Telling a Story
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 second of a 4-part blog series, we’ll discuss the importance of telling your story with the Statement of Facts.
Every legal brief needs a strong statement of facts. In many cases, including motions for summary disposition and appellate briefs, the brief is the first introduction the judge has to the facts of the case. That’s why it is essential to take your time, tell a story the judge can follow, and get rid of unnecessary procedural facts.
Tell a Story with Your Statement of Facts
It’s not enough to just recite what has happened in your case in your Statement of Facts. This is your chance to craft a narrative that helps the judge understand how the parties got here, and why the relief you are requesting is necessary.
All too often, lawyers bog down their legal briefs with unnecessary details or lay out the facts in a confusing way. But if the judge can’t follow what is going on, how will she be able to rule in your favor at the end of the motion.
Instead, take a look at the arguments you intend to make, and decide what you need to the judge to know to rule in your favor. Emphasize those facts. Take time to unpack them, describing what happened and to whom. Help the judge see the people behind the cause of action and understand what has happened.
Skip the Procedural Details
Unless your motion is based on a court rule violation, there probably aren’t too many procedural details that are important enough to take up space in your brief. You may want to remind the judge when the accident happened (date of injury), how long the marriage is (date of marriage), or maybe how long the case has been on the judge’s docket (date of filing of the complaint). But if you don’t need
Work Backward to Support Your Argument
The Statement of Facts comes right after the introduction in your brief, but that doesn’t mean you need to write it first. Sometimes, especially in fact-specific areas of the law, it may be a good idea to write your argument first, making note of the facts you emphasize in that part of your brief. Once your argument is laid out, go back to your Statement of Facts and support the argument by providing your judge all the necessary details related to those facts.
Remember that the primary purpose of the Statement of Facts is to provide the evidence to support the legal argument. Make sure everything you reference in your argument gets included in your statement of facts. If a fact doesn’t make your point stronger, you may not need to include it at all.
Acknowledge Weaknesses and Provide Context
There are some unfavorable facts that will need to be addressed in your brief. If you believe your opponent is going to hinge their defense on a key fact, face that fact head on. Acknowledge when bad facts are true, but then support them with context, explanations, or contradictory evidence that can help build your case in spite of your weakness. For example, in a drunk driving case you may say something like this:
While defendant admitted having consumed alcohol earlier in the evening, there is no evidence to demonstrate he was drunk at the time of the accident. A breathalyzer test taken shortly after the police arrived only registered a 0.07. Defendant also was able to perform the requested field sobriety tests, and fully complied with the officers’ investigation.
There are bad facts in almost every case. If you can put them into context or challenge their validity, you can help the judge explain them away in favor of your argument.
Support Your Statements
It may go without saying, but your brief needs to be supported by actual evidence. Whenever you can, build in citations and quotes from depositions, examinations under oath, and affidavits that show what you are saying is true. Use police reports or expert testimony to your advantage. Build your case in your statement of facts in a way that shows your case is built on more than a nice story.
Start Strong, End Clear
The order in which you tell your story matters. In most cases, a chronological telling of events makes the most sense. However, that doesn’t mean you should start with boring background details or end with a throw away statement about the filing of the present motion.
Just like the introduction to your brief can help the judge frame the question the way you want her to, writing a brief introduction to the statement of facts will help guide your writing as well. This may be as simple as single sentence that summarizes your case.
Then when you have finished telling your story, end strong. This is a great place to put what didn’t happen, if that would strengthen your argument. Explain how what has happened necessarily leads to you filing a motion. If you are filing a response, explain how, in spite of everything you have just laid out, the other side still filed their motion. This final sentence can help transition into your argument and give your judge a strong understanding of where you are going from here.
The statement of facts is a crucial part of any legal brief. It is your chance to tell your client’s story and lay out the factual basis behind your arguments. Take your time to make it a strong, clear telling, supported by evidence. That will make it easier for the judge to say yes when your argument is complete.
Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist. She writes legal briefs and memoranda for law firms that need help meeting their deadlines. If you need a high-quality brief for your next motion, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.