Mastering Appellate Brief Writing: A Simple Guide

I believe that individuals who are passionate about reading or writing are more likely to succeed in the practice of law.

Why so? Given the extensive communication demands in the legal profession, both written and oral, those with strong analytic and storytelling skills will naturally excel in crafting persuasive legal documents and presenting arguments in court.

This is especially true in the context of writing compelling appellate briefs — a cornerstone of appellate practice, and one where every word and nuance can significantly impact the outcome. The ability to clearly and persuasively communicate complex legal arguments directly contributes to being an effective advocate before appellate judges.

Whether you consider yourself a voracious reader and producer of the written word, or just “decent,” you can still find success in this arena. Appellate practice is multifaceted, and various skills contribute to effective advocacy.

Please allow me to share 10 tips to excel in appellate brief writing, to either brush up or polish up your skills. These will position you for success – but keep in mind that there’s no secret recipe to writing well, other than practice, practice, practice!

  1. Understand your audience.

    Appellate judges, and their clerks, are individuals with limited time to review numerous cases, so tailor your brief to be clear, concise and engaging. Present your arguments in a way that respects their time while leaving a lasting impression.

  2. Craft a persuasive introduction.

    With your first few sentences, you should capture the judges’ attention, set the right tone and provide a roadmap for what follows.

  3. Clearly state the standard of review.

    Judges will assess your arguments based on this standard, so ensure it is well-defined and supports your position. Many writers treat this as a throw away, but often there is real advocacy to be had on this issue.

  4. Frame the issues well.

    Use headings and subheadings to outline your position and make the structure easily navigable.  This should be done in both the facts and the argument. This not only aids judges but also demonstrates your organization and clarity.

  5. Build a strong argument.

    Each argument should be supported by relevant legal authority and compelling reasoning. Avoid overloading the brief with unnecessary details.  Never cite a case without any explanation.  I love using parentheticals after the case to briefly set forth a key quotation or explain the holding.  This way it does not impact the flow of your prose.

  6. Utilize persuasive language.

    Be precise, avoid jargon as much as possible, and use language that emphasizes the fairness and justice of your position.  Remember, it is a formal document.

  7. Cite applicable precedents.

    Draw parallels between your case and established decisions, demonstrating to the judges that your position aligns with accepted legal principles and ruling for you will not adversely change established jurisprudence.

  8. Address counterarguments.

    Acknowledge opposing viewpoints and respectfully showcase why your interpretation of the law is more compelling and correct.  I always seem to find a way to explain why adopting the other side’s position will conflict with legal precedent or set the jurisprudence down a harrowing path.

  9. Write a compelling conclusion.

    Conclude with a powerful summary of your main points, reiterating the importance of your case. Leave a lasting impression that reinforces the strength of your arguments.  Avoid a standard, “For the reasons stated above . . . .”

  10. Polish and proofread, including citations.

    A well-polished brief is a reflection of your professionalism. Ensure your writing is clear, free of grammatical errors and adheres to court rules and citation guidelines.  Incorrect citations or citation styles will distract the reader from your argument.
    Ready, Set, Write!

I hope this serves as a good lesson – or a welcome reminder – for anyone in this important area of law. Just remember, every word counts in an appellate brief, and the art lies in presenting a compelling case that resonates with the judges.

I encourage you to aspire for excellence in every facet of your appellate practice. If you find yourself in need of support, consultation or legal counsel, feel free to reach out. I am here to assist you in any way possible.

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