How Lawyers Can Write Legal Briefs That Don’t Annoy Judges

As a lawyer, you know that judges are busy people and that they don’t have time for lengthy briefs. So when you’re presenting your case to the judge, it’s important to be as concise as possible. You want your brief to lay out all of the relevant facts and legal arguments in a clear way that leads directly to your desired outcome. 

It’s tempting to cram every last bit of information into your brief so that the judge will see how thorough and knowledgeable you are; however, this can backfire if it makes the judge confused or overwhelmed by all of the details (or worse yet bored). To avoid these problems, here are some tips on how lawyers can write briefs without wasting their judges’ time:

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1. Craft concise and clear arguments to maintain the judge’s attention.
2. Use a logical structure that guides the judge through your points.
3. Prioritize relevant legal precedents to strengthen your case.
4. Avoid excessive jargon that might confuse or irritate the judge.
5. Proofread meticulously to eliminate errors and ensure professionalism.

Research The Judge’s Background

Before you write your brief, it’s important to research the background and experience of your judge. If a judge has a history as an academic or in-house counsel, they may be used to writing more predictable briefs. 

If they came up through the ranks as public defenders or prosecutors, then they may be expecting briefs that are more conversational and persuasive. 

It’s also helpful to know whether this is an experienced federal judge who has seen many cases come before them in their tenure on the bench or if this is an inexperienced magistrate who will likely issue recommendations that might differ from what you’ve written.

A good way to get some insight into a particular judge is by looking at their past decisions and case-related opinions. This can help give you an idea of how they approach legal arguments and make determinations on motions for summary judgment or other matters related to discovery disputes between parties (such as motions for protective orders).

Crafting effective legal documents requires attention to detail and strategic communication. Learn how to enhance your writing with these 13 tips to writing better legal briefs, opinions, and letters, ensuring your arguments are concise and persuasive.

Anticipate The Question “How Does This Case Help Me?”

The judge will ask: “How does this case help me?”

Your answer will have to be clear and concise.

The judge is asking you to tell him/her what the impact of your ruling will be. So, what exactly do you want your ruling to result in? Do you want justice? Do you want fairness? 

Or perhaps something more specific like a new precedent for future cases or a new law that affects everyone in the state/country (or both)? How will this case affect decisions made by other judges on similar matters? What are some possible impacts that might occur if your order were reversed? 

This is where it’s important to think outside the scope of just yourself and consider how others might be affected by your decision.

For example, if an earlier ruling in another area of law was based on an assumption that has now been proven false based on the evidence presented at trial, then a reversal could affect not only this case but also any other pending litigation involving similar issues.

Be Aware Of The Judge’s Time Constraints

A judge’s time is precious, and you should always be mindful of that fact. Judges have a lot on their plates and don’t want to waste their time. 

The same goes for lawyers who are preparing briefs or other documents for judges to review. You don’t want to waste the judge’s time by writing something long-winded or boring, so you must know what not to do when writing legal briefs:

Don’t Waste Their Time With Unnecessary Details: If you can avoid it, don’t include unnecessary details in your brief it will just take up space and may bore the judge reading your brief (and could potentially irritate them if there are too many extraneous details).

Don’t Waste Their Time With Irrelevant Information: Another way of saying this is: “Don’t waste their time with any information that does not support your side of the argument. 

For example, if I’m making an argument about how my client should win damages based on negligence because his car was damaged during a repair job performed by ABC Auto Repair Shop Inc., then I would probably want some sort of evidence about how poorly their business was run that caused the accident.

Constructing a compelling legal argument is essential for presenting your case persuasively. Discover essential tips for writing a logical, effective legal argument that resonates with judges and enhances your chances of success in court.

Tell A Story

Tell a story. The best way to make your writing persuasive is to use a story. A good argument doesn’t just rely on logic and information; it also requires an emotional connection with the reader.

Don’t overdo it. When you’re making your argument, don’t let the stories become overwhelming or obscure your main point. That’s why when you use stories, they should be brief and relevant to the issue at hand otherwise, they’ll distract from what you’re trying to say!

Use them when appropriate. Stories aren’t always necessary in legal briefs they’re best used when you want to explain something new or novel about an issue (examples include: an emerging trend in law), or if you want the judge reading your brief for some reason other than its content (such as because he likes dogs).

Avoid “Legalese” And Excessive Quotation Or Citation

Don’t use the word “cite.” It’s a fine word, but it’s not necessary. And it may even annoy judges.

Some other words to avoid are a footnote, supra, and infra. These are also fine words (and sometimes required in legal writing), but they’re not necessary for you to define yourself as a lawyer who is smart enough to know what those words mean. 

Save them for when you’re speaking with other lawyers who use them every day or if you want your writing to sound pompous (which is probably true if you’re reading this article).

Also, avoid using citations and footnotes that are unnecessarily long or numerous. Use only what is needed; don’t let your desire for the perfect referencing lead to madness! This leads us to our next point:

Don’t Require The Judge To Consult Other Authorities To Make A Decision On Your Case

Let’s face it: judges are busy people. They have their cases to worry about, and they don’t want to read a novel every time one of your briefs hits their desk. 

