What Are Legal Briefs

Author: Catharine Niuzzo Honaman

Time: 2 days
1 hour to read over lesson and make copies
Materials: One copy for each student in class of the legal brief entitled Ashcroft, Attorney General v. American Civil Liberties Union et al. found on the web site http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=000&invol=03-218


Students will read examples of actual legal briefs, dissecting them to see what their component parts are. Some sections of the brief require knowledge of the law far beyond the purview of twelfth grade government and English classes so only certain sections will be studied. Students will develop a list of what components are necessary for a brief and consequently, what components they will use for their moot court activities in government class later on in the quarter.
Special attention will be paid to how an effective argument is constructed for a court of law.

Purpose – This is the Explore Lesson.
Students will analyze a real legal brief to discover what its component parts are. They will further create criteria for an effective argument in a court of law.

Students will be able to:
1. Read a legal brief for understanding
2. Analyze the legal brief to be able to describe its component parts
3. Analyze the legal brief to be able to describe how a persuasive legal argument is

English Education Standard
Strand 1: Concept 5: Fluency
PO 1. Read from a variety of genres with accuracy, automaticity, and prosody
Strand 2: Concept 2: Functional Text
PO 3. Analyze the effectiveness of a functional text to achieve its stated
Strand 2: Concept 3: Persuasive Text
PO 1. Describe the central argument and its elements in a persuasive text.
PO 2. Describe how persuasive techniques contribute to the power of persuasive

Teacher Background
It would be helpful if you understood how and why court cases get appealed. This information can be found in any 12th grade government textbook or at the following web site:

Resource Websites

http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/410/legalbrief.htm (Internet Legal Research and Writing Legal Briefs Describes the parts of a legal brief)


http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=000&invol=03-218 (The web site to find the legal brief of Ashcroft, Attorney General v. American Civil Liberties Union et al.)



1. Begin the class by explaining that when a lawyer goes in front of the court to present an appeal he or she generally has thirty minutes to present the oral arguments. Therefore, everything in an appeal must be pertinent to the case. With this in mind, ask the class to make a list on the board or overhead of what information the justices would need to know. In other words, what are the sections of a legal brief? If the students know the correct names for the sections use these. If not, write up on the board what they think needs to be in a certain section and at the end of the brainstorming session give them the correct names and the sections which they may not have listed. Here are the parts of the legal brief:

1. Facts of the case -- a concise statement of the facts from a legal point of view
2. Issue of the case -- what parties had standing, and what specific concepts and terms were involved
3. Decision of the court -- including an analysis of any concurring or dissenting opinions in previous case precedent
4. Reasoning of the court -- analysis of the thinking process and logic used by previous judges
5. Citations to support previous judgments -- only the important precedent cases, not all of them
6. Rule of law -- a concise summary of the main precedent established, separate from the dicta, or circumstances of the cases
7. Dissent -- other rules of law implicit or inherent in dissenting opinions

2. Give the students each a copy of Ashcroft, Attorney General v. American Civil Liberties Union et al. to read. After the students have carefully read this brief have them get into small groups or pairs to label the parts of the brief. Tell them that some of the parts may be combined and that parts may also be missing. If the group has more than one opinion on a part they may write down both labels. Encourage the students to thoughtfully discuss the document and to become familiar with its language and style of presentation rather than focusing solely on quickly labeling the parts.

3. As the class goes over the Ashcroft, Attorney General v. American Civil Liberties Union et al. document, ask the students to not only point out the different sections of the legal brief, but to explain how they knew what each section was. After the sections have been labeled tell the students that the government teacher will be combining some sections when doing the moot court activity.

4. The Facts and Issue of the case are combined in the first paragraph. (To protect minors … to harmful materials.)

The Decision of the court is the second paragraph. (Held … Pp.6-15.)

The last three paragraphs are a combination of the Reasoning of the court, Citations to support previous judgments, and Rule of law.

There is no Dissent in this particular brief.

Remind the students that a legal brief is by its nature supposed to be to the point. Even though briefs may be as long as 50 pages, every sentence in the brief must address the points being argued. Ask the students to come up with the skills that they have learned in English throughout their years in school that would make them effective lawyers and capable brief writers. For example, research skills, writing persuasive papers, even learning correct grammar and more sophisticated vocabulary are all helpful in the area of law.

Embedded Assessment
In this lesson the written work of the students is one way to evaluate their engagement with the material. Check to see not only how accurately they were able to analyze the legal brief given to them in class but also how well they were able to present their findings to the class and defend or explain how they determined where the different sections of the brief were located. How well did they work in their groups? Were they on task during the discussion time? Their contributions to the class discussion at the beginning of this lesson can also be used to assess how well the students understood some of the concepts from the engage lesson.


Embedded Assessment

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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