on the cheap and sleazy side (www.cheapandsleazy.net)

Words by Mikey McMorran, XHTML by G.D. Warner

Learning Briefs

In Which Mikey McMorran Teaches His Method of Learning Briefs


There are many ways to keep track of briefs you need to learn.

There are the low-tech methods, which involve the use of pen and paper -- be it sticky notes or steno paper, and there are the high-tech methods, which involve the use of digital flash cards, or a favorite of mine, which involves text files and the Drill Machine.

Mikey's method involves the use of a spreadsheet ... and, after being asked several times, he finally decided to put it all in writing ... and this is the result.


The following is a step-by-step process on how to organize your briefs into a spreadsheet format. Before I begin, I want to give a brief overview of what caused me to create this line of organization as a student. When I was in Theory, I found myself getting helpful briefs on a daily basis. By the end of Theory, I had a notebook full of briefs that I would go through daily in order to keep them fresh in my mind.

Once I decided that having a notebook that I was continually adding to was not the most efficient and organized method of keeping track of all the briefs I had accumulated from both an alphabetical and redundancy standpoint, I decided to start converting those briefs into flash cards so that I could focus individually on each one.

The flash cards while an improvement over the notebook, presented two problems. First, an inability to write the briefs on my writer while flipping through them without another person on site to recite them to me. Second, an inability to remember which flash card container I went through the previous day. After accumulating about 1,500 flash cards, I decided that it was time to organize these into some form of a computer database in order to better alphabetize and be able to write from my writer each brief, as opposed to simply committing them to memory.

The first method I tried was converting all of my flash cards into a word document. I listed all 1500+ briefs alphabetically in a word document and would continuously add to it as I obtained new briefs. While I found this method to be more efficient than the flash cards, once again I found a couple of deficiencies within the method. The first was whenever I would add a new brief into the document, I would have to scroll through several pages in order to find the appropriate line to insert the brief. The second was the inability to hide the steno text that was next to each English word in order to test my memory and reaction time when writing each brief that I had in memory.

After a few weeks, I decided that the solution to these problems was to convert everything once again from a word document format to a spreadsheet format. This would allow me to have far more control over what I wanted to go over, as well as making editing changes far easier. The following will entail how to go about creating a spreadsheet that each student can personalize to his or her liking.

Step 1: Download Open Office. Open Office is a free program that you can download online. It has all of the basic capabilities of Microsoft Office. You can do so by going to http://download.openoffice.org.

Step 2: Once you've downloaded Open Office, go to your Start Menu, Open Office, and select OpenOffice.org

Step 3: Select Open Office Spreadsheet. At this point your screen should look like this:

Blank Spreadsheet

Blank Spreadsheet

Step 4: Now that you have a spreadsheet open, you want to begin the customization process. The terms that we will be using will be "Rows and Columns." Rows are the line numbers going down vertically the left side of your window while Columns are the line letters going horizontally across the window.

Step 5: First start off by creating your Column Headers. This will be what you want each column to contain. I recommend the following. What is in parenthesis is the meaning behind each column header. Do not put what's in parenthesis in your column headers.

Column A: Letter (What does the English word start with?)

Column B: English Word (The English translation of the steno outline)

Column C: Steno Word (The steno outline for the English translation)

Column D: Type of Brief (Examples being Jury Charge, Objections, Phrasing, etc)

Column E: Comfort Level (This will tell you how proficient you are at each brief. I generally do 1-10 with 10 being that the brief is automatic, without hesitation, I will get right almost every time. The lower the comfort level, the more work I need on the brief or should possibly reconsider changing it.)

Column: F: Date Last Reviewed (The date that you reviewed the brief. This should be updated upon every practice session. This will allow you to know how long it's been since you've reviewed the oldest set of briefs on your spreadsheet.)

Once you have entered each word into the spreadsheet, re-size your cells. You can do this by clicking on the empty box at the top-left-hand corner of the window between the 1 and A boxes. This will select all cells. Place the cursor on the line that separates cells A and B. A cross-hair with arrows pointing left and right should appear. Double click the line and all text should fit within each individual cell. At this point your spreadsheet should look like this:

Spreadsheet With Headers

Spreadsheet With Headers

Step 6: Now you will begin filling in the row-cells with each brief. An example would be the common "ladies and gentlemen of the jury" for which I do LAIRJ. I would proceed to fill Line 2 in as follows:

Letter: L

English: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury

Steno: LAIRJ

Type of brief: JC or Jury Charge (whatever you prefer)

Comfort Level: 10 (I could write this brief in my sleep)

Date Last Reviewed: 12/05/2011 (Today's date.)

Go ahead and re-size your spreadsheet now as you did previously. Your spreadsheet should look like this:

Resized Spreadsheet

Resized Spreadsheet

Important Note: I strongly recommend when you are inputting your entries for the first time to keep everything alphabetical order.

