Documentation/How Tos/Writing Legal Briefs

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I thought I would write a short tutorial on how to write legal briefs with Apache OpenOffice. One thing to keep in mind from the outset is this: the ultimate goal will be to create a flawless pdf version of your finished product that you can share. Just because you think Apache OpenOffice is cool doesn't mean every one else will. You can convert your work to ".wpd" and ".doc" file formats, but there will always be some flaws, especially if you are using Linux with it's different system of fonts.

Everything in this tutorial was taken from the user guide. I recommend downloading it.

Use Templates

For lawyers, using templates is important. Because templates can save text, styles, and formatting, it can save a lot of time. Note that templates have the "ott" file extension which is different from normal open office files, which end in "odt".

Templates can also prevent major mistakes. For example, when many lawyers write a brief, they will typically cut and past the caption and other formatting elements into a new document. Then they will change the case names, numbers, etc. This is dangerous. There will always be a risk, no matter how careful you are, that you will forget to change something from the previous brief.

If you use a template, you can use a "*" or some other indicator to tell yourself case-specific information must be added there. You will never accidentally leave things from a previous brief that was pasted in.

To create a template, you simply create a bare-bones brief, creating new styles as you go along. At the end, you save the document as a template rather than a document. I will go through the process step-by-step. But be aware that the template will include the following:

  • Page Styles - The page style saves major elements like margins and headers. You will want to have three of these because you want a different page numbering system for each. For example, create a different page style for the cover page, index pages, and body.
  • Paragraph Styles - The paragraph style saves things like font, spacing, indents. You will want to create separate paragraph styles for the cover page, index pages, body, addresses (in proof of service), headings, the table of contents/authorities, and footnotes.

Selecting a Font

You don't need to use New Times Roman. Rule 8.204 of the California Appellate Rules allows you to use any conventional type-space as long as the size is at least 13 point. I did a little research and discovered the Times Roman font family was designed for newspapers, not books. The letters are very close together. Some people go the opposite extreme with Courier.

My advise is to go with Century Schoolbook L, which is preloaded on The Century Type Font family is used by the United State Supreme Court and they require briefs in this font as well. Century Schoolbook is also the favorite font of Circuit Judge Richard Posner. The font may look a little weird at first, but it reads very well.

I have found that, in Apache OpenOffice (at least the Linux version), Century Schoolbook L 12-point font takes up about the amount of space (slightly more) than 13-point Times New Roman. So I go with 12-point size even though it is technically a violation of the California Appellate Rules of Court (don't tell anyone).

Create 3 Page Styles

Go to format, then scroll down to page. That will open a page style box. To begin, I just tweak the "Default" template which I will use for the cover page. I just make the margins 1.5 on the sides and 1 on the top and bottom. That's it.

Next, go to format and scroll down to "styles and formatting." A box with a list of styles will appear. Click the fourth icon over, which is the page style icon. The preloaded page styles will appear (including your default style). Right click and choose "new." The page style box will appear with "Untitled 1" at the top. Change the name of this to "appellate brief index style." Set the margins to 1.5 by 1. Also, where the page tab is, move down under "lay-out settings" and change the numbering system to "i, ii, ii." This will be important later.

Take the same steps as indicated above to create another page style called "appellate brief body style." You can leave the numbering system for this page style the same.

Page Numbering

Now that you have three different page styles -- all with the correct margins -- you can create the page numbering system. You should still just have one blank page.

First, create footers for the page styles that will have page numbers (appellate brief index style and appellate brief body style). To do this, go to Insert, footer, and highlight "appellate brief index style" and "appellate brief body style." When this is done, you will notice that both of these page styles have white check marks, meaning they will both have footers now.

Then, go to insert and manual break. Click the box saying "page break" and below it, choose the style, "appellate brief index style." Also, click "change page number" and fill in "1." This will allow the numbering to begin at page 1, even though it will literally be the second page of the document (due to the cover page).

Then, with your cursor in the page you just created, insert another manual break. Click the box saying "page break" and below it, choose the style "appellate brief body style." Also, click "change page number" and fill in "1."