So if you can show them that your arguments are supported by other legal authorities (preferably from federal or state supreme courts), then they won’t have to go trawling through the depths of Google Scholar or Westlaw themselves.

In fact, in some jurisdictions, lawyers have an ethical duty to cite any legal authority that supports their arguments; in some cases, the failure to do so can result in sanctions against their client! 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t provide citations whenever possible it just means that when it comes down to making a decision on your case based on the law rather than facts alone, referring back to previous decisions as support could save everybody a lot of time and effort (and maybe even help get you out of hot water).

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Use Headings, Bolding, Underlining, And Italics To Help Call Attention To Important Facts, Arguments, And Legal Authorities

Use Headings, Bolding, Underlining, and Italics to Help Call Attention to Important Facts, Arguments, and Legal Authorities.

Use headings to help organize your brief. You can make the heading bold or underline it for emphasis. For example:

  • Section 1 – Background Information (bold)
  • Subsection A – Introduction (underlined)

You should also use these formatting tools when you refer to legal authorities or other sources of information that are relevant to your argument. For example:

  • “The statute says…” (italics)
  • “The case law says…” (bold/underline)

Provide A Table Of Contents And An Index For The Judge’s Convenience

A Table of Contents should be provided in your brief, preferably at the front and in bold. The purpose of a Table of Contents is to allow judges to easily find specific information without having to read every word of your legal brief (a process that can take hours). As such, it should be as short as possible.

The best way for you to do this is by using subheadings within each section so that the judge knows what they’re getting into before they get there. For example:

Limit Yourself To Two Main Points That Are Supported By Sub-Points

One of the biggest mistakes lawyers make is trying to cover too much in one brief. A brief that is too long will put off a judge and make them less likely to read it. 

If you don’t want your client to lose, you have to convince the judge that your side has merit and deserves consideration. You can do this by focusing on two main points that are supported by sub-points rather than trying to cram all of your evidence into one document or even multiple documents.

You also need to avoid writing briefs that are either too short or too long. A brief that’s too short may leave out important details, while a longer one could bore the judge with unnecessary information (and possibly cause them more work).

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Emphasize Pleadings That Favor Your Position

To make the judge’s job easier, you want your briefs to emphasize pleadings that favor your position. For example, if you’re suing for breach of contract and want a trial on damages, then focus on facts that support the claim that the defendant breached and failed to perform its obligations under the agreement. 

Don’t waste time on facts supporting your claim for specific performance or damages other than monetary (e.g., attorney’s fees).

Choose The Right Number Of Cases And Authorities To Present Your Points Effectively, Don’t Overdo It

In your brief, you should include the right number of cases and authorities to present your points effectively. Don’t overdo it. You don’t want to overwhelm the judge with too many cases or authorities, or with sub-points, facts, arguments, and examples. Many lawyers make this mistake because they think that judges get bored if they don’t see lots of stuff on the page.

The best way to know how much material is too much is by looking at what other briefs in your jurisdiction include in their footnotes and case references sections. 

If you are writing a federal court brief (or one for any state whose rules require citing statutes), then check out other district court briefs from around the country in criminal cases involving similar facts and issues as yours. 

The most common kinds of criminal cases are murder, rape/sexual assault/molestation, etc., theft/robbery, etc., drug trafficking, etc., fraud, etc., conspiracy, etc., money laundering, etc., perjury/perjury-related crimes (like making false statements under oath). 

If these are not familiar terms for something else like terrorism or organized crime and let’s face it they probably aren’t then those would be good places to start looking at other people’s work too!

Avoid Rambling About Things That Have Little Or No Bearing On Your Case

Don’t ramble about things that have little or no bearing on your case. This can be a problem for many lawyers, who are used to writing briefs in which every word has a purpose. They may find it difficult to cut out the extra stuff and focus on only the relevant information. 

The best way to avoid this problem is by giving yourself strict time limits for each section of your brief and cutting anything that doesn’t directly relate to your point even if it’s funny or interesting. 

If you have trouble with this at first, try writing shorter paragraphs with fewer words per line (and no more than two sentences per paragraph). That way you’ll be forced to cut out some of those rambling digressions!

Beyond technicalities, common sense plays a significant role in legal writing and analysis. Uncover the value of using common sense as a reasoning tool in legal writing and analysis, guiding you in crafting compelling arguments that resonate with both legal professionals and judges.


We hope these tips have helped you get a better understanding of how to write legal briefs that don’t annoy judges. If you have any questions about what we discussed here or if you would like more information on this topic, please feel free to contact us at [email address].

Further Reading

Explore these additional resources to enhance your understanding of effective legal brief writing:

How to Write Legal Briefs Efficiently
Discover practical strategies for writing legal briefs efficiently, saving time without compromising quality.

Things That Lawyers Do to Annoy Judges: Scowl and Pout, Roll Your Eyes
Gain insights into behaviors that lawyers should avoid to prevent annoying judges and maintain professionalism.

Write Winning Legal Briefs with Judicial Analytics
Learn how to leverage judicial analytics to craft persuasive legal briefs that resonate with judges’ preferences.


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