To link or not to link.
That is the question.
With the overabundance of information on the world wide web, linking is a great way to point readers to the source, to give added background or proof of your point, or just show them something cool.
But what about hyperlinking in court documents? How do these digital files fit in with the urge to hyperlink?
Federal and state rules
Federal courts have found hyperlinks in documents to be highly useful, allowing court officials to verify information and access greater context.
Individual states, on the other hand, tend to be less vocal on the subject of hyperlinking. Illinois and Indiana permit hyperlinks with certain caveats. In states like California, hyperlinks aren’t mentioned in state-level rules, and preferences may come down to a court by court basis.
Types of hyperlinks
So exactly what are hyperlinks? When a section of words, called anchor text, is connected to a different section of text or to an external piece of information, it is a hyperlink. These include:
The Table of Contents is the best example of this. All documents are required to have electronic bookmarks, and hyperlinks are used to connect the main sections and headings to where they are discussed further down into the document. This makes navigating a lengthy document much easier, and is an updated version of the colored tabs on physical copies.
Filed attachments and exhibits
If you have filed other documentation along with the primary document, you can choose to hyperlink to that piece of evidence. If you’re linking to evidence, it must be officially filed as well, and should not simply exist on the web somewhere.
Link to local rules
By linking to a local rule, you can provide an extra layer of context for your point, especially if the rule is a more obscure one.
In addition to the state requirements, there are a few best practices to follow if you choose to add hyperlinks to your court documents.
Do not substitute
While hyperlinks can be useful, courts do not want to see them turning up as substitutes for simply citing standard citations to law or opinions. The practice of referencing specific precedent or law is a long-standing traditional approach, and most courts do not want to see it forsaken in place of hyperlinks.
Link to public websites
Although federal courts are more accepting of links to Lexus Nexus archives or Westlaw database, not all courts at the state level have access to these accounts. Therefore, they strongly prohibit linking to any website or online document that is not freely available to the public. If you had to sign in to get to it, don’t hyperlink.
Display the full URL
Articles that are written online, like this one, hyperlink by choosing the most relevant phrases or snippets of text to direct readers to information that is most related to those words. However, since judges and clerks may or may not actually click through this link, not having any information about it is less useful. That’s why certain states clearly specify that when hyperlinking, users must write the entire URL out in the text, rather than putting it into other words.
Not this: eFiling terms
This gives readers more information about what the link is actually pointing to and how useful it would be to follow.
Again, it’s important to remember that individual courts and states may have their own opinions regarding if and how they want hyperlinks. These are simply some of the best practices that are starting to evolve over time. Find out your court’s stand on hyperlinks to confirm your approach should you find it useful to include hyperlinks in your next brief.
How have you used hyperlinks in court documents in the past? Share your experience in the comments.