The CockleBur Blog

What Does It Take to Be a Supreme Court Brief Proofreader?

While journalists get away with writing just the first rough draft of history, United States Supreme Court litigants prepare briefs hoping to shape the final word. Polishing that draft requires the help of an experienced Supreme Court brief printer, and the professional proofreaders who check every word and punctuation mark to make sure the finished document can stand the test of time.

be a proofreader1Proofreaders are special. They read text differently than the rest of us. They know language; they know formatting; they know details. If you cite to “78 F.3d at 360-61” on page 3, then to “60 F. 3d at 478-480” on page 29, they will note the inconsistencies (there are two*). If your Question Presented asks, “Whether the Fifth Circuit…,” they will recommend a period at the end of that sentence (indirect questions do not get question marks). If a court opinion in your appendix refers to a case in “the California First District Court of Appeals,” they will ask if you would like to insert a “[sic]” notation (in that State, it is “Court of Appeal,” not “Court of Appeals”).

After we review and typeset your original copy, we hand both the original and the typeset versions over to a team of two readers. The first proofreader reads aloud from the original, and the other proofreader follows along with the typeset proof, inserting notations as necessary. This method feeds the text through four mental screening processes: read the original, convert to spoken language, listen to the verbalized text, and match to the visualized typeset copy. The technique is “old school,” and it is the only process thorough enough for a Supreme Court filing.

And they’re fast. A proofreading team can typically read, annotate and process about 25 formatted pages an hour.

A proofreader’s job is not to correct the text, but to note possible errors for the drafter to consider. When proofreaders encounter a potential problem—whether it be a language, grammar, formatting, or rule compliance issue—they annotate the typeset proof with special marks that concisely identify their concern or question. You can see a few of the more common proofreaders’ marks here. After reviewing the annotated proof, the drafter can then discuss changes with our corrections specialists, who will make the final adjustments before printing.

Professional proofreading is not for everyone. It requires focus and stamina. And the best readers can maintain a critical distance from the subjects they read. Supreme Court briefing can be dry and technical, or it can be profound and emotional. A proofreader must be able to expertly evaluate the text regardless of the nature of the document.

In return, Supreme Court brief proofreaders get a rare chance to peer into the inner workings of current events, and watch as they become history. They have read the fine details of the most profound civic controversies of our time, such as gay marriage, Obamacare, campaign finance, gun rights, and capital punishment. They are also privy to a comprehensive survey of the many legal disputes that never make it to the front page. If you want to know what’s going on in America today, ask a Cockle proofreader.

*Spacing between “F.” and “3d,” and a 2- or 3-digit number range style.

The Complex Rules of Supreme Court Brief Filing

supreme court briefWhen filing a United States Supreme Court brief, there are distinctive formatting requirements that must be observed and followed. These requirements are set forth in Supreme Court Rule 33.1, which describes the Court’s required booklet formatting. Below are a few of the Supreme Court’s more obscure rules for filing in booklet format.

Every booklet-format Supreme Court brief must be produced on paper that is opaque, unglazed, 6⅛ by 9¼ inches in size, not less than 60 pounds in weight, and have margins of at least ¾ inch on all sides. The text field, including footnotes, should be approximately 4⅛ by 7⅛ inches. The brief must also have a suitable cover consisting of 65-pound weight paper.

The Supreme Court brief must be prepared using a standard typesetting process (e.g., computer typesetting, photocomposition, or hot metal) to produce text printed in typographic (as opposed to typewriter) characters. The process used should produce a clear, black image on white paper. The text must be reproduced with a clarity that equals or exceeds the output of a laser printer. Briefs produced on a personal computer using word processing, electronic publishing, or image setting are considered typeset and are acceptable. Briefs produced on a typewriter are not acceptable.

The booklet-format Supreme Court brief must be bound firmly in at least two places along the left margin so as to make an easily opened volume. No part of the text should be obscured by the binding. Saddle stitching or perfect binding is preferred. Staples may be used, with at least two along the left margin, covered with tape. Under no circumstances may spiral, plastic, metal, or string bindings be used.

The text of every booklet-format Supreme Court brief must be typeset in a Century family (e.g., Century Expanded, New Century Schoolbook, or Century Schoolbook) 12-point type with 2-point or more leading (pronounced LED-ing) between lines. The typeface of footnotes must be 10-point or larger with 2-point or more leading between lines. The text of the brief must appear on both sides of the page. Material contained in the appendix must also comply in all respects with the type-size and page-size requirements contained in Rule 33.1. Lower court orders and opinions issued on paper larger than 6⅛ by 9¼ inches may not be photo-reduced.

Leading is an old typesetter’s term and refers to the amount of added vertical spacing between lines of type. When type was set by hand in printing presses, strips of lead of appropriate thicknesses were inserted between lines of type to physically increase space between lines of metal type. Today, most word processing applications automatically apply standard leading based on the point size of the font. A 12-point typeface with 2 points of leading will produce a 14-point line space.

