Finishing Your Brief
Crafting the Table of Contents and
Table of Authorities.
By Celia C. Elwell,
November/December 2003 Issue
Sometimes, especially in law, it’s the little things that make all
the difference. The cover page, Table of Contents and Table of
Authorities are used for major briefs, such as briefs in support of
dispositive or trial motions. Sometimes they are mandatory; other times
they can be used to enhance a brief and make it easier for the court to
read and understand. Regardless, all three of these tools are excellent
methods for enhancing any lengthy or complex brief filed with the court.
Follow the Court Rules
The court rules determine the format you will use to prepare
all parts of your brief, including cover sheets, Table of Contents and
Table of Authorities. Each jurisdiction has its own set of local rules,
and the requirements for briefs can change from one court to another. It
isn’t unusual for a brief to be governed by two sets of rules — court
rules and local court rules — simultaneously. Unless you are familiar
with all of the requirements for each brief, it’s easy to overlook
To avoid this problem, I created a brief cheat sheet for all court
rules affecting briefs for each jurisdiction in which my supervising
attorney practices. For each court, I identified:
What must be filed with the court (the original and proper number
Whether a copy of the brief should be delivered to the judge and,
if so, when;
The page number limit for the brief;
Whether the court requires a cover page, Table of Contents or
Table of Authorities;
Whether the court specifies any certain way to cite to court
rules, the record or other jurisdictions;
The specifics of what the brief must contain and in what order;
What specific format the court requires, including font size or
word count; and
A sample form of a cover sheet, Table of Contents and Table of
Authorities for each jurisdiction.
Naturally, such information is useless unless you are sure you
have thoroughly read and understand all the rules relating to your
brief, and have updated your cheat sheet when necessary. For me, it was
an excellent way to become acquainted with the court rules. I also have
found these sample forms especially helpful to secretaries unfamiliar
with court rules and preparing briefs.
Cover Sheet Tips
Depending on the court rules, your brief might have a cover
page, produced according to the court’s format. Even when a cover isn’t
required, it’s still a good idea to include one for any lengthy brief.
The cover usually sets out the case number, the caption style of the
case, the title of the brief, the name, address and telephone number of
the attorney filing the brief, which party that attorney represents, and
the date the brief was filed. Appellate brief covers also can include
the name of the trial judge and the jurisdiction from which the case
Remember, the caption or style of the case is the first
information the court will read — it must be correct. Be sure the
parties’ names are correctly spelled and listed. Also, always proofread
the case number for accuracy. A transposed number could cause your brief
to be misfiled by the court clerk.
The cover itself is usually made from slightly heavier paper stock
— a little like the cover of a soft-bound book. Often the court will
have requirements about the color of the cover stock. If there are no
rules governing the color, use off-white, tan, navy, light blue or red.
Avoid pastels or neon colors because they look unprofessional.
The Table of Contents and Table of
The next section of the trial brief will often be the Table
of Contents — an index of the headings and subheadings within the body
of the brief. Again, check your local court rules.
Following that, the next section normally will be a Table of
Authorities, sometimes called a Table of Cases. The applicable court
rules will tell you whether a Table of Authorities is required. If it
is, the rules also will prescribe its format.
The order for citing legal authorities in a Table of Authorities
is: (1) case law (in alphabetical order, regardless of jurisdiction or
reporter); (2) constitutional law (in sequential order, beginning with
the smallest number to the largest); (3) statutes (federal statutes
first if your case is in federal court; state statutes first if your
case is in state court; (4) court rules; and (5) other authorities.
Constitutional law, statutes and court rules should be listed in
their separate categories in sequential order, from the smallest number
to the largest.
In some jurisdictions, the Table of Contents and Table of
Authorities are one document. In that instance, the authorities given
within the body of each proposition are listed under the proposition in
the Table of Contents (see sample on this page).
Citing Cases Correctly
Cases are always listed in alphabetical order, regardless of
their jurisdiction or reporter. When listing each case, include the
number of the volume of the reporter and the page on which the case
begins, but not pages within the case used as spot cites throughout the
Anderson v. United Finance Co., 666 F.2d 1274,
1278 (9th Cir. 1982)……………….14, 15, 16
Anderson v. United Finance Co., 666 F.2d 1274
(9th Cir. 1982) ……………………….14, 15, 16
Also, a citation found within a quote is never listed in the Table
of Authorities because it isn’t the citation upon which your argument is
based. In the example below, only Daughtery v. Elmwood would be
listed in the Table of Authorities.
In Daughtery v. Elmwood, 597 F. Supp. 749, 750 (D. Mass.
1994), the court stated:
To succeed in her claim, plaintiff must prove the four elements of
common law negligence: duty, breach, proximate cause and damages.
See, e.g., Bennett v. Eaglebrook Country Store, Inc., 408 Mass. 355,
358 (1990). [Defendant] argues that the court’s analysis should begin
and end with the issue of duty.
The Finishing Touch
Whenever the rules require a cover page, Table of Contents or
Table of Authorities — or if you should decide to include them in your
brief — pay close attention to detail and to whatever requirements are
included in the court rules or local court rules. Properly prepared,
these tools will give your brief an air of authority and quality.
For specific examples of a cover sheet, and a separate Table of
Contents and a Table of Authorities, please