Appellate Insights

Nov 11, 2021 Laurie J. Hepler
Making Good Briefs Great

GMSR edits draft briefs every day—our own and co-counsel’s.  We base our edits on experience with what works, including input from judges and court staff attorneys on writing habits they appreciate or bemoan.  Here are four key changes that help make good briefs great:

  • Eliminate all comments on your opposing counsel’s motives or mental state.  Courts hate this.  With a stack of briefs to read, would you want to wade through stuff like: “Plainly aware that its case fails under X theory, plaintiff tries Y” or “Attempting to distract the court, defendant argues ….”  Instead, get right to the point.
  • Eliminate almost all adverbs and adjectives.  They get in the way and almost never add value.  “Clearly” is only the most notorious offender.  With a first draft complete, search “ly” and strive to delete 80% of the words ending that way.
  • Cut repetition.  For example, introductions should rarely exceed one paragraph for a trial court brief (summarizing why you win), or 1-2 pages for an appellate brief.  Any longer, and you’re likely repeating the Argument too much, and also throwing too much detail at readers before they can grasp it.
  • Use active verbs.  They grab and hold readers’ attention.  Watch a master at work, Justice Wiley of the Second District:  “Attorney T represented a grieving family for a month. Then they fired him. The family’s new lawyers asked T for his case files.  T refused. He provided the family no benefit. Yet he demanded $308,000 in attorney fees. The court correctly awarded less.”   Speeds along, doesn’t it?

►  The practical message:  A great deal of lawyering occurs in writing.  These tips will sharpen the work product you deliver for your clients.