How to Feed a Lawyer (and Other Irreverent Observations from the Legal Underground)

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Federalist No. 84

The Screaming Bean is dead on. For my boss I only hand in executive summaries. I post the legal statement in bold that he wants to make. Then I copy & paste relevant language from the article or case (obtained from Westlaw) that supports that statement. It is a helluva lot cleaner and sure beats the hell out of applying sticky tabs to note relevant pages in the opinion.


My firm no longer maintains a subscription to the regional or federal reporters. We do all our research on Westlaw.

My standard practice is to download (via email) and save, in .html format, any cases I think I may use. Cutting and pasting in quotes is fine, but requires cleanup to remove the bracketed paginations, headnote cross-references, and other stuff that doesn't appear in the printed books.

Westlaw now has the ability to download cases in .pdf format, which looks just like you've photocopied the pages from the books, and I use this whenever I want to attach copies of cases to my written briefs. (There's an additional fee for these downloads, though, and the resulting product can't be cut-and-pasted or text-searched.)

On some occasions, however — typically on bigger cases that can bear the expense, and only when we have a high-tech judge — my firm is now submitting a "meta-brief" on CD-ROM that duplicates our written filing. We convert the text of the brief into .html, and we include a shareware program that autostarts the computer's web browser upon insertion of the disk into the CD drive. The meta-brief version includes hyperlinks to separate files (also stored on the CD) that may consist of —

  • .pdf scans of key documentary exhibits,

  • .jpg scans of photographs,

  • .txt files with deposition or hearing transcript excerpts, and

  • .html files with the Westlaw case downloads (although the hyperlinks need to be edited if they're to remain functional).

The resulting product is not only convenient, but drips credibility, because the proof for every factual or legal assertion that we've made is only a mouseclick away. My working assumption is that the judge is going to be more inclined to click that hyperlink than to dig down into written exhibits or walk over to his bookshelf.

The biggest problem, oddly enough, has been getting the clerks' offices to accept the meta-briefs. Generally we've had the best luck by putting the CD into a small envelope that we then staple to the middle of a page with the case's style and number, with a prominent (typically marked with a yellow flourescent highlighter) request that it be submitted by the clerk to the judge simultaneously with the print version of the brief.

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