How to Write a Legal Brief

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Writing competent and persuasive legal briefs is an essential skill for trial attorneys in common law jurisdictions. Some briefs are written with the specific purpose of not having to argue during a hearing, which means that confident attorneys who feel confident about the merits of their cases will expect to obtain a victory for their client simply by writing suitable legal briefs.

Objectives of Writing Legal Briefs

All legal briefs require clear objectives that apply factual information in a clear and logical manner. The objective should always be conducive to meeting the client?s goals; to this end, legal briefs should always be written systematically. In the interest of being persuasive, attorneys should not shy away from asking that the court makes a decision that favors their clients and that is supported by statutes or pertinent case law.

Legal Briefs Should Not be Too Long

Attorneys should accept the fact that judges in most jurisdictions these days are likely to not read briefs in their entirety. This is not the case at higher court levels, but even briefs addressed to appellate courts should not be long-winded and passionate arguments. Judges will always remember attorneys who are able to condense their arguments down to one page. This entails avoiding run-on sentences and the passive voice.

Using Proper Formatting

Judges, by virtue of their chosen profession, tend to be sticklers when it comes to the proper formatting of legal pleadings. Attorneys should become familiar with the accepted formats and templates recommended by the jurisdictions and court sections they work in. These formats and templates are found in legal libraries, State Bar Associations and the rules of procedure of each jurisdiction.

Avoid Tangential Arguments

Lengthy legal briefs are often caused by attorneys who try to cram too many sidebar arguments and end up going off on a tangent. This is something that judges do not appreciate, and thus it is important to use the two most solid arguments in a legal brief.

Avoid Attacks and Respect All Parties

When writing briefs in support of an appellate case, attorneys must avoid becoming overconfident when pointing out the apparent mistakes made by the lower court. It is easy to write ?gotcha? arguments and relish in pointing out incorrect decisions, but attorneys must keep in mind that they are writing about judges? colleagues. The same goes when writing about a plaintiff, a defendant, a witness, or opposing counsel; they should all be treated with respect and their personal flaws or shortcomings should never be written about.

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