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How To Write an Appellate Brief

Preparing an appellate brief isn’t just about presenting facts but persuading appellate judges through a well-structured written argument. Thus, it demands acute skill and thoughtful strategy. Knowing how to write an appellate brief well becomes mission-critical.

At Record Press, we make sure your appellate brief complies with all rules and formatting preferences. We can help take care of the little details so you can focus solely on writing and creating a compelling narrative. Read on to learn our advice on what an appellate brief is, what it requires, and how to write it best. 

What is an appellate brief?

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An appellate brief is a detailed document submitted to an appellate court. Think of it as your opportunity to argue your case anew, but this time, you’ll do it through a written narrative rather than oral arguments in front of a judge. It’s a persuasive brief, a lot like a trial brief.

There are two kinds of appellate briefs: an appellant brief and an appellee brief (a.k.a., a respondent’s brief).

An appellant brief, which outlines why you believe the previous court’s decision was incorrect, focuses on legal misinterpretations or procedural errors. It presents evidence from the trial record to persuade the appellate judges that an oversight or mistake influenced the outcome. An appellee brief is filed by the party that won the case originally and argues that the decision should remain.

The ultimate objective is to convince the court to reconsider and potentially reverse the initial verdict. An appellee’s goal is for the outcome to remain the same.

What is the purpose of an appellate brief?

The purpose of an appellate brief is to persuade appellate judges to see the case from your client’s perspective. It serves as a key tool for arguing that the trial court’s decision contains errors warranting a reversal or modification. By presenting facts, legal precedents, and arguments, you aim to highlight these mistakes and their impact on the case’s outcome. 

This document is your chance to communicate directly with the judges and explain your viewpoint and reasoning in a concise, compelling manner. Essentially, it’s your voice in the appellate court, advocating for a fair reconsideration of your case.

Why is an appellate brief important to get right?

Getting an appellate brief right is extremely important because it’s your main shot at persuading the appellate court to favor your argument. Written briefs alone are a deciding factor in over 80% of federal appeals, so you want to make sure that both the content and the presentation make as big an impact as possible.

A well-crafted brief can shift the judges’ perspective by spotlighting overlooked details or misapplied laws. It’s important to remember that appellate courts won’t reexamine facts or evidence: they’ll only review the arguments you present. Thus, clarity, precision, and a strong legal basis in your brief are key to influencing the court’s decision. 

There are many court rules and preferences that you’ll want to get right, too. Also, you’ll need to correctly format the brief, complete the table of contents/table of authorities, create any forms the court requires, typeset covers that comply with court requirements, print it, bind it, ship it, and serve it. These are all elements that Record Press knows how to apply for maximum impact.

Your quick guide to writing an appellate brief

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Learning how to write an appellate brief demands attention to detail and a solid understanding of legal principles. You’ll need to craft arguments that are both persuasive and grounded in law. This section will provide you with the information you need to create a compelling brief.

Appellate brief cover page

The appellate brief cover page, or title page, is the formal introduction to the brief. You’ll list the case name, the appellate court case number, and the lower court’s case number. It includes a signature block that affirms the document’s authorship and authenticity. This page sets the stage for the arguments that follow by clearly identifying the matter at hand and linking it to its judicial history.

Table of Content and Table of Authorities

The Table of Contents in an appellate brief organizes your arguments by listing all headings and subheadings, along with their respective page numbers. This helps readers navigate your brief more efficiently, similar to chapter headings in a book. 

The Table of Authorities, on the other hand, compiles every case, statute, and reference you cite, linking each one to the pages where they are mentioned. It underscores the legal foundation of your arguments, ensuring that judges can easily verify your sources and understand the precedents backing your case. It must be organized in the following order:

  • Required authority statutes in numerical order
  • Required authority cases in your jurisdiction in alphabetical order
  • Persuasive authority cases in your jurisdiction (also in alphabetical order)
  • Persuasive authority statutes in numerical order
  • Rules in numerical order
  • Other cited authorities in numerical or alphabetical order

In many jurisdictions, if you cite any sources on five or more pages, is is not necessary to list page numbers. Instead, use the term passim, which is Latin for ‘here and there.’

Statutes Involved

This section identifies the specific laws relevant to your case. If your argument hinges on particular statutes, this is where you detail them, quoting their language exactly and providing proper citations. This section isn’t always necessary, and if you have only one statute to present, that isn’t sufficient to require the statute to be listed here.

In instances where a statute’s wording is central to your argument but too lengthy for this section, you can place it in an appendix. Remember to reference this appendix in your Table of Contents so that readers can find and understand the legal framework underpinning your appeal.

Standard of Review

This section outlines the criteria appellate courts use to evaluate the lower court’s decision. It’s essentially the benchmark for assessing the constitutionality of a statute or the correctness of a lower court’s ruling. There are three primary standards of review:

  • De novo: This standard applies when the appellate court reviews your matter with fresh eyes, showing little to no deference to the trial court’s interpretation of the law.
  • Clearly erroneous: Here, the appellate court shows more respect for the trial court’s findings. It will overturn decisions only if they seem obviously incorrect based on the factual evidence presented.
  • Abuse of discretion: This is the most deferential standard. The appellate court may reverse the trial court’s decision only if it finds a significant error in judgment, usually related to procedural matters.

Understanding these standards helps you better understand how to write an appellate brief and effectively argue how and why the lower court’s decision should be reevaluated.

