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“The first shall be last and the last shall be first,” says Matthew 19:16-30. Rather than an orderly progression into heaven, though, I’m referring to my brief-writing approach. Regarding substantive content, I write backwards. What I mean is: the sections that appear first, such as the statement of facts and summary of the argument, I write last; the part that appears last, the argument, I write first. It may be the only thing I do where I think backwards is best. The reason I write the statement of facts last is that I need to know what the crux of the argument is, which will then determine which facts are most critical to the overall presentation and which facts are merely background or color. You might think it odd that at such a late stage in the briefing process, I would not be sure of what the focus of the argument is, but I have found that it is only in the writing of it that the argument crystallizes. And the statement of facts is so very important to the persuasiveness of your brief that you never want to use it just as a dumping ground for the “background” section of your trial brief. To wring out every bit of good that you can from a statement of facts, you want to pen a clear, concise, crisp, and specific (couldn’t think of another “c” word) narrative of the history of your case. To do that, you have to separate wheat from chaff. To do that, you have to know what the actual argument is. This is also true for writing the summary of the argument last; you cannot summarize what you have not yet written. But there is also another reason: I strive to write a summary that is no more than one page and that contains as few citations and legal buzzwords as possible. To my mind, if ever there is a place for a “plain English” approach to brief writing, the summary of the argument is it. The temptation to over-write the summary is lessened considerably if you have already purged the buzzword urge by writing the argument first. Let me stop here for a moment and reflect on the fact that what I consider one of the most critical sections of my appellant’s brief — the summary of the argument — is not even an “official” part of a brief in Connecticut practice. Unlike Federal Rule 28(a) which requires the inclusion of a summary in an appellant’s brief, our Practice Book section 67-4 does not mention it as one of the required elements of an opening brief. Don’t fear; neither is a summary prohibited (so long as you are including it in your 35 page count). In fact, I recently heard a Connecticut Supreme Court justice pleading for the inclusion of a short statement that introduces him to the contents of the brief in a summary fashion. He advocated that a summary of the argument can serve to get the reader’s attention early, before mistaken assumptions are made, and (if done correctly) will serve to engage the reader, drawing him into the story of the case. So, by all means, chop a little length out of the actual argument and dedicate a page (absolutely no more than two) to a pithy introduction at the front of your brief that tells the reader why you are there and what you expect him or her to do for you. Explain your situation in a plaintive fashion, without reliance on cases and statutes. Think of how you would explain the merits of the appeal to a colleague at a bar meeting. Start with: “this is a case about … .” and see where you go from there. You might have noticed that I spoke only of an appellant’s brief in discussing a summary of the argument. I have no hard and fast rule regarding summaries when I am the appellee. While I always want to help the court understand my position, I do not have a vested interest in helping clarify my opponent’s arguments. There are appeals where a lack of clarity is an appellee’s friend. So, the next time you are writing an appellant’s brief, after you write your argument, write your statement of facts and then take a crack at drafting a couple of paragraphs that summarize everything you just did. If you can, let someone who is unfamiliar with your case read the summary and ask what they learned about your appeal. I think you’ll be surprised at how effectively you can portray a snapshot of the grounds you rely on if you wait and do it last. The only thing you have to worry about then is a judge who reads briefs backwards. Linda L. Morkan is an appellate attorney at Robinson & Cole. If you are interested in submitting an article to law.com, please click here for our submission guidelines.

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