AppellaTech: Linking to the Record in Briefs

by Derek D. Bauman

A couple of years ago, I spent some time discussing how to automate some processes of writing a brief in MS Word. I ended with some instructions that would allow you to convert the brief into PDF so that headings would be converted into internal hyperlinks. I've decided it's time to revisit the subjects of Word documents, PDFs, and hyperlinks. But this time I would like to focus on ideas for hyperlinking to sources outside of the brief. For this post in particular, I want to discuss hyperlinking to the record.

To cut to the chase, there are not really any great options for hyperlinking to the record. In fact, I don't believe there is any good way of doing this from MS Word and only one semi-decent option of doing this from Adobe Acrobat. Notice I didn't say Adobe Reader. You'll need the full-blown version of Adobe Acrobat if you have any hopes of hyperlinking your record citations to actual portions of the record.

I'd like to discuss why I believe there is only one viable option for hyperlinking to the record. For those of you who don't really care why but want to know how to do it, click here to go straight to those details.

In general, hyperlinks can be used for three general purposes: (1) linking to a point within the document (or web page, etc.), (2) linking to a web address, or (3) linking to a file already on that computer or a server. I'll address these in backwards order.

When you think of linking to the record in the abstract, you probably think of adding a hyperlink to the file(s) that contain the clerks records and the reporter's record. The judge reading your brief would click on the link for the record citation and the portion of the record you cite to would instantly appear in a PDF document on the judge's computer. To a certain extent, this sounds perfect.

What you're likely thinking about in this abstract idea is hyperlinking to a document that is on a computer or server. In order for that to work, however, you have to know the exact location of that file on that particular computer. In order to create the hyperlink, you will necessarily have to link to where you have the file on your computer. As I expect you already see, there's no reason to believe that the judge will have the record stored in the same location on his or her computer. If the file isn't in the same place when the link is clicked, the user only gets an error message. I suppose you could include instructions in your brief on where the judge should store certain files so that your hyperlinks will work, but that's not likely to happen. So hyperlinking to a file on the computer is not an option.

Another option is storing a copy of the clerk's record or reporter's record on a website such as your firm's website. (For a number of reasons, the case records are not accessible online from the appellate court's websites.) Technically, this is possible to do. But I want to make a special point of arguing that you should never use this option.

As I expect you already know, the judges and staff at any court operate under a code of confidentiality. The court does not reveal its internal thought processes and takes pains to make sure that those processes are not revealed to the public. Hosting copies of the clerk's record and reporter's record on your own website threatens that confidentiality. It is entirely possible to be able to monitor when a document on your website is accessed and even what portions of the document were accessed. This means that if your brief linked to a copy of the record that you were hosting, you could potentially find out when court personnel were accessing the record, what portions they were accessing, and how often various portions were accessed. The court would be revealing at least some of its internal thought process to you.

Now certainly you, dear reader, would never do such a thing to compromise the court's confidentiality. I assure you, your honor remains unimpugned. But undoubtedly someone will. And the problem is that no one other than the party hosting the document on its website would know if any monitoring is taking place. The courts would have no method of knowing which documents were being monitored and which were not. It is not a risk worth taking for the courts. And if the courts cannot click on your links for fear of confidentiality violations, then your links have become effectively worthless.

So we are left with linking to a point within the document that holds your brief. This has its own limitations. If you had hoped for your links to go pages within the entire clerk's record and reporter's record, then that means that your brief, the clerk's record, and the reporter's record must all be contained within the same electronic file. The main problem with this approach is that you will, in most cases, exceed the size limit for electronically filed documents. If you have to split the documents apart, your links won't work.

The only real alternative, then, is to have excerpts of the record attached to your brief. Then your links to the record will link to each excerpted point. The Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure already require you to include an appendix containing the relevant documents from the record, so the only step you'll have to add is to create the links. Depending on the number of pages you want to reference in your excerpts of the record, there's still a chance that putting your brief and the appendix together in one document will still exceed the file size. In that event, your only remaining option is to decide which excerpts are the most important, include those in the file containing your brief, and only be able to link to those portions of the record. It may not be ideal, but it's the only real option currently available to you.

After that explanation, let's begin the instructions on how to do it. As I mentioned, you can only create these links in Adobe Acrobat with a PDF version of your brief. Technically, it is possible to set all this up in MS Word, but it's very difficult and time consuming. It's not worth your time.

The first step is to convert your brief into a PDF document.

Second, put together your excerpts in the order you want them. These will need to be in PDF format as well. You can either have a separate document for each excerpt (plus cover page) or you can have the entire appendix already fashioned into one document. If the excerpt file(s) are not already formatted with text recognition, you should take the time to do that. (In Acrobat, click on "Tools," then "Text Recognition," and then "In This file." Follow the instructions from there, and save when you're done.)

Third, merge all of your documents into one PDF. (This article explains how to do that.) Be sure to save that file.

Fourth, go through each of the record citations in your brief, and create the links. (The same article explains how to do that as well.)  Notice you get some option for the appearance of the links. Play around with the options to see which you think is best. Personally, I prefer the Link Type to be visible and the Line Style to be underlined.

Fifth, if you want to remove or change a link, click on "Tools," then "Content Editing," and then "Add or Edit Link." From there you can edit or delete the links you've created by right clicking on the link and selecting the desired option.

Last, save and test out the links to make sure everything is working the way you want.

It's worth pointing out that the article I linked to on how to merge the documents and create the links also recommends a couple of Adobe Acrobat extensions you can purchase that makes creating and editing links even easier. If you plan on regularly linking your record cites to record excerpts, you might consider purchasing one of them.

Once you have this process down, you might consider using it for another purpose. When writing a brief, it is sometimes necessary to refer to an argument you have made in a different part of the brief. Writers commonly use phrases such as "as argued above" or "as is discussed further below." Links could be useful for you there. You could make it easier for the reader to reference those sections by putting a link in your PDF to those sections.

You are now another step closer to a professionally made, user-friendly, electronic brief. Next issue, I'll explore options for creating links for legal citations.