When creating legal documents, the size and format of the paper you use matters. Proper paper size and margins ensure your legal documents follow accepted standards and make a professional impression. In this article, we’ll look at the most common paper sizes used for legal documents and the formatting guidelines you should follow.
In the United States, Letter size paper (8.5” x 11”) is the default standard and the most frequently used size for legal documents. This size provides sufficient space for the lengthly legal writing most documents require. Legal size paper (8.5” x 14”) is also commonly used for legal documents as the additional height allows for more writing space while maintaining readability.
While Letter and Legal are the norm in the US, most other countries follow the international standard A4 size paper (210mm x 297mm or 8.27” x 11.69”). A4 is acceptable for legal documents globally outside of the US. So if you are drafting legal documents for international use, A4 is likely the best size to use.
Page numbers are required on every page except the title page or cover sheet. Numbers should be placed in the bottom margin, centered or right aligned. This keeps the numbers unobtrusive but still readable and is the accepted format. Consecutive Arabic numerals should be used starting with the number 1 on the first page after the title page.
It is recommended to have a one inch margin on all sides of the paper for legal documents. This provides sufficient border space to allow for binding while still maximizing the use of the page. Larger margins are acceptable, but margins smaller than one inch may be rejected by a court.
The title page establishes the specifics of the case or legal matter. It should include the complete case title with Plaintiff and Defendant, the court the document is being filed with, and the title of the document itself. For example “Defendant’s Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment, United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, Charles Davis v. ACME Inc.” Centering these details on the page makes a professional presentation.
The first page after the title page establishes the document title and first paragraph of the text. It should include the shortened case title “Charles Davis v. ACME Inc.”, the specific document title “Defendant’s Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment”, and the first paragraph introducing the document.
Standard Paper Sizes
The standard paper sizes used today originated based on international standards to create consistent aspect ratios. The aspect ratio is the ratio of width to height of a given paper size. Most common standard sizes are based on the geometric mean, specifically the √2 ratio.
The A series paper sizes (A3, A4, A5, etc.) are the international standard paper sizes used in most of the world. The A series aspect ratio is 1:√2, reducing in size by half along the larger dimension each step. So A4 is half the size of A3, and so on. A4 measures 210mm x 297mm or approximately 8.27” x 11.69”. The A series is very common outside the US for both everyday and legal uses.
The B series paper sizes (B3, B4, B5, etc.) are frequently used in Asia but see some use globally as well. The B series also uses a 1:√2 aspect ratio. B4 measures 250mm x 353mm or about 9.8” x 13.9”.
While not as globally known, North America has its own standard paper sizes. The Letter size of 8.5” x 11” mentioned earlier is a North American standard, as is the Legal size. North American sizes have a 1:√2 aspect ratio as well.
Benefits of Using Standard Paper Size
Why does using the standard paper size matter for legal documents? It comes down to professional presentation, proper formatting, and acceptance.
Using the expected paper size shows you have knowledge of the accepted practices and conventions for legal documents. It demonstrates professionalism and attention to detail from the very foundation of your document – the paper.
The standard sizes also allow for formatting such as margins and pagination to work as intended. A document with 1-inch margins on A3 paper will not have the same usable space as a document with 1-inch margins on Letter paper. So sticking to expected sizes ensures your documents format within conventions.
Courts and agencies at times will reject filings that don’t meet margin or pagination requirements, so using standard paper size avoids this. Filing a document on non-standard paper size may mean you have to reprint and refile on proper paper.
Many law firms and legal departments simply default to Letter or Legal paper for all documents to avoid any formatting or filing issues. While international uses may require A4, sticking to the standard Letter or Legal for US legal documents is a safe bet.
Like any profession, the legal field has its standards for documents and filings. Using the correct paper size is one of the foundational formatting requirements for legal documents. Letter and Legal sizes are the norm for US legal paperwork, while A4 represents the international standard.
Along with paper size, pay attention to expected margins of 1-inch minimum and standard page numbering. Follow the conventions for title pages and first page formatting as well. Adhering to these accepted paper size and document formatting practices will ensure your legal documents make a professional impression and avoid rejections for non-compliance. While paper may seem like a minor detail, following the standards shows you understand how legal documents are properly assembled.