The 1L Appellate Brief

I have been pretty absent from blogging recently... all of my spare time, and then some, has been devoted to my appellate brief. For those new to the law school lifestyle, most law schools require a legal research and writing class. Generally, second semester of your first year, the big assignment that determines most of your grade is an appellate brief process over a big legal fact problem.

For my class, we were given a fact pattern involving trademark infringement. First, we did a serious of research reports, then a trial brief and lastly the 30-page appellate brief that I turned in on Monday. I still have an oral argument that is ungraded and I will be done with legal research and writing!

I am not going to lie- this was the hardest writing assignment I have ever had. It took forever, given the amount of my grade it represented I had to be a perfectionist, and we had a really complex fact pattern and law to deal with. However, now that it is over and turned in, I am feeling pretty good about the work I did and proud of myself for completing such a huge assignment.

What is an Appellate Brief?
(I am going to give you the cliff notes version because your respective professor will give you the precise outline and information on what you need to do.)
An appellate brief is submitted to urge an appellate court to affirm or reverse the lower court decision. The Appellant is the moving/appealing party seeking a reversal while the Appellee is the non-moving party asking for affirmation of the lower decision. It is generally a large document written very persuasivly in regards to your parties position. In real court, these briefs are what the appellate court looks to for the information they use to make a decision. In the law school arena, this is an exercise in legal research and persusasive writing. 

The Process
Basically, the way it went at my school is that we were given the fact pattern, assigned plaintiff or defendant and asked to start research when spring semester began. From there, we had a series of research assignments to really hone the cases and the related law. This was challenging because the problem we dealt with had an applicable 8-factor legal test to decide the case. That was a lot of law to consider and learn. All said and done, I think I used about 15 cases to make my arguments.

The next step was to write a persuasive trial brief for the plaintiff or defendant. I had plaintiff side and this paper rounded out at about 18 pages complete.

Once the trial brief was over, they adjusted our facts to add what happened in the fictional "trial" and we were swapped from our existing side and given the opposing side to write the appellate brief in favor of. This was the most challenging thing for me- I had to turn off my advocate in my head for the plaintiff and start advocating for the defendant. It took a bit to wrap my head around that.

I had about 3 weeks to write my appellate brief. It went reallyyyy fast. I worked steadily on it a little bit at a time and finally turned in the 30-page final project this Monday.

Sticking with the appellate brief sides, we are doing an oral argument next week for no grade but we get feedback and it doubles as a try out for moot court if you choose to do so.

Some Tips to Ease the Process
1. Start EARLY
I know you probably hear that from every teacher under the sun but seriously, start really early. This is not like those papers in undergrad that you could knock out in a long weekend or an all nighter. If you want a return of a good grade, you have to put in ample work over time to ensure it is quality. The more time you have, the more time you have to write a little bit at a time so you don't get burnt out, rework on a sentence level for maximum persuasiveness and to edit edit edit.

2. If possible, meet with Professor
Not all professors will meet with you in regards to the brief and looking over your work. If they are willing to, I highly suggest doing so. They are the grader and they have more experience so whatever they have to say will probably have a positive impact on your grade. Another set of eyes, especially the highly trained eyes of your professor, is always a good idea.

3. Make time to look at it with Fresh Eyes
Finish early and leave yourself ample time for editing. I find it best to take a little time away from the paper and returning to it with fresh eyes. I find that I catch a lot more mistakes and have better luck rephrasing when I do this.

4. Find a Stopping Point
There comes a point where you have done everything you can do and you need to stop nitpicking your paper. Eventually, you just need to stop and turn it in- staying up all night and editing will not make a huge difference- in your tired state you may do more harm than good. Start early, leave time for editing and find a stopping point to press submit and be done.

The appellate brief is hard but you can do it. The feeling you have when you turn it in is one of relief and extreme pride knowing you completed such a huge accomplishment. Then, you put it out of your mind as grades won't be out until after the semester and the exam grind is on.

As for me, I should probably get back to outlining! No rest for the wicked... or law students...

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