The requirements for producing a rule compliant Supreme Court brief can be both difficult to understand and difficult to comply with. At Cockle Legal Briefs, we are the experts when it comes to the Court’s intricate filing rules. We will save you time and effort, and more than that, our proofing will guarantee compliance as well as find any other problems in the original copy. Contact us when you are preparing your next Supreme Court brief and take advantage of our 91 years of experience in preparing legal briefs for submission to the United States Supreme Court.

New Petitions Recently Filed by Cockle Legal Briefs

Glenn-Colusa Irrigation Dist. v. NRDC, filed on July 14, 2014

Michigan v. EPA, filed on July 14, 2014

Heffner v. Murphy, filed on July 15, 2014

Blanca Tel. Co. v. FCC, filed on July 17, 2014

The Top 5 Skills of the Best Legal Assistants

We work with some of the brightest lawyers and legal assistants in the country each day.  If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the course of filing approximately 1,200 Supreme Court briefs a year, it’s that our office runs on COFFEE!  But, if there’s a second thing that we’ve learned, it’s that an organized and competent legal assistant is worth his or her weight in gold.

These individuals are key resources for an attorney and are frequently responsible for legal research, writing, and managing competing time-sensitive projects.  To be successful in the legal field, a great legal assistant should have:

1. Technology Skills

We live and work in an environment marked by the high use of technology, giving us the ability to collaborate and make individual contributions as never before.  Tech-smart legal assistants provide an array of computer-based tasks for their less than tech-savvy attorneys.  Some of these functions include:

  • Formatting legal documents
  • Tracking deadlines
  • Maintaining calendars
  • Videoconferencing
  • Navigating legal research databases

2. Organizational Skills

Organizational skills are essential in managing the day-to-day aspects of a law practice or an attorney’s bloated case load.  Twelve hour days aren’t uncommon.  The best legal assistants are able to maintain paper and electronic files, accomplish difficult tasks at the last minute, and operate as an undeniable force in front of those who want more time than an attorney is willing to give.

Papers_Organized-and-Stacked3. Research skills

Effective legal research skills separate the Pros from the Joes.  A great legal assistant can execute legal research on Westlaw or Lexis, cite check, locate expert witnesses, and obtain relevant information from the client.

4. Writing Skills

Attorney’s won’t, and often can’t, write everything that’s filed in court.  Legal assistants often find themselves drafting internal memorandums, court motions, transactional documents, and entire sections of a brief.  An indispensable legal assistant utilizes strong grammar and proofreading skills to assist attorney’s filing in a variety of jurisdictions.

5. Attention to Detail

I put this one last – and you’ve noticed!  That’s probably because you’ve got an eye for detail (or apparently nothing else to do today).  Quality legal assistants handle many of the minute details of a legal practice.  They’re responsible for everything from scheduling meetings, monitoring deadlines, and organizing emails to ordering lunch, booking a flight, and checking for updates on the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.

12 Questions You Should Ask Your Supreme Court Brief Printer

Filing a U.S. Supreme Court brief is a consuming task. By its very nature, Supreme Court litigation will make demands on your talents, your time, and your budget. When you choose a brief printer, you are taking on a kind of partner who will be closely involved with your life all the way through the filing day. So before committing to a Supreme Court brief printer, you should ask a few questions to be sure you are making the right choice.

You Need To Know That the Brief Printer Can Help You File A Quality Brief

How long has your company been in business? Quality work requires experience. Period. Your brief printer should be more than just a website and a rule book. The task of evaluating and printing a quality brief demands the knowledge and resources that can only come from decades in the brief printing business.

brief printer questionsWill you proofread my brief to make sure I file the very best possible work? Proofreading is essential for top-shelf Supreme Court brief filing. A two-person team of professional proofreaders is necessary to give your brief a thorough, line by line examination and alert you to any errors.

Do you have experts who can make sure my brief is rule-compliant? The Court will not docket your brief unless all the required elements are present. An experienced staff of Supreme Court experts will make sure you avoid the embarrassment of filing a non-compliant brief.

You Need To Know That the Brief Printer Can Provide Convenient Service

Will I see a proof the same day I send my draft? The quicker a brief printer can typeset and read your proof, the later you can send your draft. And more time with the draft means more time to craft the perfect brief.

Do you have the flexibility to handle a large job or to file on short notice? Your practice requires you to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, and your brief printer should be able stay with you when that happens. You need a brief printer that can handle an unexpectedly large job, or print and file a quality brief on an accelerated schedule.

Will you review my camera-ready brief to make sure it complies with the rules—for free? Some experienced practitioners prefer to format the brief themselves. But it never hurts to have another set of eyes check the draft for compliance. And you shouldn’t have to pay for that.

