For our final installment on The Perfect Brief, we offer a list you can quickly peruse to ensure you have checked all of the elements in your brief to make it the most convincing document you can put before a judge.
When you finish writing your brief, or you’re advising a newer litigator on how to improve their brief, ask yourself or them the following questions. Have I:
- titled each section of my brief with a single word?
- dropped the formal opening, “Defendant respectfully submits”?
- started with my own case?
- addressed both sides equally?
- spelled out acronyms?
- stated my position, why I feel this way, and what I want the judge to do?
- opened my fact statement with a fact that is interesting, relevant, and favorable?
- told the judge a story?
- discarded conclusory words and argument in my fact statement?
- removed extraneous facts?
- written in the concrete?
- checked my facts for “opinion” words, like difficult, confusing, lengthy?
- deleted unnecessary words, nominalizations, and passive voice?
- removed unimportant names, dates, and numbers?
- avoided self-serving words like clearly, obviously, well-settled?
- dumped the fightin’ words, like outrageously, incredibly, amazingly?
- pared quotations?
- asked “Why?” or “So what?” after each sentence of argument?
- proofread for typos, redundancies, clichés, and lawyerisms?
- made my brief 15% shorter than the page or word limit?
This review helps you focus your final efforts on things that matter—instead of wasting time with arbitrary report cards, readability indices, and sentence length. The questions are simple, but a “no” answer reveals a weakness your readers might quickly see.
When you can answer “yes” to each of the 20 questions above, you’re ready to submit the brief to your supervisor or the court. It’s the last chance to make your brief the best it can be.
About the Author
Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for the American Bar Association, the Social Security Administration, PG&E, Kraft, Microsoft, and law firms like Jones Day, Sidley, and WilmerHale. His critically-acclaimed Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea hit #7 on the New York Times Bestsellers List.