How to Format an Appellate Brief
The appellate brief is undoubtedly one of the most complex pleadings, formatting-wise. Formatting requirements vary from court to court, going so far as to dictate the size and font of your type, your margins and your line spacing. (If you’ve ever had to do a U.S. Supreme Court brief, I feel your pain.) Even before you consider the text of your argument, you have to wrap your head around which pages have which style of page numbers, whether you must furnish a table of authorities, and how you have to deal with any appendices or references to the record.
First, take a deep breath. Unless this is the first time anyone in your firm has ever submitted a brief in that particular court, someone probably has a sample for you to look at. Armed with that and a copy of the court’s rules, you can start putting together the skeleton of your brief:
Obviously, one tutorial can’t cover all of the possible permutations of briefing requirements. But armed with a knowledge of how some common elements work, you can successfully tackle virtually any court’s requirements.
Unless otherwise noted below, all instructions and screenshots are for Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows.
Step 1: Build the skeleton
One of the most common requirements of appellate briefs is that they are divided into multiple parts requiring distinct page numbers. In Microsoft Word, this means you need to divide the document using section breaks to enable a distinct page setup for each section. Using the 11th Circuit requirements as an example, Section 1 (which would have no page number) would be the cover page. Section 2 (the first page of which would be numbered with a lowercase roman numeral “i”) would contain preliminary information such as the Certificate of Interested Persons, Statement Regarding Oral Argument, Table of Contents, and Table of Authorities. Section 3 (the first page of which would be numbered with an Arabic numeral “1″) would be the body of the brief. Depending on the case, a subsequent section may be needed for references to the record or other appendices.
Even if you plan on doing wholesale copy-and-paste maneuvers from the previous brief, it’s helpful to start with a blank Microsoft Word document and insert the several sections. Section breaks are very much like regular page breaks, except they allow you to have a distinct page formatting for each section.
Before you start dividing your document into sections, however, you need to be able to see what you are doing. That means turning on all of the visual indicators that show you where paragraph breaks, tabs, and Section Breaks have been inserted. To do that, go to the Home tab and click on the button that looks like a paragraph symbol. This is called the Show/Hide button and can be toggled on and off as needed.
Now you’re ready to start sectioning your document. To insert a section break, go to the Page Layout tab and click Breaks, then click Next Page under the Section Breaks section:
Once you’ve done that twice, you have the three basic Sections needed for your brief: the cover page, the section containing the various preliminary information, and the main fact and argument section.
Now, here’s how you insert the page numbers in the footer of each Section so that they number and format independently:
Step 2: Format headings
Office for Lawyers author Ben Schorr has observed that Styles is by far the most important feature to learn in Microsoft Word. Not only does Styles help ensure uniformity of formatting throughout a complex document, Styles also drives other features like Tables of Contents.
While a comprehensive explanation of Styles is beyond the scope of this article, you’ll need to have at least some facility with Styles in an appellate brief. Specifically, you want to decide how you want your first-, second-, and third-level headings to appear in your brief (bold versus regular type, underlining, indentation and hanging indents, numbering, etc.).
The simplest way to get a jump on your headings Styles is to alter the existing ones in your document. Although you can right-click on a Style listed on the Home tab and then choose Modify to change settings like font, type size, bold, underline, or indentation …
… perhaps the easiest way to get a heading style to look exactly the way you want is to apply formatting to some text in your brief (you can just type a sample heading for this purpose and delete it later), select the re-formatted text with your mouse, then right-click the heading you want to restyle and choose “Update to Match Selection” (the first choice shown in the first illustration above). This will save you from having to go through a maze of menus you may not be familiar with.
You’re probably thinking, “Why on earth would I want to bother with all these Styles?” Here are three reasons:
- Defining your heading Styles up front will enable you to apply them throughout your brief with a single click. Because these are technically Paragraph Styles, you can place your cursor inside your heading text and single click on the heading Style in the Styles section of the Home tab to format the heading instantly.
- If you use Styles to format all your headings, and you later decide to change the formatting of, for instance, your first-level heading, you can change the Style and all the headings within the brief will reformat themselves.
- The Styles for headings 1-9 are automatically pulled into the Automatic Table of Contents, thus saving you the trouble of having to mark heading entries. You’re going to have your hands full marking the Table of Authorities entries as it is.
For more on using Styles, see my previous tutorial.
Step 3: Write your brief
While that’s a deceptively simple sounding step (and an obvious one), there’s an important reason for putting that step here rather than continuing with more formatting work. Steps like inserting a Table of Contents or Table of Authorities or even marking citations are best left for when the text of your brief is close to its final form. Because of the way Microsoft Word uses fields in these features, it’s better to not be moving large chunks of text around or doing major editing with these fields embedded in the brief. Otherwise, you risk mangling a Table of Authorities entry so that the reference to the case is separated from the actual citation, making the page numbers in your Table of Authorities incorrect.
