Appellate Insights

Feb 12, 2020 Alana H. Rotter
Prime Real Estate

Legal writing, like any other type of writing, should strive to keep the reader’s attention.  But any reader faced with a huge stack of paper (or the digital equivalent) is likely to lose focus eventually.  That makes the first pages of any brief or other filing prime real estate—the place to get your main points across while the reader’s attention is still fresh.  Here are some ways to do that:

  • Table of contents.  Include a table of contents in any brief or legal memorandum that’s more than a few pages long, even if the rules don’t require it.  With descriptive section headings, the table becomes a quick tool for the reader to preview your arguments.
  • Introduction.  Don’t devote the first paragraph of a brief or memorandum to reciting procedural background or defining terms.  Instead, start by distilling your argument and the relief you seek.  For example, “Plaintiff sued defendants for negligence.  Negligence requires a showing of causation.  Plaintiff cannot make that showing here.  Accordingly, defendants are entitled to summary judgment.”
  • Argument sequence.  As a general rule, lead with your strongest arguments unless logic or other considerations dictate a different order.

►  The practical message:  Maximize your opportunity to connect with the reader—cover the most important points up front.