Will somebody be available to take my call during my work day, no matter what part of the country I am calling from? The planet is round, and it turns. This means that a business on the East Coast might be closing just as customers on the West Coast are returning from lunch. Located in Omaha, Cockle Legal Briefs is here for you early in the day in New York and late in the day in Los Angeles.

You Need To Know That the Brief Printer Will Help Keep Your Costs Down

Can you give me a good idea of my costs when I call, even if you haven’t seen the draft? Text in the Supreme Court format typically uses more pages than other common formats. If you can provide a general page count and a description of the original pages when you call, the brief printer should be able to give you a good sense of the final document length and your printing costs.

After you see my draft, will you provide a detailed estimate of my costs before I commit to the job? After the pages come in, the brief printer should be able to compile a much more accurate cost estimate. And you should not have to commit to the work before you see an itemized estimate.

Can you give me a discount if I send my copy in a Word or WordPerfect file? Brief printers use various methods to create a typeset draft, and original drafts in Word or WordPerfect can be more readily formatted. Those savings should be passed on to you.

Can you give me advice to help me eliminate unnecessary pages and reduce my costs? Every court has its own procedures and rules, and the Supreme Court is no different. The brief printer should be able to tell you what elements are required, to make sure your brief is rule-compliant, and which are not, so you have the option to reduce your pages and your costs.

Do you offer a discounted rate to first-time customers? Deciding to use a brief printer is an important part of your Supreme Court case, and your trust should be rewarded. The brief printer should thank you, their new customer, by offering you a page discount.

Stats, Damned Stats, and Statistics

Eight observations from the 2013 Term.

  1.  Justice Kennedy is the most influential (or influenced?) Justice.
    • He was in the majority in 95% of cases this term.
    • He was in the majority in all cases decided by a 5-4 margin.
    • He and Chief Justice Roberts were in full agreement 84% of the time.
      • By comparison, only Justice Kagan was in full agreement with the Chief Justice more than 75% of the time.
  1. Justice Scalia is an engaged jurist.
    • He asked more questions than any other Justice at oral argument 36% of the time and was one of the top three questioners 69% of the time.
      • He asked an average of 19.6 questions per oral argument.
        • Justice Thomas did not ask a single question for the eighth straight term.
      • Justice Scalia once again authored more opinions this year (23) than any of his colleagues.
  1. Pedigree matters.
    • 33% of oral argument advocates were from the Office of the Solicitor General while 47% had experience in that office.
    • Attorneys from Harvard Law School made 38 appearances – more than any other law school (Yale was second with 30 appearances).
    • Justice Scalia’s former clerks made more appearances (17) than the former clerks of any other Justice.
      • Of note: Thomas C. Goldstein of Goldstein & Russell, PC argued in three cases this term, despite not attending an Ivy League law school, clerking for a Supreme Court Justice, or working previously in the Office of the Solicitor General.

  1. If you’re seeking a cert. worthy case, file a paid petition in a civil case, seeking writ from the U.S. Court of Appeals, and aim for a grant out of conference in the last week of June.
    • Paid cases comprised 86% of the Court’s merits docket.
    • 88% of cases decided this term arose from the U.S. Courts of Appeals.
    • Civil cases comprised 71% of the merits docket.
    • 12 petitions were granted in the last week of June alone; more than any month except October (which also had 12 grants).
  1. The Court is united.
    • 66% of this term’s opinions were released with a 9-0 vote.
      • This is up from 33% in 2008, 48% in 2010, and 49% in 2012.
  1. Work between the Justices was distributed evenly.
    • All Justices had either seven or eight majority opinions, which contrasts with previous terms like 2011 when one Justice had nine majority opinions, another had six, and most others had seven.
  1. Total authorship is down.
    • The Justices collectively authored the fewest total opinions during the Roberts Court era. The Justices authored only 145 total opinions (majority, concurring, and dissenting), lower than their tally from last term (169) or the term before (161).
      • The Justices decided 73 cases this term.
        • 67 were opinions signed after oral argument.
        • 6 were cases summarily reversed without opinion.
  1. Not all circuits are created equal. 
    • The Court affirmed 75% of 7th Circuit cases at the merits stage.
      • The Court only affirmed 27% of all cases this term.
    • The Court reversed 100% of cases that arose from the 3rd and 8th Circuits.

This information was compiled from: Kedar S. Bhatia, Stat Pack for October Term 2013, SCOTUSBLOG (July 3, 2014) and is available in full, here.

Proofreading: 3 Reasons You Need It for Your Next Supreme Court Brief

Last year, the building across the street from Cockle Legal Briefs underwent a major renovation. They threw up a big chain-link fence around the site, and hung out a sign that read:

proofreading

Our proofreaders took it hard. Some began a heated debate; one faction insisting that the intent of the sign-maker is clear and trespassers are barred, while the other side championed a literalist approach, declaring that trespassers are immune from criminal sanction. One poor woman just stared, tears streaming down her pale face—we found her that night dressed in a ninja outfit, holding an over-sized Sharpie, and, as the ambulance pulled away she sobbed, “Punctuation! Please, somebody, insert some punctuation!”

