How To Write A Brief (Or Any Legal Document)

I’m here to help you write a brief. A brief is a document that lawyers use to present their arguments and evidence in court, so it’s pretty important. If you’ve ever watched TV or seen movies about law, then you probably know that briefs usually have something called “footnotes.” 

Footnotes are like little sidebars that add extra information about stuff going on in the text. I just made up that term the official name for these things is “parentheticals” (but don’t worry too much about remembering this). And while they’re not required in any legal documents these days, they can be helpful as long as they’re used correctly.

Webinar: How to create a template for a legal brief – YouTube
1. Understand the Purpose: Clearly define the purpose of the document before you begin writing.
2. Identify Your Audience: Tailor the content and language to your intended audience’s level of comprehension.
3. Structured Organization: Arrange the document with headings, subheadings, and bullet points to improve readability.
4. Clear and Precise Language: Use simple and precise language, avoiding jargon or complex terms that can confuse readers.
5. Concise Explanations: Explain legal concepts in a succinct manner, focusing on clarity and avoiding unnecessary details.
6. Supporting References: Provide references to relevant laws, cases, or precedents that support your arguments.
7. Edit and Proofread: Thoroughly review the document for grammar, punctuation, and formatting errors before finalizing.
8. Seek Feedback: Get input from colleagues or mentors to ensure the document effectively conveys its intended message.
9. Regular Updates: Keep legal documents up-to-date, reflecting any changes in laws or regulations that may affect them.
10. Legal Review: If necessary, involve legal experts to review and approve the document’s accuracy and validity.

Read The Instructions, And Follow Them

This may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning because so many people ignore this basic rule. If you’re told to do something in the instructions, read them carefully and follow them.

If there are no instructions or they’re confusing or missing entirely and you don’t know what to do, ask for clarification from your supervisor or the person who wrote them. 

If you feel that someone else should be doing something different than what’s written in the instructions (e.g., if two employees usually take turns making coffee and someone else is now taking both turns), then discuss this with coworkers instead of trying to change things on your own without asking permission first (which could create problems later).

If one instruction conflicts with another instruction for example, if one says “send an email” while another says “don’t use email” then request clarification before doing anything at all until you find out which instruction takes priority over the other one because failing to do so could cause problems later

Understanding the nuances of legal writing is crucial for crafting persuasive arguments. Learn the ins and outs of creating a comprehensive legal memorandum to effectively communicate your case’s merits.

Know Your Audience

The importance of knowing your audience cannot be overstated. Before you write a brief, it’s helpful to understand the judge who will review it. Is she an experienced trial attorney? Does he primarily handle criminal cases? 

Does she have a reputation for issuing rapid decisions or painstakingly thorough ones? What is his preferred writing style is he always concise and to-the-point or does he like to wax poetic with long passages of description?

Knowing these things will help you anticipate how your document will be received by the court. In some instances, this information may even help guide you towards a particular type of argument that might resonate with that judge more than another kind would (i.e., if you know that Judge Smith loves plain language in briefs).

Understand The Law Before You Start Writing

This may seem obvious, but it’s important to understand the law before you start writing. 

If an attorney doesn’t understand how a particular rule or statute works, it can be difficult for them to write about it clearly and accurately in a brief or memo. The first step of any legal document is always understanding what your client wants and needs from the court and then using that knowledge to help them win their case!

Mastering the art of legal analysis is essential for constructing well-structured documents. Explore our guide on crafting a coherent legal analysis memorandum to enhance your ability to dissect complex legal issues.

Don’t Forget To Check The Word Limit, And Pay Attention To Font Size

When writing a brief, you should be sure to include the following:

Header information: At the top of each page, you will see your name, title, and contact information. You should also include your client’s name and case number.

Summary of facts: This is where you summarize what has happened in your case so far. You can use bullet points or short sentences to make it easier for readers who are unfamiliar with the case to quickly understand what matters most about this particular dispute.

Argument section: This part of your brief explains why you think that a judge or jury should rule in favor of your client (rather than his or her opponent). You may want to start by describing how other cases have been decided in similar situations before giving examples and explaining why those decisions support your position on this issue as well.

Conclusion/summary paragraph: Your conclusion should reiterate why you believe that judges or juries should rule in favor of your client based on everything discussed earlier in this document.

Don’t Use More Words Than You Need To Make Your Point

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m going to tell you again: Don’t use more words than you need to make your point. You should choose the simplest language possible so that it’s easy for clients to understand and follow. 

Any time you’re tempted to use jargon or speak in a way that will only be understood by lawyers (but not the average person), stop yourself and ask if there’s an easier way of saying it. Often, there is!

Also, avoid repetition the reader gets it once; they don’t need reminders every paragraph. Try using different verbs instead of reusing “were” or “was.” Instead of saying 

The defendant acted in bad faith,” say “The defendant behaved badly.” Simple changes like these can make all the difference when it comes to making your writing clear and precise for everyone who reads it not just other lawyers!

