How To Write an Appeal Brief

A case brief, also known as a legal brief, is a concise summary of a legal opinion. It’s a tool primarily used by law students to prepare for classes and exams. A case brief typically includes the following sections:

  • Title and Citation: Introductory information about the case, including the parties’ names, docket number, the deciding court, and the date of the opinion.
  • Facts: The relevant facts of the case that the court considered influential or controlling in reaching its decision.
  • Issue: The specific legal question decided by the court.
  • Rule of Law: The legal principles or rules that the court applied to the facts of the case.
  • Holding: The final decision reached by the court.
  • Reasoning: The chain of arguments that led the judges to their decision.

Case briefs help students identify the main aspects and issues of a particular court decision, outline the legal rules and principles, and analyze the case from different perspectives to better understand the essentials of legal writing.

An appeal brief, also known as an appellate brief, is a written document prepared by a party’s lawyer to present legal arguments and facts to a higher court, usually in an appellate case. It is a formal way of arguing why the lower court’s decision was wrong and why the higher court should reverse it. The brief includes the appellant’s contentions regarding errors in the trial proceedings, the legal principles that apply, and the reasons why the decision should be reversed, supported by citations to authority such as statutes, case law, and the record on appeal.

Legal brief vs appeal brief

A legal brief and an appeal brief serve different purposes within the legal system:

  • Legal Brief: This is a document submitted at the trial court level, which contains the issues in dispute, the facts of the matter, and arguments in support of the party’s position. It’s often referred to as a “memorandum of law” and is used to argue pre-trial motions or during the trial to resolve disputed points of evidence.
  • Appeal Brief: An appeal brief is submitted to an appellate court and contains the written legal argument of the appealing party. It focuses on whether the trial court made a legal error in its decision. The appeal brief argues for the appellate court to reverse or modify the lower court’s decision based on legal grounds.

In essence, a legal brief is used during the initial trial to present facts and argue in favor of a legal position, while an appeal brief is used after the trial to challenge the legal correctness of the trial court’s decision before a higher court.

The key components of an appeal brief typically include:

  • Title Page: Identifies the case and the court to which the brief is submitted.
  • Table of Contents: Outlines the sections of the brief for easy navigation.
  • Table of Authorities: Lists all legal authorities cited in the brief, such as cases, statutes, and regulations.
  • Statement of Issues: Presents the questions the appellate court is being asked to review.
  • Statement of the Case: Provides a brief overview of the procedural history and the decisions made by the lower courts.
  • Statement of Facts: Details the relevant facts of the case that are necessary for the appellate court to understand the context.
  • Summary of Argument: Offers a concise summary of the main arguments and why the appellant believes the lower court’s decision should be reversed or modified.
  • Argument: The core of the brief, where legal arguments are fully developed, supported by legal authority.
  • Standard of Review: Specifies the standard the appellate court should apply when reviewing the lower court’s decision.
  • Conclusion: Clearly states the relief sought from the appellate court.
  • Certificate of Compliance: States that the brief complies with the court’s rules regarding length and formatting.
  • Certificate of Service: Certifies that the brief has been served on all parties involved in the appeal.
  • Signature Block: Includes the signature of the attorney or party submitting the brief.

These components work together to provide the appellate court with a clear and comprehensive argument for why the decision of the lower court should be upheld or overturned.

The specific requirements for appeal briefs can vary by jurisdiction, so it’s important to consult the rules of the appellate court where the brief will be filed.

Common mistakes to avoid in appeal briefs

When writing appeal briefs, it’s important to avoid common pitfalls that could undermine your arguments. Here are some mistakes to steer clear of:

  • Missing Deadlines: Not filing the appeal on time is a critical error. Appellate courts have strict deadlines, and missing them can result in the dismissal of the appeal.
  • Overemphasizing Emotional Arguments: While passion for your case is important, relying too heavily on emotional appeals rather than legal reasoning can weaken your brief.
  • Insufficient Evidence: Your appeal should be thoroughly supported with evidence. Failing to backup your arguments with concrete facts and citations can be detrimental.
  • Ignoring Procedural Rules: Each appellate court has its own set of procedural rules. Not adhering to these can result in your brief being rejected or not considered.
  • Not Seeking Legal Advice: Especially for those who are self-represented, not consulting with a legal professional can lead to overlooking critical aspects of the appeal process.
  • Neglecting the Audience: Remember that the judges may not be familiar with the specifics of your case or the applicable law. Your job is to educate them clearly and concisely.
  • Lengthy Briefs: Brevity is key. Judges appreciate concise explanations due to their heavy workloads. Avoid unnecessary length in your writing.
  • Choosing Too Many Issues: Be selective about the issues you argue. Presenting too many can dilute the strength of your main arguments.

