SCOTUS Cert. Petition? You Don't Have To Go It Alone

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By Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson

April 29 — Lost your case below and looking to file a petition for certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court? You don't have to go it alone.

Working in a niche area of Supreme Court practice, a handful of specialized printing firms offer more than just ink on paper.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s rules are complex. Even the most experienced practitioners sometimes need help understanding the particulars,” the website of an industry leader Cockle Legal Briefs's says.

Printers like Cockle can help “read between the rules,” Cockle's Mathew Planalp, Omaha, Neb., told Bloomberg BNA April 28.

Although Supreme Court Rule 14.5 allows a brief 60-day period to correct deficiencies in otherwise timely petitions, it's best to get it right the first time.

Culling It Down

Litigants have 90 days to file a Supreme Court cert. petition after an appeals court's decision. Printers get involved early in the process, Planalp said.

While they don't practice law or give legal advice, Cockle employs several attorneys and paralegals to ensure that petitions will be accepted by the high court for docketing, Planalp, an attorney who previously practiced both criminal and civil law, said.

To start that process, Cockle typically begins with the appendix.

Clients often ask if they must include the entire record below in the petition, Planalp said. But Supreme Court Rule 14.1(i)—spelling out the appendix requirements—is more narrow, he said.

So the first thing is to cull down what's originally sent over. Otherwise, the original documents could easily total $100,000 in printing costs, Planalp said.

Filer Beware

Rule 33 requires that most petitions be filed:

  •  in “a 6 1/8- by 9 1/4-inch booklet;”
  •  “typeset in a Century family;”
  •  using 12-point type with 2-point or more leading between lines;”
  •  on “paper that is opaque, unglazed, and not less than 60 pounds in weight;”
  •  with “margins of at least three-fourths of an inch on all sides;”
  •  where the “text field, including footnotes, may not exceed 4 1/8 by 7 1/8 inches;”
  •  “bound firmly in at least two places along the left margin (saddle stitch or perfect binding preferred);” and
  •  with a “suitable cover consisting of 65-pound weight paper in the color indicated” on the U.S. Supreme Court's Specification Chart.

 US Supreme Court - Specification Chart

Legal Writing Professor

Beyond the appendix, Cockle ensures that all court-required sections, like the jurisdictional statement and the legal provisions at issue, are present in the petition, Planalp said.

Cockle even provides an in-depth review of the “Questions Presented,” Planalp said.

The staff encourages litigants to include an introductory statement to their Questions Presented, he said.

They also push litigants to focus on one to three clear, precise questions, preferably dealing with an issue that the federal circuits are split over, Planalp said.

It's kind of like being a legal writing professor, he added.

Pro Se Filers

The biggest part of what Cockle does, however, isn't reviewing the questions or putting together the appendix—it's formatting, Planalp said.

That's where litigants make the most mistakes, he added.

The Supreme Court has very specific formatting requirements, so Cockle employs several typesetters and proofreaders to ensure the petition is in compliance.

That kind of help is invaluable to first-time and pro se filers, he said.

Planalp noted that of the 400-500 Supreme Court petitions that Cockle prepares each term, about 100 are pro se petitions filed by the litigant without the help of an attorney.

Camera Ready

But not all Supreme Court players need that kind of comprehensive help.

Big law firms and law school clinics that are repeat players at the court will send “camera ready” petitions that really just require printing, Planalp said.

This cuts down on the cost significantly, Planalp said.

A camera ready petition costs about $10 per page to print, whereas a full service one is about $20 per page, he said.

Customers typically get about 50 petitions—40 for the court, about three for opposing counsel, and a few extra, Planalp said.

Family Business

Planalp said there are about 10 printers nationwide that focus on Supreme Court briefs. But Cockle is one of the three or four big firms, he said.

That's because they've been printing legal briefs for nearly 100 years, Planalp said.

Albert and Eda Cockle started the family-run business in the 1920s, and began printing for briefs to be filed in Nebraska courts.

Now run by their grandson, Cockle is “the largest producer of U.S. Supreme Court briefs in the country,” their website says.

Roughly one in four of the Supreme Court's granted cases this term involved a petition printed by Cockle, Planalp said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at

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