The legal brief is a lawyer's most important writing task, assisting in both analysis and persuasion. Through a well-crafted brief, you convince the judge of your position and can hopefully bring about the desired outcome for your client. Whether arguing a motion, presenting an appeal, or advising clients on the merits of a case, brevity and clarity are key. Success often hinges on concisely emphasizing the strongest points of law and fact.
In this comprehensive guide from Grow Law Firm, we'll dive deep into what a legal brief is, discussing what information should be included and how it should be organized. From there, we'll look at how a brief differs from a similar document, a legal memorandum. We'll also explore the best practices for legal writing and even show you a template to use as a starting point for organizing your brief.
What Is a Legal Brief?
A legal brief is a written document by a legal professional submitted to a court by parties to a lawsuit.
It outlines their legal argument and positions in the case. It provides relevant facts, reasoning, and legal authority to support the party's position and persuade the judge on their view. It helps educate the court on applicable laws and precedents to reach a final judgment or ruling. Legal briefs are a fundamental part of trial and appellate court proceedings.
Why Are Legal Briefs Important?
- Educate the court. Legal briefs help educate the judges or justices on applicable laws, precedents, and arguments for deciding the case. This ensures the legal issues are properly presented and understood.
- Provides a consistent argument. The brief allows the party to present a clear, structured, and consistent legal argument to the court from start to finish.
- References key authorities. Comprehensive referencing of statutes, previous rulings, and legislative history helps strengthen a party's argument by demonstrating supporting legal authorities.
- Levels the playing field. Regardless of experience or resources, the brief ensures every party gets a fair hearing, and the court understands each side's perspective through a consistent written argument.
What Goes into a Legal Brief?
Legal briefs are about advocacy as they defend a client's interests or make a case for changing how the law is understood. But what goes into creating a brief? It needs to be persuasive while still providing insights, perspective, and substantive recommendations. This enable judges to weigh all factors judiciously and arrive at decisions that uphold justice.
The introduction is an important early section of any legal brief. In this opening portion, lawyers aim to provide a clear overview of the key issues in dispute and briefly summarize the legal argument that will follow.
The introduction acquaints the judge with the essential facts of the case and outlines the relief or determination being sought. It also previews the main contentions and conclusions that will be fully fleshed out in subsequent sections. Setting the right tone here can help guide how the rest of the brief is received and considered.
Ideally, the introduction should be concise yet compelling enough to give judges critical context as they review the full brief. It highlights the most pertinent facts and frames the central question or questions before the court clearly and objectively.
— Table of Authorities (ToA)
The Table of Authorities is an index of all legal sources cited within a legal brief, including relevant statutes, cases, and other materials like law review articles and treatises. It allows the reader to locate the cited sources in the brief quickly.
The ToA comes before the main content of the brief. It lists all sources alphabetically by name, with the page numbers where they are referenced. This helps the court verify that citation rules are followed and find cited sources easily as needed while reviewing arguments presented in the brief. A well-organized ToA ensures the legal brief's credibility and usability for the judges.
— Parties Involved
This section identifies the key parties to the legal dispute. It provides background information on the plaintiff who brought the case and the defendant responding to the claims. Relevant details may include the names and roles of individuals, organizations, or governmental bodies involved on each side of the litigation.
— Current State of Litigation
A compelling legal brief includes a clear and concise summary of the current state of the legal proceeding. It outlines the relevant lower court decisions or administrative rulings in the case to give context. The section establishes the issue or question before the higher court, such as an appeal of a lower court's finding. It notes the stage of litigation and the type of relief or order sought by the reviewing judges.
— Statement of Facts
The statement of facts section objectively recites the key facts underlying the legal dispute. It presents a factual narrative without argumentation, citing evidentiary support from official court records. The goal is to give judges an impartial account of the events or circumstances precipitating the case.
— Applied Rule of Law
Here, the brief outlines the pertinent legal principles such as relevant statutes, precedents, or constitutional provisions, that govern the issues before the court. It analyzes and quotes the text of applicable laws and describes how courts have previously interpreted their meaning. This provides the legal framework for how those principles should logically be applied to the specific facts of the current case.
— Legal Argument
The legal argument is the substantive core section where lawyers advance their interpretation of the law's application to the facts. Clear headings separate distinct issues as the analysis builds a logical progression to support the party's position. It cites heavily the authorities discussed earlier and analyzes how precedents do or do not parallel the current case. This section persuades the court towards a particular decision.
The conclusion summarizes the key takeaways without introducing new information. It restates the relief sought and emphasizes how applying the pertinent legal rules to the facts establishes the reasoning for the court to decide in their party's favor. Providing a strong final impression reinforces the overarching legal argument for the judges' consideration.
The Difference Between a Legal Brief and a Legal Memorandum
A legal brief and a legal memorandum are both legal documents used in law practice, but they serve different purposes and have distinct differences, such as:
- Purpose: A legal brief is submitted to an appellate court to present legal arguments and persuade the court on a matter of law. A legal memorandum typically provides analysis and recommendations internally for a law firm or client.
- Structure: A brief follows a formal structure with distinct sections like statement of facts, summary of arguments, and argument. A memo has more flexibility in organization.
- Audience: A brief is aimed at judging stakeholders like judges and justices. A memo audience is usually legal counsel or clients seeking guidance on an issue.
- Tone: A brief uses a persuasive tone to advocate a position to the court. A memo adopts an objective, advisory tone to counsel readers on analysis and prudent options.
- Citation: A legal brief strictly adheres to formal citation rules. A legal memo has more leeway in citation style depending on purpose and reader preferences.
