Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Outlining your appellate brief

I spent the weekend grading outlines from my Advanced Legal Writing class.  Since I started teaching appellate writing, I have required my students to turn in an outline of their appellate brief argument section. In the outline I require them to do the following:

  • Identify the issues on appeal and take a stab at drafting issue statements.  I tell them that they should identify each issue with as much specificity as possible, incorporating the law and pertinent facts, where appropriate.  
  • Identify the standard of review for each issue with a cite to authority for the standard.
  • Identify a theme.
  • Include the arguments that they plan to make for each issue.  In outlining these arguments they must identify: (1) the specific points that they will make to further each argument, (2) the facts, if any, that they will rely on, and (3) the authority that they will cite.  
  • Identify rebuttal points.  Because I require my students to outline both sides of the case (they brief both sides of the case over the semester), this comes naturally.  I do like to see them address the counterarguments in their outlines though.

The outline serves as 8% of the final grade, and it allows me to make sure that the students are on the right track with their arguments, both in terms of substance and organization.  

Appellate argument outlines, however, aren't just great teaching tools.  I think that they can help practitioners too.  Consider the benefits of starting with an outline:

  • It helps you organize your research.
  • It allows you to think carefully about how to arrange your issues--both in terms of identifying your strongest argument and seeing how your issues and arguments fit together.
  • It can help you identify a weak issue or argument that should be omitted.
  • It helps you identify issues or arguments that might need more research before you start drafting.

While taking the time to outline might seem like added billable hours, I find that outlines make my final drafting much more efficient.  I would be curious to hear how many of our readers use outlines to draft their arguments.  Feel free to comment below.

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