There will still be no page numbers in the footers. Don't trip. Put your cursor in the footer for the index page style (the second page of the entire document now.) Then, go to insert, fields, page numbers. The "i" should appear. You can then center it if you like. Put your cursor in the body page style footer (third page of entire document) and do the same. A "1" should appear.

The basic structure of your document has been created.

Cover Page Caption, Setting Styles

Make a cover page caption on the first page. But first create a style that uses only single space lines, I call mine "appellate brief cover par style." To do this, go to "Format," then scroll down to styles and formatting. This time click the first icon for paragraph styles. Then right click, chose "new," and create a style for your cover page. Go through the same process to create styles for the footnotes, body, ect. You can create a new style for each or just modify an existing paragraph style.

You can use "table" and "insert" to create boxes which have only two sides for the caption.


Heading style.png
Create and save styles for each level of your headings. A quick way to do this is by clicking on the styles and formatting button, scrolling down to heading 1, right clicking, then choosing modify. This will allow you to save a whole range of paragraph styles for for "heading 1." For me, heading 1 is used for the most basic headings like "statement of facts," "argument," and "conclusion." So the formatting is simply the font I use (Century Schoolbook L), bold, and centered.

For heading 2, you want the formatting to be like an outline. Heading 2 will be your first "point heading." For this, I modify the paragraph style just like above. I go to "indents and spacing." There, I check the single space box and type in the following numbers:

  • Before text: .49
  • After text : .40
  • First line : -.40

For heading 3, the second level of your point headings, I choose:

  • Before text: .89
  • After text : .40
  • First line : -.40

So once you made styles for each level of your headings, make sure you selected that style when writing your actual headings in your brief. This is essential, otherwise they will not show up when generating a table of contents.

Now, go ahead and write in the basic headings for your opening brief (where the appellate brief body numbering system begins), such as INTRODUCTION, STATEMENT OF FACTS, CONCLUSION, PROOF OF SERVICE. You might as well add the headings where the appellate brief index numbering system is too, such as TABLE OF CONTENTS, TABLE OF AUTHORITIES.

Save the Template

You created a document which includes text, 3 page styles, and various paragraph styles. To save this as a template, go to File, templates, save. At the end of this tutorial, I included a sample generic opening brief. Feel free to start from scratch or use that as a starting point.

Write Your Brief

Open Apache OpenOffice. Go to File → New → Templates and documents. Find the template you created and write your brief.

Table of Contents

Once you have written your brief, consider the following:

To generate the table of contents, go to the front of your brief where you want the table to appear. Hover your pointer over Insert, and go down to Indexes and Tables. Then chose the middle "Indexes and Tables." Here, you can insert a title. I just leave this blank because I set up my brief template with the title "Contents" already there. Now, uncheck the box that says, protect against manual changes. This is very important. You want to be able to tweak things after the table is generated.

Pick okay and you have your table. Now, if you notice at the top, it choses a whole different style for this table, "Contents 2." Modify this style to your liking and save that just like you did with your heading styles. Save that style so you have a consistent style for your table of contents every time. Now one really cool feature here is that you can right click on the table of contents and "Update Index/Table." This is great for when you made changes to your brief. Perhaps you added a new heading or you wrote more and the page numbers are different. The changes will instantly be reflected. One problem, however, is that once you update, any formatting changes you made after the table was first generated will be erased.

Table of contents.png

If you think making table of contents without using styles and the tools mentioned above is easier, that is fine. But consider this, if you don't use the above tools, your pdf file at the end of the process will not be navigable based on the contents. Pdf files you can navigate are really useful.

Table of Authorities

Here is how to create a table of authorities after you have written the brief:

The first step here is to mark each case or statute so it shows up later when we generate the table of authorities. This is where lawyers can save a lot of time if they are smart about it. You will be using two tools at the same time, the Insert Index Entry tool and the Find and Replace tool. Open both tools. The Index Entry tool can be opened by going to Insert, and scrolling down to the Indexes and Tables button. The Find and Replace tool can be opened quickly with control+F.

