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Zimmerman's Research Guide



A "Brief" is a legal argument written by an attorney and filed with a court to support or oppose a motion, complaint, answer, reply or other pleading. Briefs are filed in both Federal and state court cases.

Federal Courts: Federal court briefs are available from several sources including:

1. PACER, the Federal judiciary's online system for distributing case information.

2. Courts and agency web sites. If you are looking for briefs from a particular case, the brief may be available free on the court's web site. You may also want to use one or two good search engine to see if anyone else has posted the brief.

3. Courtlink. Courtlink lets you retrieve or keyword search for briefs.

4. Lexis offers a range of briefs databases including Federal Briefs and Motions (TOTLIT;FDMTBR), as well as more targeted databases such as Federal Copyright Briefs and Motions (TOTLIT;CYMTBR), Federal Labor and Employment Briefs and Motions (TOTLIT;FLEMTB) and Federal Complex Briefs and Motions (TOTLIT;FCXMTB). There is also a database of combined Federal and state briefs (TOTLIT;BRFMOT).

5. Bloomberg Law has some briefs.

6. Westlaw also offers searchable databases of briefs filed in Federal appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court (SCT-BRIEF) and the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals (CTA-BRIEF). For an individual circuit court, use the format CTx-BRIEF, with the "x" being the number of the circuit.

7. Selected briefs are published in Westlaw Journals (formerly Andrews Litigation Reporters) and Mealey's Litigation Reports. Mealey's reports are also available on Lexis.

8. Some courts have special services. For those, see the entry for the court in question (e.g., U.S. Supreme Court, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit)

9. If you can't get the briefs you want online you can always get copies from the court (or the court's archives, for older cases). Some courts do their own copying. Otherwise you can hire a document retrieval service to get copies for you (see "Document Retrieval Services").

For more information on briefs filed in Federal courts, see the entries for the individual court (e.g., United States Supreme Court"). NOTE: In the U.S. District Court for New Jersey, briefs are not considered public records and are not available from the Court.

USPTO Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences: Briefs from cases before the Board of Patent Appeals are available with the entire contents of the case file in the public Patent Application Information Retrieval (PAIR) system. You'll need to enter the patent application number, then click on the "Image File Wrapper" tab. Search the Patent Application Full Text and Image Database if you need to look up an application number.

State Courts: Briefs are sometimes posted free on a court's web site. Briefs may also be available through a Court's online docket system; see the "Docket Sheets" entry in this Guide.

If that doesn't work, use one or two good search engines to see if someone else has posted the brief.

Westlaw has databases for briefs filed in state appellate courts. The database identifier is generally xx-BRIEF or xx-BRIEF-ALL, with the "xx" being the state's postal abbreviation.

Selected briefs are available through Courtlink and Bloomberg Law.

Selected briefs from both trial and appellate courts are published by Westlaw Journals and Mealey's; search their Web sites to see what's available. Note: Mealey's reports are also available on Lexis.

If the brief is not available online, you can always get copies from the court (or the court's archives, for older cases). In addition, in many states, appellate briefs are available on microfilm in large government and academic law libraries. If necessary you can try calling one of the attorneys on the case.

For more sources, see the entry for the state by name in this Guide (e.g., "California," "New York"). If the case was filed by a government agency, see also the entry for that agency. See also "Docket Sheets."

Brief Banks: A "brief bank" is a collection of briefs, generally organized by subject. Many law firms keep their own brief banks, comprised of the briefs written by the firm's own attorneys. Lexis and Westlaw have databases of briefs in a number of subject areas, as discussed above.

See Also
Andrews Litigation Reporters
Docket Sheets
Document Retrieval Services
Mealey's Litigation Reports

For comments, questions and suggestions, email the author
Copyright 2015 Andrew Zimmerman