U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria of the Northern District of California. Photo Credit: Jason Doiy/ALM

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria was in a sunny mood when cloud communication companies Telesign and Twilio Inc. squared off in a patent eligibility dispute last September.

“I’m generally not a big fan of patent cases,” Chhabria said, but “I found myself really enjoying reading the briefs. Can anybody guess why?”

“I assume it’s because we’ve learned to write very well, and it reads like a novel,” Twilio attorney Wayne Stacy offered, to laughter in the courtroom.

The briefs were really good, Chhabria said, though that wasn’t the reason he enjoyed reading them. Instead, it was because Stacy, a partner at Baker Botts, and Telesign counsel Jesse Camacho of Shook, Hardy & Bacon had filed them on plain paper—not the traditional lined and numbered pleading paper.

Chhabria recently declared his preference for plain paper in his civil standing order, and Stacy and Camacho were the first to take him up on it.

“I mean, this is the 21st century. I don’t understand why our court still requires briefs to be filed on pleading paper,” Chhabria said, according to a transcript of the Sept. 20 hearing. In his 19-year career as a judge, lawyer and law clerk, “never once did I identify an instance in which pleading paper was helpful,” Chhabria said. Rather, it “clutters the page, it makes the brief or the order more difficult to read.”

The judge asked the two lawyers if they’ve ever found pleading paper helpful.

“Not once,” Stacy answered.

Camacho hedged slightly. “The only time is if I wanted to pinpoint a specific line to aid the court,” he said.

But how hard is it to say “look at the second full paragraph of page 3, third line down?” Chhabria asked.

“It’s not,” Camacho quickly agreed.

Stacy said this week that pleading paper is no big deal for large law firms like his that have data processing departments. But for a smaller firm or a solo, finding and complying with the right template “can be a big headache” and end up costing a client money. Some other courts he’s appeared in have moved on beyond pleading paper, he said.

As for the hearing before Chhabria, Stacy had two takeaways: “Read the standing order, and try to make things easier for people.”