Step 4: Insert your Table of Contents
Once the editing of your brief’s main text is nearly finished, you can move toward putting in the Table of Contents and Table of Authorities. Since you’ve used Styles for your headings, the Table of Contents will be relatively simple. Just go to the References tab and, over on the left, click on Table of Contents and choose one of the automatic tables in the list:
If the default formatting of the Table Contents isn’t to your liking, reformat whichever element you like, then right-click on it and choose Styles, then “Update [style name] to Match Selection”. For example, the default formatting of the Table of Contents heading was left justified rather than centered, so I centered the heading by using the shortcut key CTRL-E, then right-clicked on “Table of Contents” and updated the TOC Heading Style. This way, if I ever have to regenerate the Table of Contents, it will remember that I prefer that heading centered rather than on the left.
Since you haven’t actually marked any citations, you can’t insert a Table of Authorities yet. That’s okay, because marking citations is our next step.
Step 5: Mark your citations
As long as you’ve got your Blue Book formatting rules down cold, marking citations for a Table of Authorities is fairly straightforward. Find your first citation and select it with your mouse or keyboard. Then either use the keyboard shortcut ALT-SHIFT-I (which works in all versions of Microsoft Word from 2002 on up) or click on the Mark Citation button on the References tab:
Either way, you’ll get a dialog box that looks like this:
Choose the TOA category (case, statute, etc.) you want that citation to appear in, then make the necessary changes to the Short Citation beneath. If you’re certain that you have been consistent in using the same short citation for that case throughout your brief, you can use the Mark All button to mark all of the subsequent citations of that case. However, you may be wise to go through the brief manually to make sure you pick up everything.
Here’s where having Show/Hide turned on comes in handy, because now you’ll see the field codes that signify a marked citation:
If you’re curious about what all that gobbledygook really means, see “Before you generate that TOA” in my previous TOA tutorial “Using Microsoft Word’s Table of Authorities.” If you want to watch me go through the steps above, here’s a quick screencast of me doing it on my own computer:
Once you’ve marked all your citations, you can insert your Table of Authorities from the References tab. That button is on the far right end of the References tab.
You’ll get a dialog box that looks like this:
Click on each category and make sure the formatting is correct (most of the time, it should be fine). If you want to modify the Style for any entries, use the same trick you used for the headings above by reformatting it within the brief, then right-clicking on the modified entry and saving the changes to the Style:
Step 6: Update all fields
Once you’ve marked all your citations and inserted all your Tables, you’ll want to make sure everything has been updated before printing or saving to PDF. The fastest way to do this is to select the entire text of the document using the shortcut key CTRL-A and then pressing the F9 key to update all.
Post-filing: Make a template to shorten the process for your next brief
You’re probably wondering why we didn’t go ahead and make a template to begin with. After all, don’t you start with a template and end up with a finished brief?
That’s totally logical, but here’s the thing: to make a really good template that you can use for all your future briefs, you really need to understand the process of formatting a brief. And the only way to really understand it is to have struggled through it at least once from scratch. If you’ve been through this whole exercise, you probably changed your mind a few times about certain formatting choices like your headings. Once you’ve filed a finished brief, now’s the perfect time to strip out the case specific stuff and save the bare-bones file as a Microsoft Word template.
To resave your document as a template file, go to the File tab in Word 2010 (or the Office Button in Word 2007) and, instead of saving it as a regular Word document (.doc), click the drop-down list next to “Save as type” and choose Word Template:
Depending on which operating system and version you’re using, Microsoft Word makes template files most accessible from a specific default location on your hard drive. Of course, you can store your templates anywhere, but the point of storing them in Microsoft’s default location is to make them accessible via the File > New command:
To find the default location for your templates, click on the File tab in Word 2010 (or the Office Button in Word 2007), choose Options, and then go to Advanced. Scroll all the way down to the bottom and click on the File Locations button. You’ll get a dialog box that looks like this:
Click on the Modify button, and Word will take you to the folder where your templates are currently being stored. If you don’t like that location, here’s your chance to change it.
Once you’ve created your new template and save it in the right place, you’re ready to use it for your next brief. Just go to File > New and click on My templates, then find your appellate brief template in the dialog box. When you double-click on it, Microsoft Word will create a new document using your template. If, at any point, you want to revise your template, you’ll need to navigate to it using Windows Explorer and double-click on the .dotx file itself. After you’ve made any necessary adjustments, save the file and close it.
As with most things in life, practice makes perfect. But the formatting tricks you learn while constructing an appellate brief can be applied in all sorts of contexts, and taking a few minutes to “genericize” your latest brief into a template will enable you to spend less time fussing over formatting and more time lawyering.