Start by marking your cases. Figure out a good set of letters that will locate all or most of your cases and enter it into the find box. For me, I choose "cal." which locates all California citations in the document. When you get to your first case, simply highlight the entire case citation and click one time into the "entry" box. The citation will automatically appear. Then click insert. You just marked that entry. Now go on to your next citation, using the search tool, and do the same thing. Every entry will appear darker on your screen. Don't worry, it will not print that way.

Some citations will be the short form version (for example, Brown v. Board, supra, 123 U.S. at p. 45.). When marking these, you could go back to the original full citation, copy, and paste it in the entry for the short form citation. Trust me on this, don't bother. It is not time efficient. Just mark the short form as it appears. Later, when creating the table of authorities, you will have to deal with some redundancies and extra clean-up, but it is still quicker to do it this way.

Once you are done with the cases, locate the statutes. Again, just mark them as they appear to save time. Use key letters or words to quickly locate each statute. For example, I use "section" to locate the statutes. If you're working with federal law, you might use "U.S.C."

Working back and forth with the search tool and the index tool is not a perfect system, but it is pretty fast with practice.

Marking entries.png

Now you are ready to generate the the table of authorities. Go to where you want the table to appear. Scroll down "Indexes and Tables" and the same box will appear that appeared for the table of contents. This time, where is says "type" choose "Alphabetical Index." Uncheck the box saying "protect against manual changes." As with the table of contents, we want to be able to do some tweaking if needed. Also, make sure the box "combine identical entries" is checked but uncheck all other boxes below it. By doing this, multiple page numbers will appear for each citation. Then press okay and you have your table. If you notice, this table will be assigned its own style called "index 1." Modify and save this style to your liking.

Because we just marked the entries as they appeared, you will notice some redundancies. For example, you might see "In re Paul (2001) 55 Cal.App.4th 200....2, 4." Then, right below it, you might see the short version that you marked separately because you're lazy and I told you to: "In re Paul, supra, 55 Cal.App.4th at p. 204....6" To fix this, just delete the lower short version and add page "6" to the full version above.

Alphebetical index.png

One thing you will need to do manually is italicize or underline the case name while leaving the rest of the citation normal. Again, just like with the table of authorities, the cool part at this point is that you can right click and update table/index if you made changes to your brief. This is really useful because, otherwise, manually trying to figure out the different page numbers for your cites after you made changes is very time consuming. But you will have to re-do some of the formatting and cleaning up of the table of authorities.

PDF Conversion

Just push the PDF button or go to file, export to PDF. I would try out your PDF document in Adobe Reader or a similar program and see if it is navigable through a table of contents. If it is not navigable, this means you did not mark your headings properly.

Putting it all Together

For a generic appellant's opening brief template, go to The same article will appear, with the "ott" file at this location in the article. You can download it and either open it directly or import it into your templates. It might be helpful to use this as a starting point for building your own AOB template. However, you will not know how to tweak it unless you learn some of the basics discussed above.

When looking at this template, notice the following paragraph and page styles built into it:

Page Styles

  • default (page style: 1.5 side margins, no page numbering, used only for cover page)
  • appellate brief index style (page style: 1.5 side margins, uses "i, ii, iii" page numbering)
  • appellate brief body style (page style: 1.5 side margins, uses "1, 2, 3" page numbering)

Paragraph Styles

  • appellate brief address style (paragraph style: single space lines, smaller font size)
  • appellate brief body par style (paragraph style: double space lines)
  • appellate brief cover par style (paragraph style: single space lines)
  • appellate brief index par style (paragraph style: single space lines)
  • Heading 1 (paragraph style: just centered and bold)
  • Heading 2 (paragraph style: uses .49, .40, -.40 spacing)
  • Heading 3 (paragraph style: uses .89, .40, -.40 spacing)
  • appellate brief footnote style (paragraph style: single space, normal size font)
  • index 1 (paragraph style: controls how the table of authorities looks)
  • contents 2 (paragraph style: controls how the table of contents looks)

These are the styles you can tweak to your liking when building your own AOB template. Have fun.

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