A legal brief is a document used to submit an argument to a court. Briefs are generally written by lawyers and are intended to persuade the court to rule in your favor on a particular issue. Here are a few tips to help you write an effective legal brief.
- Skill level:
Prepare a caption. Court rules state that every pleading should contain a caption including the name of the court, the title of the action, the file number and names of the parties.
Begin with a preliminary statement. This should identify the party submitting the brief and inform the court of the relief requested. Generally, a preliminary statement should be kept short and provide the court with enough information to understand the issues to be addressed in the brief.
State the facts relevant to the brief. Facts should not be misrepresented, but can be presented in a way that is favorable to your argument. Be sure to cite to the record to support these facts.
Make your argument. This is the part of the brief where you present your case. Analyze why the law supports the relief you are requesting. Apply the law to your set of facts and cite to cases that support your position. Generally, you should make your strongest arguments first, followed by secondary relevant arguments.
Acknowledge the counter-argument. It won't help your case to ignore any valid arguments that can be made by the other side. Address these arguments and explain to the court why your case is different. Distinguish any relevant cases that do not support your argument on their facts.
Conclude your brief. Tell the court what relief you are seeking and ask for that relief.
Tips and warnings
- Try to keep your brief brief. Courts appreciate brevity and clarity.
- Avoid legalese and incivility.
- For a good example on how not to write a legal brief, check out In Re SC, No. 06 C.D.O.S. 2909 (April 7, 2006), where the California Court of Appeals called the lawyer's brief "rambling" and "ranting" and forwarded a copy of it to the California Bar Association, presumably for disciplinary purposes.