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This post was originally published in October 2018 and verified in September 2023.
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First impressions matter — that's why writing a powerful legal brief is critical when building a winning case. Defined as a written document in which you present your arguments to the court, a legal brief ultimately serves one of two purposes:
Because a legal brief is often a judge's first impression of you, it can sway their opinion positively or negatively before you even enter the courtroom.
So, how can you step up your legal brief writing? In this article, we’ll talk about the key components to a successful brief, ultimately shining light on one powerful secret ingredient: judicial analytics.
First, however, let’s dig deeper into the importance of continuously improving your legal brief writing skills.
It’s likely you already know something about legal briefs and how to write them. So, why should you continue to look for ways to increase the efficiency and efficacy of your briefs? Of course, as mentioned above, a legal brief can be key to your success in the courtroom. However, if that's not enough of a reason to strive to continuously improve your skills, consider the amount of time you dedicate to writing your legal briefs. Market research indicates that attorneys spend a greater portion of their time on drafting documents than any other reported activity — an average of 23% of their working hours.* In the same study, attorneys repeatedly mention legal brief writing as a pain point, citing the difficulty of ensuring important cases aren’t missed and identifying language their judge will find persuasive.
In this article, we aim to give you tips to help ensure the time you spend on your legal briefs is worthwhile. As you increase your legal brief writing efficiency, you should reduce the amount of billable hours you spend on briefs per case.
Ultimately, you delight yourself and your clients by mastering effective legal brief writing.
While there are varying opinions on the ideal structure, these four items are consistently represented in most standard legal briefs:
As you’re gathering the relevant information for your brief, you should bear in mind that your draft should be persuasive, concise, and accurate.
So, how can you ensure you’re meeting these standards of excellence? Citing good law and conducting a thorough review are both critical to the success of a brief. We’ll quickly discuss each of these in turn before focusing on one powerful secret ingredient — judicial analytics.
Example of a legal brief (above)
The foundation of your argument should rest upon good law, (i.e., law that has not been overruled or brought into question). Legal research software can help you through this process. A high quality citator, like Shepard’s® citation service, can give you an at-a-glance view of law that’s been treated positively or negatively in court, with the option to dive into a more nuanced view of your case or statute.
The process of writing a legal brief isn’t over once you complete your initial draft. Ideally, as mentioned above, you use good law throughout the legal brief writing process. However, double-checking your citations should still be a part of your review process, especially because changes to the treatment of cases can happen quickly. Additionally, you should seek out weak points in your argument and, as we’ll discuss in greater detail below, ensure you are using language your judge will find persuasive.
This process may sound time-consuming, but technology can help expedite this process. For example, a tool like Brief Analysis on Lexis+® can scan your document and recommend ways to improve it. While there are a variety of ways to use Brief Analysis, your review process can be specifically aided by using the tool to:
Example of Brief Analysis dashboard (above)
What does it mean to pinpoint language your judge finds persuasive? And how does that benefit your brief? Answering these questions requires an understanding of judicial analytics — a powerful, but often under-utilized, component of legal brief writing.
In the past, it may have been enough to rely on common knowledge or a cursory search of a judge, but as the legal landscape shifts, your research tactics should shift as well. More than ever, it is critical to know your judge with data-driven insights before writing a legal brief. Failing to pursue these insights can put you at a disadvantage in the courtroom. You might miss language that resonates with your judge, or you may pursue a motion your judge is unlikely to grant.
So, before we close, we'll discuss in greater depth how you can start using judicial analytics to improve the quality of your legal briefs.
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Judicial analytics — or judge data analytics — is a specific branch of legal analytics that involves using historical data to predict your judge's behavior and to pinpoint language your judge finds compelling. The process includes, but isn't necessarily limited to:
Research tools like Context® can help you research, predict, understand, and align with your judge’s patterns. Currently, Context is the only legal language analytics solution in the industry that can help you pinpoint language your judge finds persuasive by looking at their own word choice.
View Context Guided Tour
What else can Context do?
Even if you build your case on good law and review gaps in your argument, if your legal brief is not persuasive to your judge, you may miss a win in court. Utilizing judge data analytics can help ensure your time is well-spent and that your language is persuasive.
Getting to know your judge is essential to success in the courtroom, and LexisNexis is here to help you win. See for yourself how Context can help you speak your judge's language. Ready to get started? Take the next step today.
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