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Prepare a brief “as if you are hearing the . . . court mutter over your shoulder, ‘Get to the point!’” Illinois Appellate Justice Robert J. Steigmann

An Appellate Judge's Suggested Dos and Don'ts for Appellate Lawyers (more from Justice Steigmann)

“Most lawyers write too much . . . [T]hey try to convey too much information and cover too many issues.” Federal Circuit Court Judge Joel Dubina

Your first reader is often a law clerk or court research attorney. Focus on this reader’s needs.

Avoid long paragraphs/long blocks of print. Use white space, bullets, and lists to make your writing easier to read.

With good formatting “judges grasp and retain your points with less struggle”—7th Circuit Court Handbook (formatting tips)

Sanctions for Single Spacing? Judge: apparent attempt to include more information than permitted (pdf) (via @ABAJournal)

For more forceful writing, don’t bury main points. Put them where reader will notice—at the beginning or end of your sentence.

For more forceful writing, don’t put your main idea in a subordinate clause.

Use concrete words and specific details to emphasize and add impact. To de-emphasize, use abstractions, limited detail.

Techniques for Emphasis and De-Emphasis by @minorwisdom. Emphasize without using bold or all caps.

Use dashes—“em dashes”—setting off a parenthetical to emphasize key words and phrases. See examples.

Writing Tips for More Effective Briefing and Motion Practice by Shelley Szambelan, Spokane WA municipal court judge (on pages 6-8) (via @marywhisner blog).

Motion Writing: Start strong. Use introductory summary followed by key points. See examples from Prof. Wayne Schiess.

The 10 Most Common Mistakes When Writing An Appellate Brief

Writing Appellate Briefs, for Young Lawyers RT @FloridaLegal @ABAesq

“I don't take kindly to briefs which attack opposing counsel and make snide comments right and left.” US District Judge Fullam

“Inflammatory rhetoric will not help. . . . Clerks and judges look past the noise and focus on the facts.” The Art of Litigation, Part II by Jeffrey Hugh Newman

“A string of quotations . . . alone does not an argument make” Justice Moseley, TX (on page 6) (via @ minorwisdom)

When referring to a case holding, write “the court held”—words like stated, noted, indicated all refer to dicta.

Move case name and citation to the end of your sentence. Start sentence with holding/what’s important about the case.

Utah Court: Legal citations without application to case's facts and issues “rarely helpful” (via @maricheney)

Follow court’s citation rules and don’t misrepresent. Court Fines Lawyer for Sloppy Cite. RT @legalblogwatch

Briefs: Unless rules require it, don’t write convoluted, one-sentence issue statements (by @minorwisdom)

Judge Posner on Effective Appellate Brief Writing via @ABAesq

Think of the questions a layperson would ask; a judge is likely to have the same or similar questions.

Wherever possible, use pictures, maps, diagrams, and other visual aids in your briefs.

Avoid jargon: business, industry, computer, economic and other technical jargon, and legal jargon.

Avoid legal clichés, such as “plain meaning” (typically, and futilely, argued by both sides in the same case!)

“Do not beat us over the head with statutory language and precedent.” Not likely to resolve appellate case.

Be brief. Judges get tired or bored; some tend to start skimming when reading a tedious, repetitious brief.

Especially if you are the appellant, don’t ignore the strongest points that you know your opponent will make.

Put numbers in context: “Burundi is a small country, only 27,800 sq. km.” For clarity add: “It is the size of Massachusetts.”

Some lawyers use words like clearly, manifestly, obviously: “The cases clearly show . . .” Judges discount these intensifiers—avoid them.

“The word ‘clearly’ is no substitute for authority or logic.” North Dakota Supreme Court Appellate Practice Tips

Top of PageTwitter Terminology

An explanation of Twitter terminology

@Name is a person or organization’s Twitter name. You can find that person’s tweets at

RTs I repeat a tweet—“retweet” or “RT”—when I find an interesting suggestion or a useful web resource posted by someone else. The @Name in the RT indicates whose post I am retweeting.

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