How to write a legal brief

Nick Borger
National Client Representative

Every standard legal brief has a few basic elements:

  • An Introduction that articulates the party's claim and introduces the party's theory of the case and the procedural history of the case.
  • A Table of Authorities (TOA) section that describes all sources of legal authority used in the brief. While it used to be a tedious and time-consuming task to compile a TOA, the Table of  Authorities Builder within Thomson Reuters Drafting Assistant software makes it a snap.
  • A Statement of Facts that sets forth all of the key factual elements a court should use in making its decision. In this section, it's important to use simple, clear, and persuasive language to lay out the facts and procedural elements of the case and avoid using conclusory statements.
  • An Argument section that sets forth your arguments of law. In this section, you’ll want to address each legal question denoting each one with a different label called a “point heading.” Point headings should be clearly written to parse out the exact legal issue and should generally be limited to a single sentence.
  • A Conclusion that summarizes the key points of the brief and requests specific relief. You may even want to write this section first to help focus your thoughts. Forcing yourself to think of the whole of the case in concise terms early can help you concisely draft your Argument section.

Using standard language

Although each brief should be tailored to your client’s case, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. It's relatively common for attorneys to reuse certain phrases or terms (or even entire sections) of briefs if the legal issues are the same across cases. The danger, of course, is citing authority that used to be good law, but no longer is. Even if you’ve had success reusing a certain brief section time and time again, it's always a good idea to run your brief through West Check in Drafting Assistant before filing. This tool uses KeyCite right within your word-processing application to help you quickly determine whether the law you’ve cited to is still good.

Proofreading and editing

Once you’ve completed your brief, you’ll want to fully proofread and edit your document. I always found it helpful to actually print my brief out while proofreading so I didn’t fall into a lull staring at my computer screen. It can also be quite helpful to have a colleague look the document over and make suggestions. Drafting Assistant has great tools to help you proof your document, including Cite Formatting to help you check your citations for typos, and Document Formatting to help you make sure you’re complying with court guidelines on things like fonts, letter sizing, and margins.

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