Cohn's Best Practices for Brief Writing

"A brief is a composition, and it should be approached as a composition," U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn said as part of his presentation at the Federal Bar Association's annual luncheon for summer associates and law clerks last week.

"Style, composition and prose are important in your brief," Cohn said, before recommending "a little book called 'The Elements of Style' by Strunk and White."

Some of Cohn's other best practices for legal brief writing that he shared with the assembled law students and clerks included:

* "The first thing you have to understand about a brief is that it's gotta be brief."

* His preference for including with a brief copies of any cases that are cited within that brief.

* A brief should have a table of contents and separate, labeled sections: "It should not just run on."

* "Briefs should be self-contained." Cohn said that for judges who often take briefs home with them to read after-hours, there's nothing more frustrating than discovering the brief calls for something a judge didn't bring home.

* "You want to facilitate plagiarism," Cohn said, explaining that when a judge quotes directly from your brief, it should be considered a compliment. "That's the only time when I think plagiarism is appropriate and should be condoned."

Published: Tue, Jul 6, 2010


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