How to write good legal briefs

This information will help you write good legal briefs, whether this is your first brief or even if you are a veteran brief writer.  If you take the time to learn this format, you will be well served, both in your course work as well as in your career.


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  1. How to write a brief


  1. Read the case you are about to brief, slowly and carefully; do not skim.


  1. Jot down an outline of information as you read or re-read the case. The information provided by the Court may not be in the order of the format shown below.


  1. Following the format shown below, outline your brief.


  1. Write your brief, filling in the skeleton of your outline.


  1. Read, revise and rewrite.  Use spell-check and grammar-check to make sure your language is perfect.


  1. Parts of the Brief – The Format


  1. Citation – Use Bluebook rules


  1. Procedural Facts


  1. How did the case get to this point?


  1. What is the case history in the courts?  This is the chronological summary of the court trail from start (trial court) to present.  You will explain which courts ruled in the case and how they ruled, but you won’t get into the specific facts or claims made in the case


  1. Issue(s)


  1. Frame each issue in the form of a question.  Answer “Yes” or “No” at the conclusion of each question the reader has an immediate answer to each issue.


  1. An issue is a generic question of law that does not name the parties to the case you are briefing. Rather, it asks a legal question that can be applied to any case with this set of facts.


For example, you would not state: “Was the defendant negligent in causing injuries to the plaintiff?” Instead, you would state, “Is a defendant negligent when s/he drives at an excessive rate of speed, crosses the center line, and crashes his/her car into the plaintiff’s car causing damage and injury?”


  1. Holding


  1. The holding parrots back, or mirrors, the issue, answering the legal question stated in the issue in exactly the same words. You will literally use a copy/paste of your issue to start this portion of your brief.


For example, the holding for the above issue would read:  “A defendant is negligent when s/he drives at an excessive rate of speed, crosses the center line, and crashes his/her car into the plaintiff’s car causing damage and injury.”


For those of you with experience writing IRAC memos, the holding in your case brief can be lifted to become the rule in your IRAC.


  1. The holding is the generic rule of law established in the case that can be applied as precedent in the future.


  1. Statement of Relevant Facts


  1. Tell the story.


  1. Include what is necessary, factually, to paint a picture of the dispute that has given rise to the case.


  1. Rationale


  1. Explain to the reader why the Court concluded as it did. This       is the why behind the holding.  Why did the court rule as it            did?


  1. Here is where you do get into the facts of the case. A good way to begin the rationale section is to state, “In this case.”


  1. Dicta


  1. Did the Court make statements in the case about how it might have ruled had the facts been somewhat different?


  1. Did the Court hint that if other factors had been present or other arguments made that it might have been persuaded to rule differently?


  1. These are the kinds of statements known as dicta.  They do not impact the case at hand, but they give a glimpse of possible changes in the law that may be on the horizon.  Dicta is worth noting.


  1. Disposition


  1. Provide a brief statement of the Court’s action, such as, “This court upheld the judgment of the court of appeals in favor of the plaintiff.”


  1. Concurring/Dissenting Opinions


  1. Provide the names of the judges or justices who concurred (agreed with the outcome but based on a different rationale) or dissented (disagreed with the outcome). You do not have to brief these opinions unless asked to do so by your supervising attorney.

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