Legal writing professor Ellie Margolis (Temple Law)

By Ellie Margolis

Since most legal documents are created and read electronically, lawyers are starting to incorporate hyperlinks directly into their memos and briefs. The most common use of hyperlinks is for citations to legal authority, though a document could also contain hyperlinks to many other sources, including the factual record and non-legal sources of authority.

Many judges have started to express a preference for hyperlinks in memoranda and briefs filed in court. Two federal Circuits, the Third and the Fifth, have even developed their own software to automatically convert case citations into hyperlinks, and rumor has it the remaining Circuits will soon follow. Many state court judges have also expressed a preference for hyperlinks to authority and the Record. A number of courts have created guidelines for using hyperlinks, easily available online.

So what does this mean for legal writers?

First, your citations may be converted to hyperlinks whether you do it yourself or not.  That means it is more important than ever to make sure your pinpoint citations are correct, to use legal authority accurately. Second, if you are creating the links yourself, you need to think about what you are linking to, and whether the reader has access to it in the case of paid services such as Westlaw and Lexis. Some lawyers are starting to create an electronic appendix of cited sources and linking to that.

The presence of hyperlinks may tempt the reader to leave the document and lose track of the writer’s analysis. This makes it more important than ever for the legal writer to think carefully about how to present enough information from the source so the reader can understand it in context, without following the link.

Hyperlinks are rapidly becoming an important tool in a legal writer’s toolkit, and it is important to be mindful of how to best make use of them.

Professor Ellie Margolis teaches Legal Research & Writing and Appellate Advocacy at Temple University, Beasley School of Law. She writes about the effects of technology on legal research and written analysis. For more on hyperlinks and digital legal writing, see Margolis’ article “Is the Medium the Message? Unleashing the Power of E-Communication in the Twenty-First Century.”