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How Example Briefs Can Make You a Better Legal Brief Writer

Isabelle Carbajales

How Example Briefs Can Make You a Better Legal Brief Writer
Keith Berson via Getty Images

Stuck in the mindset of a law student and fearing a plagiarism violation, young lawyers tend to shy away from using previously filed briefs as examples when drafting their own. For new attorneys, example briefs can serve as an effective tool to improve your legal writing. Example briefs allow lawyers to identify potential arguments or points of law relevant to their own brief that they may have inadvertently overlooked. Additionally, sample briefs provide an outline for structuring and organizing future work. Thus, example briefs are a valuable resource for young lawyers. The more you read, the better you write. By reading briefs written by different lawyers, you can identify characteristics of persuasive legal writing. You can then incorporate these techniques into your own writing.

Firm Resources

Search your firm’s document-retention system for briefing on similar topics drafted by other lawyers at your firm. If you run into questions while preparing your brief, you can ask the author for guidance. That colleague may also provide insight into their approach or highlight areas for targeted supplemental research. Additionally, using firm precedent facilitates linguistic and stylistic continuity.

Public Docket

If you find case law directly on point for your legal brief, check the docket for relevant briefing and analyze each party’s arguments. Pay close attention to the successful brief and read the case law cited therein. A review of the opposing brief may highlight positional deficiencies and help you anticipate potential arguments. Additionally, if your assigned judge has ruled favorably on a similar topic, you may be able to tailor the briefing to fit the needs of your case. However, “there is never an excuse for appropriating the work of another lawyer—let alone opposing counsel—and presenting it as one’s own.” Stilp v. Borough of West Chester, 2022 WL 10208256, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 17, 2022).

Be Your Own Resource

As you draft your own legal briefs (and even legal memoranda), organize copies of each document by subject matter. That way, the next time you face a similar topic, you can quickly locate a helpful starting point.

While example briefs can be a valuable tool, there are a few important considerations to always keep in mind. First, the law is always changing. Relying on a prior filing without doing your own research may result in a brief based on outdated law and in turn, risk an unfavorable ruling. Second, if you are using an example brief that was filed in a different jurisdiction, confirm that the law is applicable to your jurisdiction. For this reason, example briefs that were filed in your jurisdiction are ideal. Third, keep in mind that even if a brief resulted in a favorable ruling, it still may not be a great example of persuasive legal writing. Lastly, example briefs should be used as a guide—not copied verbatim. The Fifth Circuit emphasizes that “you will have to tailor your briefs to the specifics of your case and use your own language,” and the Second Circuit confirms that attorneys must make appropriate modifications when using a template. In re Mundie, 453 F. App’x 9 (2d Cir. 2011). So much of the law is fact-specific and there are so many nuances that may be present in one case and not in another. Keeping this guidance in mind, example briefs are a powerful tool for young lawyers to improve writing skills, streamline research efforts, and serve as a persuasive client advocate.