- Length: Pages for a brief are tightly limited by court rules. Memo length can be much longer, but that depends on the complexity of the issue and it tends to be less extensive than a brief.
Best Practices for Writing Good Legal Briefs
Hours of legal research and writing are poured into these documents to properly inform the court and defend a client's rights under the law. While briefs follow prescribed formats, their argument quality largely determines a case's outcome. In this part of the guide, we'll explore the best practices for writing good legal briefs.
— Cite Good and Relevant Law
Comprehensively citing strong precedents, statutes, and other legal authorities is paramount. References should directly support arguments and be curated for quality over quantity. Legal research ensures all applicable law favors the position or distinguishes it from contrary rulings.
— Conduct a Thorough Analysis
Thorough legal analysis is the foundation of persuasive briefs. It involves carefully examining all relevant facts, stringently applying the best legal precedents, and thoroughly addressing alternative interpretations. Anticipating contrary views and having well-considered responses strengthens arguments and aids fair consideration of the issues.
— Use Standard Language
Legal briefs require formal, precise language familiar to the judiciary. Jargon specific to the practice area establishes credibility, while plain English explanations clarify technical terms for mixed audiences. A consistent tone remains objective and impartial, letting the law and reasoning prevail.
— Proofread Before Submission
Even excellent analysis loses impact with sloppy errors. Proofreading catches typos, incorrect citations, formatting inconsistencies, and poor phrasing before filing. Having other legal professionals review catches oversights and ensures the brief puts its best foot forward. Minor issues can undermine an otherwise solid case, so proofreading warrants as much care as original writing.
— Keep Your Legal Writing Succinct
Conciseness respects judges' limited time reviewing extensive caseloads. Legal analysis requires depth but not at the expense of clarity or direct communication. Poorly edited briefs with excess wordiness detract from persuasive impact. Each sentence must advance the logical argument flow. Redundancies and repetition only dilute impact by clouding the core reasoning. Focusing on concise yet precise writing showcases an effective understanding of issues at their heart.
Legal Brief Template
The template below is an example of what a legal brief looks like. While the templates provide a useful starting point, the real strength of a legal brief comes from making it your own.
Legal Brief Example
Title and citation:
Bridges v. Johnson Manufacturing, Inc.
Case No. 2024-CT-01234 (Supreme Court of the State of New York)
April 24, 2023, Decided
This case centers around the unfortunate incident involving Jane Bridges, the plaintiff, and Johnson Manufacturing, Inc., the defendant. The fundamental question at hand is whether the defendant's actions can be deemed negligent, thereby resulting in a breach of duty that directly caused harm to the plaintiff. This brief will provide a comprehensive account of the pertinent facts, analyze the relevant rule of law, and conclude with a personal perspective on the court's decision.
Plaintiff: Jane Bridges, an individual residing in the State of New York.
Defendant: Johnson Manufacturing, Inc., a corporation engaged in the production and distribution of industrial equipment.
The current state of litigation:
The case is currently under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the State of New York. The plaintiff initiated legal proceedings against the defendant, alleging negligence and seeking appropriate compensation for the injuries sustained as a direct consequence of the defendant's actions. The court has diligently conducted hearings and meticulously reviewed the evidence presented by both parties.
Statement of facts:
On June 1, 2023, Jane Bridges, a committed employee of Johnson Manufacturing, Inc., was assigned to operate a heavy machinery unit. Tragically, during the course of her duties, the machinery malfunctioned, leading to a sudden and forceful movement that resulted in severe injuries to the plaintiff. It is the contention of the plaintiff that the defendant failed in its responsibility to adequately maintain and inspect the equipment, ultimately leading to the occurrence of this horrific accident.
Applied rule of law:
Under New York law, employers bear a solemn duty to provide their employees with a safe and secure working environment. This duty inherently includes the maintenance of equipment in optimal working condition, as well as the regular performance of inspections to identify and rectify potential hazards. Negligence on the part of an employer can render them liable if it can be demonstrated that their breach of duty caused harm to the plaintiff.
The plaintiff argues that Johnson Manufacturing, Inc. breached its duty of care by failing to properly maintain and inspect the machinery in question. The malfunction of the equipment directly caused the injuries suffered by the plaintiff. The plaintiff will present evidence demonstrating the defendant's negligence and seek to establish a causal connection between the breach of duty and the resulting harm.
After careful consideration of the evidence and the arguments advanced by the plaintiff, I, as a concurring commissioner, wholeheartedly endorse the decision rendered by the Supreme Court of the State of New York in favor of Jane Bridges, the plaintiff, against Johnson Manufacturing, Inc., the defendant. The court's ruling conclusively establishes the defendant's liability for negligence, warranting the awarding of damages to the plaintiff. This decision serves as a resounding reminder of the paramount importance for employers to discharge their duty of ensuring workplace safety, and it sets a powerful precedent for similar cases in the future.
Final Thoughts on Legal Brief Writing
Legal brief writing skills is a craft that improves with practice over time. As you gain experience honing arguments and refining style, remember it's not just winning points that matter. Your work impacts lives. Approach each brief as an opportunity to bring justice, diligent representation, and clarity to complex issues.
In this article, we have discussed the basics of legal brief writing, including the structure, content, and style. We have also provided a legal brief template and example to help you get started.
If you want to grow your law firm and serve more clients, hire a good law firm marketing agency like Grow Law Firm. Our team of experts will help you navigate your digital marketing efforts from start to finish and offer you a personalized experience that will bring you greater revenue.