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ebriefing : overview of how lawyers can create useful hyperlinked PDF briefs

By November 25, 2015June 6th, 2022No Comments

Links are the cornerstone of ebriefing. So if you’re interested in creating PDF ebriefs, it’s useful to have an idea of how PDF links work.

Caveat: once you know how links are created you probably won’t want to create an ebrief yourself—unless either you have only a few links to create or an incredible amount of time and patience.

To create links in a PDF document you need something more than the free Adobe Reader that most folks are familiar with. You need Adobe Acrobat.

Acrobat allows you to create PDF hyperlinks around words or images. PDF links can open a new page in the same PDF document, or a completely separate PDF file, or even a non-PDF file such as a Word or Excel document. You can even use a PDF link to open a webpage in your browser.

So how does someone interested in ebriefing learn to create these PDF links?

The link tool is found under Tools > Pages > Link. Once you select the link tool you can select the place you want the link to be located. If you were creating an ebrief you’d want to drag the link tool around the case name.

You’ll have to do this around every case name, everywhere it appears. And you’ll have to have a PDF copy of the case ready to link to, positioned in the same folder where your PDF with links is (or you can append the cases to the PDF and make it one long PDF, and link to the page where it appears). In either case, you’ll be asked next to select some more options regarding the link.

The first choice is Link Type, and you’ll see an Invisible Rectangle displayed. The Invisible Rectangle is (you guessed it) invisible, so the person who gets the PDF would have to somehow figure out that the case names are hyperlinks. How might they figure this out? Well if they hover their mouse cursor over a hyperlinked area it would turn from an open hand to a pointing hand (which signals a hyperlink). But, that’s obviously not something that most users would notice.

The other option is to alert the viewer of the link with a visible rectangle.


Still, most users won’t guess that the box means that there’s a hyperlink (the convention for links is blue text, not bounding boxes). And the bounding box makes the case cite look weird—not exactly what you want your brief to do. You could painstakingly change the case names to a blue color font and then make the links invisible because the blue font would be sufficient indication that the case names are hyperlinks. This is the best option for the user but not optimal for you, since creating these kinds of links is labor intensive.

Another option might be to use the line tool (Comment > Drawing Markups) and draw a blue line under the cases you’ve linked. Also labor intensive.

Once you deal with the problem of how to visually indicate where the links are, the next choice is where to put the PDFs containing the cases you’ll link to. That’s what the Link Action does. The usual solution is to have the target PDFs in the same folder as the source PDF. And the usual way of linking is to choose Go to a page view which is counter-intuitive. You’d think that you should choose Open a file since the target PDFs are separate files (in the same folder as your source). But, trust me, the option you want to use is Go to a page view. To set the link, you simply navigate to the file and select it (you can even pick a specific page within the target PDF, which is useful for linking that is built around pinpoint citations (see e.g. Basic Legal Citation for additional information on case citation methods).

You can also point to case law by linking to a web page where the case is located. The best choice here is to use Google Scholar, which has many federal and state court cases online, that are easily linked to. But would it appear professional? Too many courts it probably wouldn’t, and you still have the problem of manually creating lots of pretty links.

Unfortunately, while ebriefing is useful for the reader, it’s pretty hard for the creator. You’ve now gleaned that, even if you know how to create PDF hyperlinks quickly and efficiently, doing so for every case and statutory citation in a typical legal brief will be incredibly tedious. And there isn’t much you can do to automate the process.

So what’s the best way to create ebriefs? Frankly, the best way is to hire one of the services that do this sort of thing all the time. As of this writing, there are two companies that are well known for creating ebriefs

  • – They create the ebrief using their process, and deliver impressive results. They also offer ebrief training and consulting on an hourly basis. I know the owner, Aaron Krigelski, and have found him to be very knowledgeable and helpful, so I can definitely recommend his company from personal experience.
  • – Claims their software will allow anyone to easily and quickly convert a Word document to a fully self-contained ebrief for $25. I have no personal experience with this company.

Companies with deep expertise in ebriefing, like StrutLegal, know how to create ebriefs efficiently and can easily add a number of useful features that make it easier for the recipient of the ebrief (i.e. the Judge or their clerk) to navigate the ebrief easily.

Regardless of how you go about creating an ebrief, you’ll almost certainly have to get permission from the court to file it. Courts are increasingly finding that ebriefs are helpful and make it easier for them to check the authorities cited in a brief, as well as exhibits—even video and audio clips. But, in many cases, judges will be reluctant to let only one party file an ebrief. So, it makes sense to reach an agreement with opposing counsel to file ebriefs.

In federal court at least you won’t simply be able to upload your ebriefs into the CM/ECF system. Typically, if the court allows ebriefs, the process is for them to be sent to chambers, usually a few days after the official filing (most often an ebrief is a supplement to the official filing). Presumably this will continue to be the case, especially if—as appears likely—the federal courts shift to requiring that all PDFs filed in the CM/ECF system be filed in the PDF/A format.

For more information on using ebriefs check out Hyperlinking in Federal Court, a compendium of resources for attorneys interested in adding hyperlinks to their CM/ECF filings. It’s a project of several folks including a federal judge in Utah. His quote on the website is pretty interesting for lawyers who wonder how judges perceive ebriefs with PDF hyperlinks:

“When I pull up a memo with links, I have three immediate impressions:

    • This attorney knows how I work;
    • This is going to be easy;
    • I hope other attorneys notice this.”

                   — Hon. David Nuffer, United States District Judge, D. Utah

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