Now, proofreaders are indeed sensitive and odd, but that doesn’t make them wrong. Just the smallest error in a written document—especially a legal document—can result in confusion and unintended meanings. Here are three reasons you should let Cockle Legal Briefs proofread your Supreme Court brief:

Everyone Makes Mistakes. Everyone.

A Supreme Court brief drafter faces a daunting task. You must review all of the relevant elements of the case, research the applicable law, develop a coherent theory that relates the facts to the law, reduce the theory down to a succinct, persuasive narrative, and finally, type it. In that process, errors of form, grammar, spelling and consistency are bound to creep in. We have never seen a proof that did not have at least one note for the drafter to review, and a typical draft has notes on every page.

The drafting process itself is often to blame. Pasting passages from other sources, and combining the efforts of different brief authors and editors can result in inconsistent styles of citation, abbreviation, and so forth. Our readers will compare the elements of the entire brief, and note any inconsistencies for you to address and have us correct.

Mistakes Matter.

Filing a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court is a big deal. If this is your first brief, or your fortieth, you need to be sure that the pages you send to the Court, to counsel, and to your client present both your argument and yourself in the most favorable light. While your brief may not go so far as to inadvertently absolve trespassers from liability, the impression left by drafting errors can overwhelm the textual message you intend for the reader.

Petitioners should be especially sensitive to the need for proofreading. When the Court evaluates a petition for writ of certiorari, the justices must balance many considerations. Yes, they are looking for a legal controversy that warrants the granting of a writ, but they are also looking for a litigant who will be able to thoroughly and professionally present the issues at the merits stage. It is not enough for your argument to convince the Court that you have the right case to resolve the question presented; the overall appearance of your brief must also convince the Court that you are the right petitioner to adequately address the matter on the merits.

Professional Proofreading Is The Gold Standard.

So, you finish the draft, read it, and re-read it. Again. You have your secretary read it. And your partner. Also the summer law clerk. And your mother. Surprisingly, they caught a few mistakes you didn’t see. But surely, your draft has been read by enough smart people, and your brief is now perfect. Right?

Professional proofreaders may not be quite as odd as described, above. But they are very special. They read text differently than the rest of us. They see things. Try our Proofreading Test. Then ask yourself if your brief wouldn’t benefit from having Cockle proofreaders go over the draft. It’s the only way to be sure your filing will make the best possible impression on the Court.

New Petitions Recently Filed by Cockle Legal Briefs

Alberto San, Inc. v. Consejo De Titulares Del Condominio San Alberto, filed on June 27, 2014

The Los Angeles Cnty. Sheriff v. Albino, filed on July 2, 2014

Jackson v. City of New Orleans, filed on July 3, 2014

Supreme Court Ends Its 2013 Term

Annual Supreme Court Terms commence, by statute, on the first Monday of October.  28 U.S.C. § 2 provides:

14“The Supreme Court shall hold at the seat of government a {T}erm of court commencing on the first Monday in October of each year….”

Though Congress never specified on which day a Term should end, the Court prefers to end a Term as soon as all of the argued cases have been disposed of.  Supreme Court Rule 3 provides that “[a]t the end of each Term, all cases pending on the docket are continued to the next Term.”

Typically, a Term concludes shortly after the Court’s last scheduled distribution date in June or July (June 19th this term).  After all final orders have been released (which occurred this morning), Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. formally announces the Court’s adjournment and the beginning of its summer recess.

While the work of the Court continues throughout the summer, most of the Justices use recess to vacation, teach, and write.  The previous Term’s law clerks train incoming clerks how to write cert. pool memos and deal with last-minute petitions for stay of execution.

Though the Court begins to assign “14-__” docket numbers upon conclusion of the 2013 Term, it will not formally open its 2014 Term until October 6th.

New Petitions Recently Filed by Cockle Legal Briefs

Escobar v. Garcia, filed on June 23, 2014

Chaib v. Indiana, filed on June 23, 2014

Parker v. Cooper Tire and Rubber Co., filed on June 25, 2014

Frappier v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., filed on June 26, 2014

Disclaimer

Articles posted in the Cockle Blog are for informational purposes only. Nothing in the Cockle Blog should be taken for legal advice. In fact, Cockle Blog articles are not a substitute for proper legal research conducted by licensed attorneys.

Cockle Blog will occasionally provide opinions on certain cases and Court procedures. These opinions should be viewed with the recognition that no one can predict with certainty how the Supreme Court will rule on particular cases. Any reliance on articles contained in Cockle Blog must be done at one's own risk.