AppellaTech: Linking to Legal Authority in Briefs

by Derek D. Bauman

In the last issue of the HBA Appellate Lawyer, I discussed how you can use Adobe Acrobat to hyperlink your record citations to portions of the record. This time, I'm going to discuss how to hyperlink your case citations. As with record citations, there really isn't a perfect way to do it.

But before we get into how to link to cases, you should give some thought about whether you should link to cases. If you don't know already, the Texas courts of appeals (including the Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) have a program that automatically inserts hyperlinks into briefs for case and statutory citations.

In addition, I've been told by the Court Clerk for the First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals, Chris Prine, that the electronic filing system strips out hyperlinks from all documents filed. So all that careful work may be for naught. I expect the reason for this is for security purposes. It's possible to hyperlink to a website that puts malicious software on a court computer and it could be difficult to distinguish between valid hyperlinks and malicious ones.

Chris is currently investigating whether its possible to get a copy of the hyperlinked brief loaded into the system in the clerk's office without stripping the hyperlinks. If that works, you could deliver a copy of the brief to the clerk's office with a flash drive in order to preserve the hyperlinks. I will provide an update when I hear more.

If you do decide to add hyperlinks to cases, the next question you have to answer is what exactly you want to link to. Broadly speaking, you have two main options: (1) you can attach copies of the cases to your brief and hyperlink to those pages of the document or (2) you can link to an online legal source. As I've indicated, both have their drawbacks.

Attaching copies of cases to the brief and hyperlinking to those attached cases has all of the drawbacks that I mentioned for hyperlinking to the portions of the record attached to the brief. If you're attaching both copies of the record and copies of legal authority to your brief, you are especially in danger of running up against the limit on the size of files you can upload.

That said, it could be helpful in certain circumstances. Let's say your case turns on one or two particularly important cases or statutes. The crux of your argument rests on the proper interpretation and application of that authority. In that case, it might be a good idea to attach the authority to your brief. That way, not only can you link to the relevant pages, but you can pre-highlight the passages that need to be emphasized.

If you want to go this route, my previous article points you to resources on how to combine documents into one PDF and how to hyperlink between the pages.

The other main option is to link to web pages for your legal authority. The downside to this is it requires the reader to switch between the PDF document and the web page displaying the legal authority. Another potential downside is it creates a new tab or window in the web browser every time you click on a link, even if two links are to the same case. After a while, this could become cumbersome. Ultimately, though, that creates a situation for the reader to decide how best to use the links.

To create a hyperlink, you can create it in the PDF document. It's fairly simple and there are a number of websites that can tell you how to do it, if you don't already know.

Another option is to insert the link in Word. When you convert the document to PDF, the link will be preserved if done properly. In my opinion, this is the better way to do it because Word gives you greater control over the appearance of the link in the document. Creating a hyperlink in Word is also fairly easy.

Before you add the hyperlinks, you'll need to consider what website to link to. One obvious candidate is Westlaw. (I would avoid Lexis Nexis links for at least the First and Fourteenth courts, though, since neither has Lexis Nexis subscriptions.) It is familiar and it will have access to most citations you need.

Westlaw may be the best website to use for your links. (The courts' system that inserts hyperlinks uses Westlaw for its links.) But there is another option that might be worth considering. I've discussed before how to use Google Scholar for free access to case law (which I promptly had to follow up on). And you also know about the website for Texas statutes. These websites are free to everyone and (as a result) do not require a log in to use. In my opinion, that makes them a little more accessible.

One drawback to these links is that they only take the reader to the case or statute cited without pinpointing the relevant page or passage. The good news is that there are websites and web apps that you can use that will allow you to link to a particular passage on a web page.

I haven't researched the whole range of apps available, but one useful one I found is called TLDRify. (In case you don't know, "TL;DR" is an abbreviation for "too long; didn't read.") Follow the instructions to install the app on your web browser. Then, find a case that you want to link to (say, on Google Scholar). Highlight the relevant passage that you want to bring to the reader's attention. Then click on the icon for TLDRify. When you do, a web link will appear.

Copy that link and use it for the hyperlink reference. When the reader clicks onto that link, they are not only taken to the case or statute, they are taken to the relevant passage with the appropriate text highlighted. (To see it in action, click here.) I think that could be hugely useful.

You should know that, at least for TLDRify, the links don't work with Westlaw. For it to work, you will have to use websites like Google Scholar and the Texas statutes website.

Of course it's only useful if you can get a copy of the brief to the court that doesn't have the hyperlinks removed. Hopefully there will be a way to do that.