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As a judge reviews your brief, they’re evaluating your argument and your professionalism. Consider the words of the Hon. Raymond M. Kethledge, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, in an article he wrote for the ABA.(1)
“When I read a brief, the first thing I’m judging is the person who wrote it. How careful is this lawyer? How competent? How candid? The answers to these questions will enhance or diminish the force of the lawyer’s arguments.”
This may be why Chief Justice John Roberts points out that briefs are even more important than oral arguments.
“The oral argument is the tip of the iceberg, the most visible part of the process,” he says. “But briefs are more important and they should have as much time and energy devoted to them as the oral argument preparation.”(2)
If you want to position your argument — and yourself — in the best light before you even speak a word, it’s critical that you know how to develop a clear, well-researched brief. After all, when a judge reviews it, it will be one of the few times they will be giving your position their undivided attention. So make sure your brief is objective, concise, and easy to digest; find out precisely what it takes to accomplish this in the whitepaper: How to Write a Hard-Hitting Brief that Judges Want.
Gary Kinder, a lawyer, legal-writing expert and best-selling author, says that if you write great briefs, eventually your reputation will precede you. He explained, in an interview on the Legal Talk Network’s Digital Edge podcast, that he has often spoken to judges and clerks who, after just a few months on the bench, began to form opinions about lawyers and law firms based on their briefs.
He said that, in a short time, a judge or clerk can look at a lawyer’s or law firm’s name on a brief and assume automatically that the brief will be well-researched, well-organized, and well-written. In contrast, they can also see the author and be braced for a brief that’s “contentious, overblown, and hyperbolic,” where every citation will have to be checked to ensure they’re recorded properly.
Therefore, before they even begin reading, they’re already leaning favorably — or negatively — to that law firm and writer depending on the quality of the briefs they’ve presented previously.(3)
If you’re certain you always positively position yourself, your law firm, and your clients with every brief you write, congratulations. If you’re not quite so sure, take a few minutes to check out: How to Write a Hard-Hitting Brief that Judges Want.
(1) Kethledge, Raymond. “A Judge Lays Down the Law on Writing Appellate Briefs,” GPSOLO Magazine, September/October 2015.
(2) Klau, Dan. “Briefs Are (Way) More Important Than Oral Argument,” Appealingly Brief! Blog, May 3, 2013
(3) Calloway, Jim; Nelson, Sharon. Podcast. The Digital Edge, February 9, 2017
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