may be used when a document is too long to practically fit the desired sections or clauses on letter paper. The added space allows lawyers and legal professionals to be more thorough. Though wider than letter size, legal size pages can still be worked with in folders and cabinets designed for letter, making organization easy.
In countries outside of North America, the standard paper size for legal documents is A4, which measures 210 millimeters wide by 297 millimeters long (approximately 8.3 inches by 11.7 inches). The A4 size is part of the ISO 216 international standard and is used for the same legal purposes as letter size in the US and Canada. The slightly longer and narrower dimensions do provide subtle differences in the formatting and appearance of documents compared to North American standards. Any legal forms or documents intended for international use are typically produced using the universally accepted A4 size.
For smaller legal documents like handbooks, pocket guides, and condensed instructional manuals, the B5 size may sometimes be used. B5 measures 176mm x 250mm, making it about 6.9 inches wide and 9.8 inches long. This allows the page to be easily held and read in hand. The compact size also makes small bound booklets and guides easy to carry around or keep on hand for quick referencing. While B5 sees niche use cases in law, it is far less common than A4 and the North American sizes.
When preparing legal documents, proper margins are also important for neat presentation and organization. Most word processors and legal templates have standard 1-inch margins set, but 1.25 or 1.5 inches may also be acceptable. Widely used professional fonts like Times New Roman or Arial in sizes from 10 to 14 points ensure readability as well. Formatting considerations like margins and fonts should align with court requirements and industry norms.
With the proliferation of printers, computers, and software, converting documents between international standard sizes is simple. For instance, a document drafted on A4 can be digitally resized and reprinted on letter paper and vice versa. But when possible, creating natively in the intended size is ideal to avoid reformatting issues or loss of quality from resizing. For spreadsheets, scanning, or other purposes, manual resizing of paper to fit in a printer is also an easy workaround.
While personal letters and other casual uses can have flexible sizing, following standard legal document sizes provides critical uniformity and efficiency. Letter, legal, and A4 sizes cover most document needs, while B5 has specialized niche uses. Understanding the accepted paper sizes in various contexts helps legal professionals format, organize, and file important documents properly. Adhering to size conventions aids document handling and storage, ensuring no critical details are lost. So next time you draft a contract or brief, be sure to select the right paper size upfront.