Writing a Legal Brief

Author: Catharine Niuzzo Honaman

Time: 3 days
30 minutes to read over lesson
Materials: Access to computers to write the legal briefs


Students will get together in their groups to use the information that they found in the previous lesson to write an appeals brief for their side of the trial in Ricki Jones v. Metro City. They will follow the format for writing a legal brief that was learned in the Explore Lesson and incorporate the legal, scientific, and environmental information that they found while doing research in the Explain Lesson.

Purpose – This is the Apply Lesson.
Students will write a legal brief to be used for an appeals trial. They will use the actual format that is found in a real court of law and include pertinent legal, scientific, and environmental information that will make their brief effective.

Students will be able to:
1. Demonstrate knowledge of the format of a legal brief by writing one
2. Synthesize information from multiple sources to write a persuasive document
3. Collaborate with peers to create a document which incorporates information relevant to the project that was collected from multiple sources

English Education Standard
W-P1. Use transitional devices; varied sentence structures; active voice; parallel
structures; supporting details, phrases, and clauses; and correct spelling,
punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and usage to sharpen the focus and
clarify the meaning of writing
PO 1. Use transitions (e.g., conjunctive adverbs, coordinating conjunctions,
subordinating conjunctions) where appropriate
PO 2. Vary sentence structure (e.g., compound, complex, compound-complex)
PO 3. Use active voice as appropriate to purpose (e.g., creative writing)
PO 4. Use parallel structure appropriately
PO 5. Sharpen the focus and clarify the meaning of their writing through the
appropriate use of:
- capitalization
- standard grammar and usage (e.g., subject-verb agreement, pronoun agreement and consistency of verb tense)
- spelling, with the use of a dictionary/thesaurus (as needed)
- punctuation (e.g., comma, ellipsis, apostrophe, semicolon, colon)

W-P2. Write a persuasive essay that contains effective introductory and summary
statements; arrange the arguments effectively; and fully develops the ideas
with convincing proof, details, facts, examples, and descriptions
PO 2. Develop the point of view with ample and convincing support appropriate
to audience and purpose
PO 3. Create an organizational structure that includes an effective beginning,
middle, and ending

Strand 2: concept 2: Functional Text
PO 2. Synthesize information from multiple sources to draw conclusions

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:
It is also important to have knowledge of the format of a legal brief as explained in the Explore Lesson and on the following web site: http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/410/legalbrief.htm (Internet Legal Research and Writing Legal Briefs Describes the parts of a legal brief)

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://streetlaw.org/mockt2.html (The Street Law web site where the mock trial information for Ricki Jones v. Metro City is found)

http://www.lexisnexis.com/associates/career/careerpd091101d.asp (Writing A Brief The George Orwell Way)



1. Begin the class by telling your students that although it might seem a little bit intimidating to them to put together a legal brief, as we often associate the court system and legal communications as a world too complex for the average individual to comprehend, they have everything they need to succeed. Wayne Schiess points out on his web site entitled Writing A Brief The George Orwell Way that, “A Wisconsin supreme court justice once said: ‘A lawyer should write a brief at a level a 12th grader could understand.’” Furthermore, lawyers today are being admonished to write in plain language, not using overly convoluted grammar and antiquated phrasing. So, at this point your students are well-prepared for their task.

2. Have the students get together in their small groups once again. They will need their work from the Explore Lesson in which they learned the parts of the legal brief, the statement of stipulated facts and applicable law from Ricki Jones v. Metro City that you gave them, plus all of their research notes from the Explain Lesson. Using the parts of the legal brief as a structure to organize their information, the groups need to create a legal brief to appeal the court’s decision that was not in their favor. Emphasize that this type of document will be the basis of their oral arguments when they are in a moot court later on in the quarter. They will only have 30 minutes to argue their case for the moot court activity in their government class Therefore, their brief must be clear, to the point (That’s why it is a brief!), organized, full of relevant information, and persuasive. These are the aspects on which their legal brief will be evaluated by both the judge (in the future moot court activity) and you the teacher. In their brief they must show that they have analyzed the facts of the case and have been able to construct a strong argument for why their side should have won.

3. The students need to spend their time pulling together the research that each did individually into a coherent and strongly persuasive document. Everything in the legal brief for the appeal must be presented in a way that unequivocally supports the group’s side of the case. It should go without saying, but make it clear that the students will need to do a rough draft first that the members of the group critically read for mechanical, organizational, content, and stylistic errors.

4. It is suggested that the students identify the sections of the legal brief for you by noting in the margins where the different parts are. As in the model brief, which they read and analyzed in the Explore Lesson, it is permissible to combine sections that logically dovetail together.

Students should go through the following checklist within their groups to make sure that the legal brief that they wrote exhibits these features as well as others which you may stipulate such as length, font size, etc.:

Mechanics- The following are correctly used:
transitional devices
varied sentence structures
active voice
parallel structures
supporting details, phrases, and clauses
correct spelling
proper punctuation
correct capitalization
proper grammar and usage

Legal Content/Organization- The following sections are included:
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

Stylistic Organization- The following features are in evidence:
Effective introductory and summary statements
Arguments are arranged effectively
Fully developed ideas:
with convincing proof, details, facts, examples, and descriptions
Appropriate to audience and purpose
Effective beginning, middle, and ending
Information has been synthesized from multiple sources to draw conclusions

Embedded Assessment
Use the checklist from the closure section of the lesson to base your evaluation of the written portion of this lesson, the appeals legal brief.
You may also wish to evaluate how well the students in each group worked together, whether all seemed to be doing their share of the work, whether all were on task and contributed positively for the three days of this 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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