Why You Should
to a Legal Brief
Writing high quality legal briefs is a crucial part of any litigator’s trade. Whether you have support staff doing your research and typing, or are a solo attorney doing everything yourself, you need to know how to make your legal brief work for your client. In this first of a 4-part blog series, we’ll discuss the importance of a strong introduction.
Don’t Skip the Intro!
Let’s start with legal writing 101. Every legal brief should have an introduction. In law school we wrote appellate briefs that laid out the questions presented. We learned the importance of framing the issue in a way that makes it easy for the judge to say yes.
Just because trial court rules don’t require a “Questions Presented” section doesn’t mean you should dive right into your brief. Don’t skip the intro! This is your chance to set yourself and your brief up for success, so don’t waste it.
Let the Introduction Frame Your Brief
Your introduction shouldn’t be long. After all, you only have so much space to get everything in. You don’t need to get bogged down in the legal basis or procedural history. Your introduction should be a brief framing of the legal issues you plan to discuss, not a rambling discussion of the intricacies of the case.
On the appellate level, legal research and writing professors encourage you to state each question in 25 words or less. It should include the law and the most important facts. And it should be worded in a way that makes the judge want to answer yes.
You can use the same guideposts for a legal brief at the trial level. Let your introduction:
- Lay out which statute you will be applying (i.e. “Summary disposition is inappropriate under the MCR 2.116(C)(10).”)
- Explain what legal theories will be involved (i.e. “Defendant is equitably estopped from asserting his defense”)
- Give a very brief statement of the facts that will make the judge want to say yes (i.e. “Plaintiff knew she the statements on the affidavit were false when she signed it.”)
Use a separate paragraph for each legal issue you intend to present in the body of your brief. You may want to number them so the judge can quickly scan for them as headings further in.
Leave Equivocation and Nuance for Later
In many cases, the legal issues aren’t crystal clear. Maybe you are working in an area of the law without significant support from the Court of Appeals. In these cases you may be making in up and pulling from other jurisdictions to make your case. You don’t need to tell the judge that in the introduction. State your preferred interpretation as true now. Leave the explanation for how you got there for later.
It is also possible that the facts in your case aren’t the best. It happens to everyone eventually. You don’t need to draw attention to the things working against you in your introduction. State your strongest facts for each legal argument, and leave the equivocation for the Statement of Facts where you have more time to develop the story.
Use Alternative Arguments
The Introduction is a great place to lay out each of the alternative arguments you plan to use in the body of your brief. This way the judge will see “The motion should be granted because X. Even if not X, the motion should still be granted for Y.” This will address those weaknesses you’re trying to hide right off the bat, because the judge will know you have another theory that might address the holes in your argument.
Write (or Rewrite) Your Introduction Last
When you sit down to write your legal brief you may not have all the facts or law at your fingertips. As you work through your writing, your argument may change slightly (or even entirely!). You don’t want the judge to feel like the victim of a bait-and-switch. So wait until you have everything in place. Then go back and summarize what you wrote in your argument in a nice, tightly-worded introduction.
If you are delegating your research to staff in your firm, you still will want to review the introduction after everything else is complete. Make certain the task you assigned was the task that got completed, and that the research didn’t take another turn to get to the same conclusion. If it did, rewrite your introduction to reflect the final version and keep everything moving in the same direction.
The Introduction is one of the top 4 parts of your legal brief. Even though it is short, you still need to give it the attention it deserves. A well-written introduction section can give your judge an understanding of your argument going in. That will keep you from scrambling to explain yourself during oral argument and make you look better to your client.
Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She writes legal briefs, motions, and memoranda for local attorneys. If you need help with an important legal brief, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.