These are just a few examples, but they highlight the importance of a well-prepared and properly structured appeal brief. Always remember to tailor your brief to the specific requirements of the appellate court you’re addressing.

Appellate brief writing tips

Writing an effective appellate brief is crucial for presenting your case to the appellate court. Here are some tips to help you craft a persuasive and well-structured brief:

  • Understand Your Audience: Write with the judges in mind. They are legal experts but may not be familiar with the specifics of your case. Aim to educate them clearly and concisely.
  • State the Facts Briefly: Be complete yet concise. Provide all the necessary information without overwhelming the reader with unnecessary details.
  • Make Clear and Forceful Arguments: Your arguments should be logical, well-reasoned, and supported by precedent. Respect the court and its previous decisions.
  • Reflect Thoughtful Analysis: Show that you have considered all angles of the case and are presenting a sound legal argument.
  • Provide Page References: Always give specific page references to the record for every factual statement to help the court verify the information quickly.
  • Confinement to the Record: Limit the statement of the case to matters within the appellate record. Do not introduce new evidence or arguments not presented at trial.
  • Avoid Exaggeration: Do not overstate the facts, law, or the degree of supporting authority. Maintain credibility by being accurate and honest.
  • Focus on Key Issues: In civil appeals, concentrate on the most important issues to avoid diluting your arguments. In criminal appeals, include all arguable issues, especially constitutional ones that may be raised later.
  • Limit Theoretical Discussions: Stick to the matters necessary to present the client’s case properly. Avoid abstract legal dissertations unless they are directly relevant.
  • Avoid Repetition: State your points clearly the first time. Judges appreciate brevity due to their heavy caseloads.
  • Respectful Tone: Avoid language that impugns the motives of the trial judge or opposing counsel unless absolutely necessary.
  • Use Headings for Each Argument: This helps the court consider your arguments without overlooking any. Avoid burying arguments in footnotes or within other sections.

Tips for effective citation in an appeal brief

Effective citation in an appeal brief is crucial for supporting your arguments and guiding the court through your reasoning. Here are some tips to ensure your citations are effective:

  • Thorough Research: Your legal arguments should be supported by comprehensive legal research. Cite pertinent authority that is interwoven with the facts of your case.
  • Descriptive Parentheticals: When citing a case, include a parenthetical that briefly describes the point for which the case stands.
  • Avoid Overcitation: Refrain from using string cites and block quotes excessively, as they can be overwhelming and are often skipped by busy judges.
  • Citation to the Record: Ensure that all facts discussed in the brief are accompanied by citations to the appellate record. This helps establish the factual basis for your arguments.
  • Page References: Provide specific page references to the record for every factual statement, which helps the court verify the information quickly.
  • Legal Authority: In the argument section, cite relevant statutes and case law to back up your legal positions.
  • Keep it Simple: Make your citations easy to follow. Complex or convoluted citation formats can distract from the substance of your argument.
  • Check Citation Formats: Verify that your citation formats are correct and acceptable to the appellate court. Incorrect formats can undermine the credibility of your brief.

The goal of citation is not just to fulfill a formal requirement but to substantiate your arguments and make it easier for the court to understand and accept your position. Always tailor your citations to the preferences and requirements of the specific appellate court you are addressing.

An example of a well-crafted citation

A well-crafted legal citation should clearly identify the source, be accurate, and conform to the relevant citation manual, such as The Bluebook or the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation.

Here’s an example of a case citation following The Bluebook format:

Smith v. Jones, 123 U.S. 456, 789-90 (Year).Breaking it down:
Smith v. Jones: This is the case name, italicized to highlight it.
123 U.S.: This is the volume number and the reporter abbreviation where the case can be found.
456: This is the page number where the case begins.
789-90: These are the specific pages being cited.
(Year): This is the year the case was decided.

The citation provides all the necessary information for a reader to locate the case in the legal reports. Always check the rules of the jurisdiction you’re submitting to, as they may have specific requirements for citations.

What if the case is from a state court?

When citing a case from a state court, the citation format will slightly differ from federal cases and can vary depending on the state. Generally, a state court case citation includes the case name, the volume number, the reporter abbreviation, the page number, the court abbreviation, and the year of the decision.

Here’s an example of a state court case citation:

Doe v. Smith, 123 A.2d 456, 460 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2023).
In this example:
Doe v. Smith is the case name, italicized to highlight it.
123 A.2d indicates the volume number and the reporter abbreviation (Atlantic Reporter, Second Series).
456 is the page number where the case begins.
460 refers to the specific page being cited.
(Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2023) denotes the court (Maryland Court of Special Appeals) and the year the case was decided.

How to cite unpublished opinions from state courts?

