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Toward Better Briefing and Oral Advocacy: “Make It Short”

Susan Feibus

Toward Better Briefing and Oral Advocacy: “Make It Short”
Caiaimage/Martin Barraud via Getty Images

Judges are busy people. The shorter your brief or oral argument, the happier the judge will be. Plus, you will be more effective. But it takes longer to construct a concise, well-organized, well-reasoned written or oral argument than one that meanders. If you don’t take that into consideration, you may find that you “did not have time to make it short.”

Here are five tips that will help you make it short:

  1. No throat clearing. Forget long-winded introductions. Get to the point—quickly.
  2. Avoid redundancy. Make your point once—don’t repeat it. Repetition probably means your argument is not well organized.
  3. Edit, edit, edit. Don’t fall in love with your words. They all should be subject to revision. Put brackets around words in your brief or argument that might not be necessary. Another read likely will show that most of the bracketed words are expendable.
  4. Use point headings. A clear point heading can replace an introductory paragraph, with the added benefit of being more persuasive. (This is called a “headlight” in oral advocacy: “Let me tell you about . . .”) For example, the point heading/headlight, “Plaintiff failed to prove causation” is shorter and more effective than a paragraph setting up the causation issue. (Sub-point headings are useful, too.)
  5. Get a reality check. Ask someone (a colleague, a friend, a partner) who doesn’t know anything about the case to read your brief or listen to your argument. If there are parts they don’t understand, the judge probably won’t, either.

Leave yourself enough time to follow these five tips. Your briefs and oral argument will be the better for it.