Step 7: Continue filling in all of the rows as you did above. Once you are finished, go ahead and place borders around each cell. To do this, select all cells just as you would to re-size them. Once all cells are selected and re-sized to fit in each cell, go to Format, Cells or press Ctrl + 1 on your keyboard to bring up the formatting menu. Go to the tab labeled Borders. Under line arrangement, select the box that says "Set outer border and all inner lines." Your spreadsheet should now look like this:

Borders:  Done.

Borders: Done.

Step 8: Now that the basic structure of your spreadsheet is completed, it's time to add some color to make it appealing to the eye. I typically set my Header Row to one color and the body of my spreadsheet to another. To do this, first select your Header Row. To do this, click on the Row box labeled 1. This will select all cells in Row 1. Go back to format cells and click on the tab labeled "Background." Select the color that you wish for your Header. For your body, select Row 2 and hold the shift button. Scroll all the way down, a few hundred rows past your final line, go back to format cells, once again click on the Background tab, and select your body color. Your spreadsheet should now look similar to this:

New Colors

New Colors

Step 9: Next, we are going to set our filters which is what will make your spreadsheet stand out over any other form of reviewing your briefs. To do this, select all columns. To do this, select Column A while holding the shift button. Select your final column, which for me would be Column F. Only those columns with text in it should be selected at this point. Next, go to the option up top labeled ?Data.? Select "Filter" and then "AutoFilter." Now, click anywhere in the spreadsheet. Your spreadsheet should look like this:



To ensure that this step worked, click the down arrow on any filter. For mine, I am going to do "Type of Brief" and then select the one marked "Objections." If it worked, this should only show briefs that have the type of brief marked "Objection."

Did it work?



To remove the filter on Type of Brief, I will simply go back to the "Type of Brief" drop-down arrow and select the very first option which is "All." My entire spreadsheet should be back to it's original standing.

How to make this work for you?

In order to maximize the efficiency of this spreadsheet, here is what I will do on my typical practice routine.

First, load your CAT software up and start a translation file, if you have your CAT software. If not, you will simply have to go by your paper notes and test your readback ability on each brief that you wrote. Once your CAT software is open and ready to begin translating, minimize it in the background so that only your spreadsheet is showing.

Next, I will determine what briefs I would like to go over that day. Starting out, you should go over about 100-200 a day just to get your feet wet. With your spreadsheet open, select all columns by clicking the letter of each Column at the top of your spreadsheet and hold the Ctrl key on your keyboard. The only column that you should not select is the column for your English words. Once every column except your English column is selected, Right-click in the gray header bar of the columns and select the option to hide. Only English words should be showing now. See below:

All Hidden Except English

All Hidden Except English

Begin writing these words as you would if they were dictated to you. You should only be using the briefs that you have come up with for each word as this is essentially a test to see how well you know each brief. Once you are done with a section, select all cells, right click in the column header bar, and click "Show." Your spreadsheet should be back to it's original standing with all filters that you currently have on.

Update your "Date Last Reviewed" to today's date. I will usually write today's date in the first cell, copy it, and then click the bottom cell holding the shift key to select all cells within that span. I will then paste today's date into the cells.

Next, bring up your CAT software. What words translated? What words mistranslated? What words did not translate? By analyzing each word, you should set your comfort level accordingly. For the words that translated correctly, up the comfort level by one. If you didn't translate the word correctly, reduce the comfort level by one. Once you are finished, be sure to "remove all filters" as instructed previously so that the next time you open your spreadsheet, it will be at full view.

New Briefs:

For new briefs, I will always insert a new row by finding where the brief should be inserted alphabetically, select the row in which it should go, right-click on the row number, and select insert row. Upon doing so, I will enter the information and for comfort level, rather than assigning a number, I will write NEW. I will typically start off each brief review session setting my filter to new briefs and then going over those first and foremost. After reviewing a new brief two or three separate dates, I will assign a comfort level typically around seven or eight depending on if I got it right every day or if I missed it on a day or two.

I currently have near 4,000 briefs in my spreadsheet and by reviewing for roughly 10-20 minutes a day, I can usually review all 4,000 of these within the course of a month.

If you have any questions in regards to the spreadsheet and how it is created, you can e-mail me at cardiff_giant81 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Good luck, students.

Michael McMorran, Sage College Student

Update (16JAN12)

Mikey came up with an addition to this article recently:

When you begin to accumulate thousands and thousands of briefs, it's not necessary to review all of those with a comfort level of 10; e.g., LAIRJ for "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury" more than once a month or couple of months.

In order to focus on all briefs with a comfort level less than 10, simply click the drop-down filter on comfort level. An option should appear for standard filter. Click on it. The field name should appear as comfort level, for condition select "<" and for value select 10.

This will filter all briefs with a comfort level of 9 or lower. When you select the oldest date last reviewed, the number of entries should hopefully be reduced greatly.