Briefs that Changed the World



brief in Plessy v. FergusonThis semester I had the opportunity to take Prof. Edwards’s class Advanced Brief Writing: Briefs that Changed the World. I must admit that I was slightly skeptical of the idea that simply reading remarkable briefs would somehow make me a better writer. But, I’m happy to admit that I was quite wrong in this assumption. Reading the briefs covered in this class have inspired me to try my hand at the various techniques the authors employ when writing these briefs (I make no promises about whether my attempts have proven successful). Hopefully they will inspire you too. Thank you, Prof. Edwards for allowing me to share this list of briefs:

Miranda v. Arizona (Petitioner)

Bowers v. Hardwick (Respondent)

Gideon v. Wainwright (Petitioner)

San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez (both Petitioner and Respondent)

Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio (both Petitioner and Respondent)

Loving v. Virginia (Appellant)

Aikens v. California (Petitioner)

Furman v. Georgia (Petitioner)

Roper v. Simmons (Respondent)

Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (Respondent)

Hernandez v. Texas (Petitioner)

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (both Appellant and Appellee)

When Prof. Edwards spoke to the Marquette Legal Writing Society at the beginning of the semester, she advised students to read. Since receiving her advice, I have read every opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts that I can get my hands on. If I can soak in even 1% of his writing style, I will die from pure legal writing happiness. Hopefully these briefs will kick-start your reading and make you think about techniques and strategies you can incorporate into your own writing.

Finally, I highly recommend picking up Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation’s Top Advocates by Ross Guberman. We use this book in Prof. Edwards’s class, and it is simply fantastic.

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Five Oral Argument Tips

This past summer I had the amazing opportunity to intern with the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (thank you, Professor Hammer, for organizing such a rewarding internship program). I would highly recommend this internship to anyone. For me, the internship was truly a once in a lifetime experience since, as many of you may know, I am a major moot court nerd. While interning at the Seventh Circuit, I observed upwards of seventy oral arguments, including a rehearing en banc, a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act case, and a death penalty case. During these arguments, I would take notes on attorney conduct, questions from the judges, and the overall atmosphere of the courtroom. I would like to share with you the top five oral arguments tips I learned while at the Seventh Circuit.

(1) Answer the Judge’s Question Directly

Questions are a gift because they allow you to know exactly what is bothering the judge. Too often, people see questions as an interruption or a nuisance and, thus, fail to take full advantage of the opportunity the question presents. I cannot tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “You’re not answering my question,” and the follow-up phrase, “It’s a simple yes or no answer.” The best way to handle questions is to answer directly—preferably with a yes or no when appropriate—and then say, “Let me explain.” This answers the judge’s question and also signals that further explanation is necessary. When you dodge a judge’s question, you lose credibility and frustrate the judge. 

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