Question(s) Presented

This section in an appellate brief distills the core legal issue into a focused inquiry and uses persuasive language to suggest a singular, correct outcome. Writers have two main formatting choices: 

  • The traditional model condenses the legal rule, significant facts, and the question into a coherent sentence without a question mark
  • The “Deep Issue” model allows for a more detailed presentation. It presents the legally significant facts, the applicable legal rule, and the posed question across three sentences, capped with a question mark

Each model offers a way to succinctly present the issue while implying the desired answer. For example, in Nestlé USA, Inc. v. Doe, each party’s “Questions Presented” reflect their strategic emphasis on different facts: 

  • Nestlé’s questions underscore the challenge of linking domestic corporate activity to alleged harms abroad, questioning the court’s authority to impose liability under the Alien Tort Statute
  • The respondents argued against the extraterritoriality bar through claims based on international law violations. They questioned the exclusion of domestic corporations from liability under the same statute

Statement of Facts

The Statement of Facts section is where you shape the narrative to favor your argument. Here, you begin by detailing who the parties are, their roles, and their relevance to the legal issues at hand.

This section includes four key elements: 

  • The identities and relationships of the parties
  • Legally significant facts for resolving the question
  • Background facts
  • Procedural facts outlining the case’s current status

Your opening paragraph should identify the parties involved and their connections to each other and the legal dispute. Then, you should present legally significant facts and provide necessary background information. Although your role is to advocate, you must still present facts faithfully without venturing into arguments. Those belong in the Argument section, which comes next.

Summary of Argument 

The Summary of Argument section previews the points and reasoning you’ll unfold in the full Argument and Citation of Authority sections. Its purpose is to offer a clear, digestible overview that sets the stage for the detailed arguments to follow. You should draft this summary only after finalizing the Argument and Citation of Authority sections so that it accurately reflects the substance and organization of your arguments. 

Point Headings

Point headings are conclusions for each of the legal arguments you make in your Argument and Citation of Authority. They serve as clear markers to show the reader, step-by-step, where the argument is going.

You can have major point headings, which are like a Brief Answer to a Question Presented in a memorandum, as well as minor point headings showing the steps to reach the major point heading. Each heading should be written as a sentence that clearly states the relief being sought, the law that applies, and the key facts that determine the outcome. 

Argument and Citation of Authority

The Argument and Citation of Authority section is where you get into the legal reasoning supporting your case. Here, you use the CREAC format to structure your analysis and persuasion:

  1. C (Conclusion): Start with a strong, persuasive conclusion that states why the court should side with you. This sets the tone for the reader.
  2. R (Rule): Present the legal rule in a way that’s accurate and favors your position.
  3. E/A (Explanation/Application): Here, you apply the rule to your case. This includes:
    1. E (Explanation): Cite past cases that establish how the law has been interpreted and applied.
    2. A (Application): Relate those interpretations to your case through analogy or distinction, demonstrating how your situation fits within or differs from established legal norms.
  4. E/A (Persuasive Authority): If using persuasive authority, apply the following guidelines:
    1. E (Positive Authority): Use other cases that support your argument, explaining how similar policy goals led to favorable outcomes.  
    2. A (Application): Argue how these outcomes should guide the court to a similar decision in your case.
    3. E (Negative Authority): Present cases with differing policy goals to argue against their applicability to your case. You want to show why they should not influence the court’s decision.
  5. C (Narrowed Conclusion): Conclude by reiterating why your side should win, linking back to your initial conclusion, and emphasizing how the rule applies specifically to your case’s facts and circumstances.

Your goal is to weave legal rules with persuasive narratives, showcasing how precedent, analogy, and policy considerations align to support your argument. 


The Conclusion section of your appellate brief is where you state the specific outcome you want from the court. Make sure it’s concise yet powerful and reinforces your case without rehashing every detail. You’ll typically write this after finalizing the rest of your brief.

Writing an appellate brief means following a lot of critical guidelines about content and formatting. However, these elements often distract from your narrative, argument, and strategy. Luckily, Record Press is here to help. We’ll handle the cover, table of contents, table of authorities, formatting, compliance review, and the other elements that distract from writing a winning argument. Check out our appellate brief services

3 appellate brief writing best practices to follow

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Know the rules of appellate briefs in your specific court

Mastering how to write an appellate brief begins by knowing the rules that govern the court you’re addressing. Each jurisdiction has its own set of guidelines regarding format, length, and procedural requirements. There are also numerous unwritten rules based on the preferences of certain courts. That’s a lot to familiarize yourself with, but you don’t have to worry about that if you take advantage of Record Press’s services.

Once these rules are understood, it’s time to start writing.

Do not waste any space—and keep it brief!

With strict limitations on length, every word you choose must serve a purpose. Aim to be persuasive without being verbose. This discipline in writing not only respects the court’s time but also makes your brief more impactful. Once you’ve refined your arguments, there’s one final, critical step.

Be absolutely sure your brief is correct and compliant

Before submission, double-check your brief for accuracy and compliance with all court requirements. Errors, no matter how minor, can undermine your credibility and distract from your argument. If your appellate brief experience is minimal or you’re pressed for time, Record Press provides compliance review and proofreading services to ensure everything is in place before you send it.

Appellate briefs are what Record Press does best

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At Record Press, we make appellate brief preparation a seamless, efficient process. With a suite of services that includes appellate management, consulting, and document solutions, we ensure your briefs are flawless before they ever reach a courtroom. We have decades of experience with appellate court rules and requirements across the station and know how to deliver a persuasive, compliant document.

At Record Press, our goal is to empower attorneys and other legal professionals with the confidence that comes from knowing their appellate briefs are in capable hands. Our services provide you the freedom to concentrate on what you do best: advocating for your clients with compelling, persuasive arguments. For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact us today!