A well-written legal brief can strengthen an attorney’s credibility with the court and relationship with the client – and may even win the case. But many attorneys have not received formal instruction on legal brief best practices since law school and do not have a full appreciation for what goes into writing a highly effective legal brief.
Travis Cade Armstrong is passionate about written advocacy. A litigation associate at Sheehy Ware Pappas & Grubbs who focuses on appellate law, Mr. Armstrong has briefed, argued and won numerous dispositive motions at both the trial and appellate level. Mr. Armstrong recently shared his expertise with his colleagues at Sheehy Ware in an informative “Lunch and Learn” webinar entitled “Better Brief Writing.” Here is a summary of what he discussed.
The Hallmarks of a Good (and Bad) Brief
Organization, clarity and a unique, professional voice are the keys to a strong, effective brief. On the flip side, the use of “impressive” vocabulary, bluster, rhetoric and attacks on opposing counsel will only weaken a brief’s effectiveness.
Organize, Organize, Organize
Attorneys must immerse themselves in large amounts of information and then organize it in a coherent presentation of the arguments in favor of their client. Prior to starting the brief, attorneys must have a deep understanding of the case and figure out precisely what they want the court to do. They must research the law thoroughly to determine if the law allows the relief they seek and, if so, how they can get it. They must mine the record for useful facts, identify bad facts, and think critically about the opponents’ arguments and/or anticipated counter arguments.
Structuring the Brief
Mr. Armstrong discussed effective techniques for organizing the arguments in a legal brief. This included addressing each essential issue syllogistically, which refers to a form of logic that uses deductive reasoning to arrive at a conclusion based on two asserted propositions. For instance: All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
Mr. Armstrong discussed a number of additional organizational best practices, including:
The Voice of the Brief
The best briefs steer clear of “lawyerly” language. Attorneys should avoid needless formality – “Defendant sped” is stronger than “Defendant exceeded the speed limit” – and Latin phrases and other legalese, such as de facto or ab initio. Mr. Armstrong also discussed:
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