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Cut Out Anything That Doesn’t Directly Support Your Argument

Good legal writing is concise. That’s because the more you write, the more time it takes to read, and that’s bad for everyone. So when drafting a brief, keep your sentences short and to the point. If something isn’t relevant to your argument or necessary for understanding what you’re trying to say, cut it out (but don’t forget about it you’ll come back later).

Don’t Write A One-Size-Fits-All Brief

Don’t write a one-size-fits-all brief. You’ll need to tailor your argument, facts, and evidence to your particular case.

Tailor your brief to the judge who will be deciding the case. If there’s a good chance that the judge will be sympathetic to your position, you can cite cases that support it—and more forcefully so than if you were arguing before an unfriendly judge.

Provide a summary of the case so far, and make sure you remember to cite all relevant case law relating to those facts (which will help build up your argument).

Also, consider tailoring your briefs based on what the opposing counsel has said in their brief(s). If they have cited cases supporting their side of things, then you should do likewise; otherwise, consider how best to rebut any points made by them in their briefs (and then cite back at least once for each point made).

Use The Index And Table Of Contents As Selling Points For Your Brief

Although it may seem like a straightforward step, don’t forget to index your brief. The index is a list of the cases and statutes referred to in the body of the brief, as well as any relevant topics that come up. 

It’s used by lawyers and judges looking for specific information: if you want to know what cases have been decided on a certain subject, or how an argument was used in past cases, then referencing those other documents through an accurate index will help them find what they’re looking for.

The table of contents is another useful tool for anyone reading your document it lets them know at a glance what each part covers without having to read through everything first (or get lost). You can also use it as an opportunity to highlight certain sections or facts by putting them at the beginning or end of their respective chapters.

Writing legal documents can be fraught with pitfalls that may weaken your case’s impact. Familiarize yourself with the common errors and mistakes to avoid when drafting legal documents, ensuring precision and clarity in your work.

Use Style Guides (But Don’t Be A Slave To Them)

It’s also important to remember that style guides are not the final authority and should be used as a starting point rather than an ending point. Just because something is in a style guide doesn’t mean it’s right for your case, so use them with caution.

For example, you’ll often run into situations where the word “may” can be interpreted in different ways depending on the context. In one case it might mean “is permitted,” while another time it could mean “might.

When you run into this kind of situation, consider whether or not other words would be more helpful for explaining what you’re trying to communicate, and then choose those words over using “may.”

Also keep in mind that style guides often contain rules around what should or shouldn’t be capitalized, how numbers should be written out (i.e., 1 vs 1), etc., so make sure you know how these rules play into your writing before blindly following every suggestion

Keep Things Simple And Don’t Use Overly Formal Language

Simple words. Keep your writing simple and uncluttered. Use simple words to make your point, avoid jargon and cliches, avoid overly formal language, and don’t use “at all times” or “if.”

Avoid using “for.” Don’t start by saying what you’re writing is for something else just say it: “I am writing to request an extension on my loan payment due date because I will be out of town on vacation next week.”

Make sure every sentence has a subject and verb, is complete, and makes sense on its own.

Your best bet is to make sure every sentence has a subject and verb, is complete, and makes sense on its own.

The subject-verb agreement rule: the subject (usually a noun or pronoun) should be in agreement with the verb it’s paired with—this means that if you’re using an active verb, then your subject should also be active; if you’re using a passive verb, then your subject should also be passive.

Subjects should be nouns or pronouns—not phrases or clauses that start with “there is” or “there are.”

Verbs should always be action verbs—verbs like “walked” instead of “walked slowly”; “listened carefully to his client” instead of “listened intently to his client.”

You can make these sentences more specific by adding details about what happened when: “The attorney listened intently to their client as she explained her situation.” (Note: This sentence has several problems!)

Cut out repetition and redundancy; avoid cliches and jargon; never include “at all times.”

Cut out repetition and redundancy. “The fact of the matter is, we can’t ignore the fact that…” No, we can.

Avoid cliches and jargon. We’re not interested in your “tightrope” approach to the legal issues here; we just need you to get us some information about this case so we can evaluate it for our client. If you think I’m going to be impressed by your use of “paradigm shift,” guess again I’ve heard that phrase used in a courtroom 20 times since 7:30 this morning!

Avoid “at all times.” You only need one instance of this phrase per document; otherwise, it sounds like an over-reaction by someone upset or under stress (which is probably true). Sure, there’s nothing wrong with being prepared for every contingency—but don’t tell us about it explicitly unless there’s something worth worrying about happening at every moment during your project’s execution time frame (i.e., don’t say things like: “This task must be completed at all times”).

