Working on my first appellate brief was an exhilarating—and stressful—experience. Because it was an interlocutory cross-appeal, we submitted a 50-page brief, and we only had one week to finalize it after receiving the appellant’s opening brief. To complicate matters, a family issue arose, and I had to travel during the process.
Several articles gave me useful insight. Some articles helped me learn how to approach an appellate brief; others helped me understand the differences between an appellate brief and a trial court brief. I also read articles about the experiences that other attorneys had with their first brief and about common mistakes that attorneys make. Through this process, I found Howard J. Bashman’s blog, “How Appealing,” and also discovered that great appellate briefs are available online via the Department of Justice and Mayer Brown’s Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Group. Fortunately, I also happened upon a very good guide to appellate practice in Illinois. Two articles from the Young Lawyers Division of the ABA were particularly helpful. In one article, Honorable Justice Richard Posner explained the value of “put[ting] yourself in the judge’s shoes all the way, as it were.” In the other article, Damon Thayer explained the value of a reply brief and how many law clerks and judges read the reply brief first and work backward to understand a case and its issues.
Set out below are the four most important tips I learned in the process of reading and doing. Hopefully, these tips and resources are useful for other first-time appellate brief writers and make your project (at least somewhat) manageable.