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Legal Research & Writing
Important Legal Writing Tools for Paralegals
Finishing your brief by crafting the Table of Contents and Table of Authorities.
(Originally appeared in print as "Finishing Your Brief")
Sometimes, especially in law, it’s the little things that make all the difference. The cover page, Table of Contents and Table of Authorities are used for major briefs, such as briefs in support of dispositive or trial motions. Sometimes they are mandatory; other times they can be used to enhance a brief and make it easier for the court to read and understand. Regardless, all three of these tools are excellent methods for enhancing any lengthy or complex brief filed with the court, and paralegals should make sure they are familiar with all these tools.
Follow the Court Rules
The court rules determine the format you will use to prepare all parts of your brief, including cover sheets, Table of Contents and Table of Authorities. Each jurisdiction has its own set of local rules, and the requirements for briefs can change from one court to another. It isn’t unusual for a brief to be governed by two sets of rules — court rules and local court rules — simultaneously. Unless you are familiar with all of the requirements for each brief, it’s easy to overlook something.
To avoid this problem, I created a brief cheat sheet for all court rules affecting briefs for each jurisdiction in which my supervising attorney practices. For each court, I identified:
Naturally, such information is useless unless you are sure you have thoroughly read and understand all the rules relating to your brief, and have updated your cheat sheet when necessary. For me, it was an excellent way to become acquainted with the court rules. I also have found these sample forms especially helpful to secretaries unfamiliar with court rules and preparing briefs.
Cover Sheet Tips
Depending on the court rules, your brief might have a cover page, produced according to the court’s format. Even when a cover isn’t required, it’s still a good idea to include one for any lengthy brief. The cover usually sets out the case number, the caption style of the case, the title of the brief, the name, address and telephone number of the attorney filing the brief, which party that attorney represents, and the date the brief was filed. Appellate brief covers also can include the name of the trial judge and the jurisdiction from which the case came.
Remember, the caption or style of the case is the first information the court will read — it must be correct. Be sure the parties’ names are correctly spelled and listed. Also, always proofread the case number for accuracy. A transposed number could cause your brief to be misfiled by the court clerk.
The cover itself is usually made from slightly heavier paper stock — a little like the cover of a soft-bound book. Often the court will have requirements about the color of the cover stock. If there are no rules governing the color, use off-white, tan, navy, light blue or red. Avoid pastels or neon colors because they look unprofessional.
The Table of Contents and Table of Authorities
The next section of the trial brief will often be the Table of Contents — an index of the headings and subheadings within the body of the brief. Again, check your local court rules.
Following that, the next section normally will be a Table of Authorities, sometimes called a Table of Cases. The applicable court rules will tell you whether a Table of Authorities is required. If it is, the rules also will prescribe its format.
The order for citing legal authorities in a Table of Authorities is: (1) case law (in alphabetical order, regardless of jurisdiction or reporter); (2) constitutional law (in sequential order, beginning with the smallest number to the largest); (3) statutes (federal statutes first if your case is in federal court; state statutes first if your case is in state court; (4) court rules; and (5) other authorities.
Constitutional law, statutes and court rules should be listed in their separate categories in sequential order, from the smallest number to the largest.
In some jurisdictions, the Table of Contents and Table of Authorities are one document. In that instance, the authorities given within the body of each proposition are listed under the proposition in the Table of Contents (see sample on this page).
Citing Cases Correctly
Cases are always listed in alphabetical order, regardless of their jurisdiction or reporter. When listing each case, include the number of the volume of the reporter and the page on which the case begins, but not pages within the case used as spot cites throughout the brief.
Also, a citation found within a quote is never listed in the Table of Authorities because it isn’t the citation upon which your argument is based. In the example below, only Daughtery v. Elmwood would be listed in the Table of Authorities.
In Daughtery v. Elmwood, 597 F. Supp. 749, 750 (D. Mass. 1994), the court stated:
To succeed in her claim, plaintiff must prove the four elements of common law negligence: duty, breach, proximate cause and damages. See, e.g., Bennett v. Eaglebrook Country Store, Inc., 408 Mass. 355, 358 (1990). [Defendant] argues that the court’s analysis should begin and end with the issue of duty.
The Finishing Touch
Whenever the rules require a cover page, Table of Contents or Table of Authorities — or if you should decide to include them in your brief — pay close attention to detail and to whatever requirements are included in the court rules or local court rules. Properly prepared, these tools will give your brief an air of authority and quality.
For specific examples of a cover sheet, and a separate Table of Contents and a Table of Authorities, please click here.
Celia C. Elwell, RP, has been a paralegal since 1984. She is a paralegal at the law firm of Merritt and Associates, in Oklahoma City. She is the co-author of “Practical Legal Writing for Legal Assistants” (West 1996) and the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam study guide published by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. She served as an adjunct instructor for the University of Oklahoma’s American Bar Association-approved paralegal program for 15 years.
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