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Write In The Active Voice, Unless There’s A Good Reason Not To

In the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action shown by that verb. In other words, in an active-voice sentence, you write about who did something and leave out “by,” “with,” or any other prepositions that link them. Compare:

Active: The government-funded this project. (Who did it?)

Passive: This Project Was Funded By The Government. (Who Got Funded? Ahem)

The passive voice is useful when you want to emphasize on whom something happened; for example, if your client has been injured as a result of a defective product, you may want to put responsibility for their injuries on whoever designed or manufactured the product the manufacturer is likely an easier target than some faceless corporation or agency. 

But in most cases it’s best not to use too much passive voice because it can make things more complicated without adding much value; instead of simplifying your writing by making sure every actor is identified and referenced by name or title every time they appear on stage (i.e., before they do anything), try describing actions directly instead (i.e., after they happen).

In General, Choose Simple Words Over Complex Ones

Simple words are easier to understand, which is important considering that you’re dealing with a fairly complex topic. They’re also easier to read, which means your brief will be more comprehensible and won’t prompt the reader to re-read paragraphs over and over again until they finally get it.

Simple words are also easy to write they don’t require as much effort or thought. And even though you may not realize it right now, simple words make legal briefs more accessible for everyone involved in the legal system (including judges). 

Finally, they’re easy to remember because there aren’t many rules about how these words should be used in a sentence all of this makes them ideal for writing briefs!

Start Sentences With Subjects, Not Verbs Or Clauses

You should always start your sentences with the subject of the sentence. This sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often lawyers forget this simple rule.

Conversely, you should avoid starting sentences with verbs or clauses that aren’t subjects. Your reader won’t know what to do with themselves if they encounter something like 

There are three things to consider before writing a brief: drafting, editing, and proofreading; drafting is important; editing and proofreading are also essential parts of the process.” Instead, write: “Three things to consider before writing a brief are drafting, editing, and proofreading.”

Incorrect: The first step in drafting an appellate brief is outlining its structure.

Correct: The first step in drafting an appellate brief is outlining its structure.*

Put important words at the beginning of sentences if you want them to be read carefully by busy judges (or anyone).

Here Are Some Tips For Making Your Briefs More Readable

Put the most important words at the beginning of sentences. If you want your readers to read carefully, make sure that they can tell what’s most important. The way you can do this is by putting your most important word or phrase at the very beginning of a sentence. 

This makes it easier for people who are skimming through your brief to understand what’s going on in any given paragraph. If a judge reads only one sentence before getting distracted by something else (or falling asleep), they know that they need to pay attention now because this is an important sentence and should be read carefully! 

If there are multiple sentences in one paragraph and all end with something like “and hence…”, then it will be easy for them to figure out which one was supposed to be read first

Write short sentences when possible; 20-25 words is an ideal length for most sentences in any legal document.

Write short sentences when possible; 20-25 words is an ideal length for most sentences in any legal document.

Use short, simple words. Avoid stilted language and long, fancy words (unless they are necessary). In general, shorter words are easier to understand.

Use the active voice. This means that the subject of the sentence does something rather than being acted upon by another person or thing for example, “The plaintiff alleges that she was injured” instead of “It has been alleged that the plaintiff was injured.”

Keep it simple by using subject-verb-object order (SVO), which means putting your most important information at the beginning: “I ate breakfast this morning” not “This morning I ate breakfast.”


Legal briefs are one of the most important documents in a legal case, so it’s important to do them well. Luckily, you don’t have to be an expert in the law or even know much about writing briefs to write a good one. 

You just need some basic knowledge of grammar and common sense. The main thing is not to spend too much time worrying about every little detail that will only make your brief harder to read and understand. So try following these tips today!

Further Reading

10 Tips for Drafting Legal Documents Your Clients Can Easily Understand: Discover valuable insights to ensure your legal documents are clear and comprehensible for your clients.

How to Write a Legal Brief: A Comprehensive Guide: Delve into the intricacies of crafting an effective legal brief with this comprehensive guide.

Legal Brief Template: Streamline Your Brief Writing Process: Use this legal brief template to streamline your brief writing process and ensure you cover all necessary elements.


What is the importance of clear legal document drafting?

Clear legal document drafting is crucial as it ensures that all parties involved can understand the content without ambiguity, reducing the likelihood of disputes and misinterpretations.

How can I make my legal brief more persuasive?

To enhance the persuasiveness of your legal brief, focus on presenting a strong legal argument supported by relevant case law and compelling evidence.

What should I include in a legal brief?

A legal brief should include a concise summary of the case, relevant legal issues, arguments, applicable laws, and a conclusion that summarizes your stance.

Are there any tips for making legal documents more reader-friendly?

Yes, consider using plain language, avoiding jargon, and breaking down complex concepts into simpler terms to make legal documents more reader-friendly.

Where can I find templates for legal documents like legal briefs?

You can find templates for legal documents, such as legal briefs, on various legal resource websites and platforms, including those specializing in law practice management.