Published in Forum 8, Eighth Judicial Circuit Bar Association, Inc. Newsletter, Vol. 72, No. 1, September of 2012
Regardless of any particular judge’s preferences, the following three tips will definitely help enhance your appellate brief. These tips may seem simplistic, but they work and they help the reader – the judge deciding your appeal - follow your argument.
1. Prepare a statement of facts that includes only the relevant facts. Don’t frustrate the reader – the judge deciding your case – at the start by including detail that has zero to do with the issues raised on appeal. The statement of facts should not be a tedious read. It should identify the type of case the judge is about to review; target the facts necessary to address the issues; and direct the judge to the appropriate record citations.
2. Limit the number of issues raised on appeal. If you raise too many issues, you run the real risk of allowing the weak issues to dilute the stronger ones. Throwing in every alleged error does not increase the chances of a win for your client. Quite the contrary, it works against them. Be objective and focus on the strongest issues.
3. Outline your argument and use subheadings to break it up. Constantly remind yourself that the goal is to make your brief easy to read for the reader – the judge deciding your case. For each issue, outline the argument to be presented and stick to it! Make sure that the argument that follows is organized consistent with your outline. Use subheadings to break up the argument, helping the reader follow the argument from point A to point B. The key is to keep it simple, direct and objective. Don’t allow unnecessary emotion to overshadow the merit of your issues.
It is easy to see that the overall theme is to keep it simple. Appellate judges read a lot of briefs during their day. The merits of the issue could favor your client; yet, if your brief is too wordy, your argument could get lost and fail to persuade the reader – the judge reviewing your case. An appellate brief is the last place to use fancy, long-winded language to argue your point. Use direct, simple language to keep the judge focused on the issues. While the merits will ultimately decide the case, these tips will certainly help you present a very commanding and persuasive argument.