Consider whether you are really done. Have you answered the question(s) that were asked? All the questions? Are all the factual and procedural statements supported by citations to the exhibits? Are there any omitted evidentiary points that may benefit your client as to burden of proof or presumptions in favor of your client or against your adversary?
Then follow these steps in the order that makes sense based on the nature of the brief and your work:
One time, proofread just the headings or captions. Cut and paste the headings into a separate document. Read them apart from the brief. Do they make sense?
Are the captions parallel in structure and tense so that they flow pleasingly?
Should you add subheadings to assist the reader or make other adjustments?
Is there a step skipped over in the reasoning?
Is the outline hierarchy correct? Is the numbering/lettering correct?
Do the captions “tell your tale” persuasively by themselves? The judge may review them on the bench to refresh the memory of your argument—have you given the judge the best possible aid?
A second time, proofread just for specific details and question everything. Start with the upper left-hand corner of the title page.
Have you listed all the correct attorneys? Are their bar numbers correct? Have you correctly identified the court? Has the address for co-counsel changed? Is the court caption correct, or has the scope of the brief changed so you need to amend the caption?
Are the names correct? Check the spelling again to be sure, and check corporate and partnership names with the Secretary of State if you aren’t sure.
Use consistent terms (e.g., don’t refer to “sections” of a contract in parts of the brief, then call those same sections “paragraphs” elsewhere. Don’t vacillate among “Exhibits,” “Attachments” and “Addenda.”
Is the footer accurate?
A third time, just check the defined terms or short forms. Always use defined terms in the same way throughout the brief and, if possible, throughout the case or matter.
Standardize the capitalization of terms.
Use defined terms intelligently. Use terms that have a logical connection to what they replace, are easy to understand and remember, etc. Those reading the document should not have to search back to find out what the term means whenever they encounter it, especially if there are many defined terms being used.
Use the terms consistently—if you switch from plaintiff to the farmer and to Smythe, the reader has to stop and remember that it’s the same person. Let your computer help by word searching for the terms you elect not to use so you can correct them.
The fourth time, check the citations and quotations.
Be absolutely sure all cases have been updated and all statutes checked in pocket part and (towards the end of the year, in the Legislative Service).
Check all recent decisions to be sure no rehearing has been granted and no higher court has intervened affecting the validity of the citation. You will have to call the court if you cannot confirm the status of recent cases in the books or online.
Note in the brief all important subsequent history (e.g., overruled on other grounds, appeal after remand) even if it is irrelevant because attention to these details tells the court you are meticulous in citations and can be trusted.
Make sure case citations always include pinpoint cites, years, identification of the circuit or district. Nothing infuriates a court faster than a citation to a 25 or 50 page opinion without a jump cite. You want the judge and the law clerks on your side, not angry with you.
Are citations in the right format and order (Blue Book or another appropriate style, not a mixture of both; Supreme Court decisions before intermediate appellate decisions).
Are the quotations correct? Double check the passages in the brief above and below the quote for any problems in transition and grammar.
For cases you cite but don’t discuss in detail, put a short statement of the relevant holding in parentheses after the cite.
The fifth time, focus on the exhibits if there are exhibits to the brief.
If attached, are they all attached and labeled or tabbed correctly? Search the word “exhibit” or whatever term you are using to be sure one hasn’t slipped through the cracks.
If not attached to the brief, are the exhibits or the record already on file or organized and ready to be filed?
Are the exhibits correctly and consistently referred to in the document?
Have you addressed and solved all evidentiary issues the exhibits raise (hearsay, authentication, best evidence)? A footnote now negating a hearsay or other objection can save heartache and distraction later.
The sixth time, check the internal cross-references.
Then, wait to proofread and redo any steps above as needed. Put the brief aside for a day or two before your final proofread to ensure you have a better chance to spot any problems.
Credit: Image courtesy of Flickr by Tracy Collins