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June 01, 2018 Practice Management

Briefs Reflect Competence: Here’s How to Make the Best Impression

Thomson Reuters is a sponsor of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.

Thomson Reuters is a sponsor of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.

Thomson Reuters is a sponsor of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division. Neither the ABA nor ABA entities endorse non-ABA products or services. This article should not be construed as an endorsement.


A first impression is a lasting impression—especially in the courtroom—so if you want to make sure yours is the very best it can be, consistently write clear, succinct, well-researched briefs.

After all, as judges review your brief, they’re evaluating your argument and your professionalism. Consider the words of the Hon. Raymond M. Kethledge, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, in an article1 he wrote for the ABA:

When I read a brief, the first thing I’m judging is the person who wrote it. How careful is this lawyer? How competent? How candid? The answers to these questions will enhance or diminish the force of the lawyer’s arguments.

This may be why Chief Justice John Roberts points out that briefs are even more important than oral arguments. “The oral argument is the tip of the iceberg, the most visible part of the process,” he says. “But the briefs are more important. . . . And they should have as much time and energy devoted to them as the oral argument preparation.”2

So, how do you write the hard-hitting brief that judges want?

The first step is to create and document your plan before you even start your research. Reference it throughout your brief-writing process to keep yourself on track and efficient.

To develop a solid plan, follow these steps:

  1. Outline the relevant facts and key legal issues in the case.
  2. Make sure you address any arguments you intend to bring up during your case, as it’s not advised to raise new factual matters or legal theories that haven’t been mentioned in the opening brief.3
  3. Identify and prioritize the legal issues that require research.
  4. Create a list of questions you need to answer for each relevant legal issue. This will help you narrow the scope of your research and keep you on track.

The planning stage is also a great time to see if your firm has an existing brief that you can leverage for language, citations, or arguments to help jump-start your legal research. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to.

Planning doesn’t need to be a cumbersome and time consuming. On the contrary, it will save you valuable time by providing the forethought, focus, and organization you need to work more efficiently.

To find out the rest of the steps to develop briefs that give both you and your argument the professional edge that wins more cases, be sure to check out the free whitepaper: How to Write the Hard-Hitting Brief That Judges Want.



1. Kethledge, Raymond. “A Judge Lays Down the Law on Writing Appellate Briefs.” GPSolo, September/October 2015 (32:5) at 24–27.

2. Klau, Dan. “Briefs Are (Way) More Important Than Oral Argument.” Appealingly Brief!, May 3, 2013.

3. Pine, Norman. “Oral Argument.” Plaintiff, December 2015 (9:12) at 12–20.