Citing unpublished opinions from state courts can vary based on jurisdiction, but generally, the citation includes the case name, docket number, database identifier (if available), court name, and decision date.

Here’s a general format based on The Bluebook guidelines:

Case Name, No. Docket Number, Database Identifier (Court Abbreviation Month Day, Year).
For example: Doe v. Smith, No. 12345, 2023 WL 123456 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Mar. 14, 2023).
If the unpublished opinion is not available in a widely used electronic database, you would omit the database identifier:
Doe v. Smith, No. 12345 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Mar. 14, 2023).

Check the local rules for the specific formatting required by the state court to which you are submitting. Сheck the specific citation rules of the jurisdiction where you are filing, as they may have unique requirements for citing unpublished opinions.

How to structure the argument section effectively?

Structuring the argument section of an appellate brief effectively is crucial for persuading the appellate court. Here are some steps to guide you:

  • Introduction: Begin with a brief introduction that outlines your arguments and sets the stage for your legal analysis.
  • Point Headings: Use clear and descriptive point headings to organize your arguments. Each heading should summarize the argument that follows and guide the reader through your brief.
  • Legal Analysis: Under each point heading, provide a thorough legal analysis. Start with a strong opening sentence that states the legal principle or issue. Follow with a detailed discussion that includes relevant legal authority and how it applies to the facts of your case.
  • Address Counterarguments: Anticipate and address potential counterarguments from the opposing side. This demonstrates that you have considered all aspects of the issue and are prepared to rebut alternative viewpoints.
  • Use of Authority: Support each argument with citations to statutory law, case law, and secondary sources that are directly relevant to your points. Make sure your citations are accurate and conform to the appropriate citation manual.
  • Focus on the Record: Tie your arguments to the record, ensuring that you reference specific parts of the record that support your factual assertions.
  • Remedy Sought: Clearly state the remedy you are seeking from the court. This should be a logical conclusion to the arguments you’ve presented.
  • Theme: Maintain an overall theme that connects all of your legal arguments. This helps in creating a cohesive and compelling narrative throughout your brief.

The argument section is where you persuade the court by presenting a logical, well-reasoned case supported by legal precedent and the facts of your case.

An example of a well-structured argument section

A well-structured argument section in an appellate brief should clearly present the legal issues, supported by relevant authority, and demonstrate how the law applies to the facts of the case.

Here’s an example of how you might structure an argument section:

Argument I: The Trial Court Erred in Not Granting the Motion to Suppress Evidence
A. The Evidence Was Obtained in Violation of the Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. In this case, the police conducted a search without a warrant and without probable cause, violating the defendant’s constitutional rights (Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961)). The evidence obtained during this unlawful search must be excluded as it is “fruit of the poisonous tree” (Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471 (1963)).
B. The Exclusionary Rule Mandates Suppression of the Illegally Obtained Evidence
The exclusionary rule serves as a remedy for violations of the Fourth Amendment by suppressing evidence that is illegally obtained (United States v. Calandra, 414 U.S. 338 (1974)). The purpose of this rule is to deter police misconduct and uphold judicial integrity. The evidence in question was seized during an illegal search, and its admission would compromise the fairness of the trial process.
C. The Good Faith Exception Does Not Apply

The good faith exception to the exclusionary rule does not apply in this case because the officers could not have reasonably believed that their conduct was lawful (United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984)). There was no warrant, and the circumstances did not justify an exception to the warrant requirement.


For the reasons stated above, the trial court’s decision to deny the motion to suppress the evidence was in error. This Court should reverse the decision and remand for a new trial with the improperly obtained evidence excluded.

This example demonstrates a clear and logical structure, with each subsection addressing a specific legal point, supported by case law, and leading to a concise conclusion.

To hire an appellate brief writer, you can consider the following steps:

  • Identify Your Needs: Determine the scope of your project, including the complexity of the case, the length of the brief, and the deadline.
  • Research Options: Look for freelance legal writers or services that specialize in appellate briefs. Websites like ExclusiveThesis offer a marketplace where you can find experienced freelance lawyers, including those who specialize in appellate brief writing.
  • Check Credentials: Review the qualifications, experience, and writing samples of potential writers. Ensure they have experience with appellate briefs and are familiar with the relevant court’s rules and procedures.
  • Discuss the Project: Communicate with the writer about your case, the issues on appeal, and your expectations for the brief. Provide them with all necessary documents and the record on appeal.
  • Agree on Terms: Negotiate the fee, timeline, and any other terms of the engagement. Make sure to have a clear agreement on the scope of work and the revision process.
  • Hire and Collaborate: Once you’ve selected a writer, work closely with them to ensure the brief meets your standards and is filed timely.

Check the ethical rules regarding the use of freelance legal services in your jurisdiction to ensure compliance.

Happy writing!