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How to Write a Quick Legal Brief in 9 Steps

You’ve had another 80-hour week, and you still have to IRAC another opposition motion that’s due in a few hours. You know you could request another continuance, but your client is yelling at you, your boss is yelling at you, and you know that the opposing counsel will not agree to a continuance, so you’d have to ask the Judge. You look at the clock and see that you’ve already missed dinner and your spouse will be annoyed – again.

It’s the life of a trial lawyer. So, here’s a quick an easy way for you to turn your overworked self into an efficiency machine for legal brief writing without skimping on any of the Analysis.

  1. Use spreadsheet software to pull together all your data.
  2. Write your outline backward.
  3. Write your conclusion.
  4. Organize your analysis section.
  5. Use paragraph citations.
  6. Steal your fact section.
  7. Write your intro.
  8. Smooth transition sentences.
  9. Use the self-edit checklist.

Let’s take these one-by-one, and you’ll be able to knock out a legal brief in no time - that’s if you’ve already done the legal research and gathered the cases that you need.

Use spreadsheet software to organize your facts and rules

Using spreadsheet software such AirTable allows you to create what you would get from some of the proprietary case mapping software such as CaseMap or TimeMap. AirTable even provides a free handy template for this. Using software such as AirTable means that your legal analysis, fact, and case linking happen in a virtual space and will stay handy. 

By using the Legal Case Analysis template from AirTable, you’ll find that your facts and analysis sections practically write themselves. You can define the issues that you’re addressing in this particular brief, easily pull up the facts that you’ve tagged to that issue, and then easily reach the cases and law that you’ve researched that address the issue and those facts.

Write your outline backwards

Your outline is the roadmap that connects one point to the next. It provides context and helps lay out the logic of your argument. Since you know where you want to end up, you need to start with your conclusion. Starting with a fresh, new word document, start with your outline with the conclusion, and then add your headings and sub-headings for analysis, facts, and rules. The last heading you’ll write is the heading for your introduction. The headings are based on the issues and rules that you’ve compiled in your case analysis spreadsheet.

I don’t mean to do this upside down, just backward. Instead of using <enter>, use the <home> key and then <enter> so that you’re always writing at the top of the word document. After you’ve entered your entire outline, go back to each entry and apply the correct style option from the ribbon. The style options will automate the navigation pane, so you can actively navigate a long brief, and it will enable you to easily create a table of contents if required by your court rules.

Remember that your standard legal brief outline should look something like this:

  • Introduction with roadmap to your brief
  • Point Heading Element A
    • Conclusion
    • Rule
    • Application
    • Conclusion
  • Point Heading Element B
    • Conclusion
    • Rule
    • Application
    • Conclusion
  • Point Heading Element C
    • Mini-Roadmap that introduces the two sub-argument
      • Sub-Point Heading Element C1
      • Conclusion
      • Rule
      • Application
      • Conclusion
    • Sub-Point Heading Element C2
      • Conclusion
      • Rule
      • Application
      • Conclusion
    • Sub-Point Heading Element C3
      • Conclusion
      • Rule
      • Application
      • Conclusion
    • Conclusion for Point Heading Element C
  • Big Conclusion

Write your conclusion

You already know the outcome that you want, which is either the opposite of the motion that was filed, or it is the outcome for the motion that you’re currently filing. Great. Write your simple conclusion paragraph and move on. You'll return later to add more argument to your penultimate conclusory paragraphs to wrap everything up.

Organize your analysis section

Using your case analysis spreadsheet, you can get extremely granular in your analysis of a topic. However, a well created and maintained case analysis spreadsheet will help your analysis section practically write itself. Your cases, facts, and notes are all be tied together so that you can pull up that issue or sub-issue on the spreadsheet and have all the relevant pieces of information in one location.

Use paragraph citations in your rules section

The cases that you’re citing can probably be paragraph cited because the judge (or the clerk who wrote the opinion) have already done the appropriate analysis. Take advantage of their thoroughness and use paragraph citations rather than reinventing the wheel.

Be sure to add your citations with the proper Blue Book format with each quotation that you insert into your brief. If you add them now, you won’t have to go back and find that citation later. If you’re up on your MS Word formatting, you can also tag the citations now so that you can generate your Table of Authorities with ease.

Steal your facts section

If you’re at the point in your case where you’re writing “yet another legal brief,” you’ve probably written several fact sections already. Go back and steal from your writing. If you’re in a jurisdiction with verified pleadings, try to borrow from your pleadings. After you've added all your facts are included in your fact section, copy the facts sentences into the appropriate analysis sections. Don’t worry about the transitions just yet. The goal is to have all the right content in the right places.

Be sure to include the correct citations with each new fact that you add so that you don’t have to go back and add them in later.

Write your Intro

Now that you’ve written your simple conclusion, a simple analysis section, and a simple fact section, it’s time to write the one paragraph introduction to your brief.

Smooth your transition sentences

Your brief is pretty rough right now, but all the disparate information that you need is in the right place. You have your fact timeline in the fact section, you have all your law in the right analysis sections, and you have all the correct facts located near the relevant analysis. Sure, it looks rough, but it just needs some smoothing and polishing.

Starting from the beginning, review your brief paragraph by paragraph. Ensure that each paragraph has what looks like a five-sentence structure: intro sentence with the topic of the paragraph, three supporting sentences, conclusion sentence with transition language for the next paragraph. Your paragraph may differ in the number of sentences, but it should have the same layout.

Work your way paragraph by paragraph until you conclude. By the point, your brief should be a decent first draft where you have all the necessary sections, facts, law, and analysis. You should generally have good transitions and all the required citations to create your Table of Authorities.

Use the self-edit checklist

At this point, if you’re short on time, you could run your brief through an online grammar checker, and you could file your legal brief. Considering that this is another chance to make a best written appearance, I want you to take the next step of using the self-editing checklist or have a copy editor to review your work. (hint… I do copy editing for attorneys, too!)

Bonus ideas

  • Save a word processing copy of your caption so you can use it as a template for every submission in the case.
  • Create a word theme that you can use to style your brief automatically.
  • Start a template library of common legal arguments that you can copy those into each brief and save valuable time from having to rewrite the same arguments.
  • Turn on autosave.

Get the Self-Edit Checklist

This point-by-point checklist addresses both substantive and copy-editing editing tasks. By using this checklist, you can ensure you're always putting your best words - and arguments - forward. 

Kathrine Leach

Kathrine is a writer, editor, and lawyer. She is a licensed attorney in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and she helps business owners, attorneys, and experts to excel in their "paper appearances."

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