Any seasoned brief writer will tell you how important it is that your brief has a “theme.” What is meant is that it’s important that the brief tell a story, whatever it may be, that helps present the client’s position in a way that will create the best chance for success in the appeal.  That theme should be able to be stated in one sentence (X should win because …. ) and the theme should be pushed forward in every section of a brief. That concept is not difficult and most lawyers writing an appeal brief are able to follow that strategy to some extent. But what can you do to make your brief a little different and memorable, to reinforce that theme.

Try using a famous or notable quotation that fits your theme.

Famous quotes are memorable. Clever or historic statements made fifty or one-hundred (or many more) years ago are still quoted today and many are in common usage as a part of our culture.  So, if you can find a notable quote that encompasses the theme of your appeal brief in just a few words, don’t be hesitant to use it. The quote can then possibly become the appellate court’s catch-phrase for your appeal, which then frames the appeal in your client’s favor.

I don’t use this technique in every appellate brief I write, but I do use it often.  I usually set the quotation out in italics just below the title for the Argument section of the brief, then reference the quote in my opening paragraph. In an appeal where I represented a former college football assistant coach in his defamation lawsuit against the NCAA, in which he alleged the NCAA had leaked defamatory statements about him to the news media during an investigation that ultimately proved him innocent of the violations being rumored, I used the following quote:

“Where do I go to get my reputation back?”

– Ray Donovan, Secretary of Labor in Reagan administration, after being acquitted in a 1987 criminal trial even though assumed guilty by the media.

Signature of Aldous Huxley

Signature of Aldous Huxley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an another appeal, while writing an appellee’s brief where the appellant’s brief presented only a bare Statement of Facts in order to avoid disclosing the numerous adverse facts, I used this quote:

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

– Aldous Huxley, British novelist, 1894-1964.

And in an appeal brief where the opposing side had a mountain of case law on its side to support a ruling that would make a fair-minded person cringe, I used this little proverb:

“Much law, but little justice.”

– From Rodney Dale, A Treasury of Essential Proverbs, 2004.

With a little thought and review of a few quotations books, you can probably find one that may be of use.  However, keep in mind that if the opposing party is able to file a reply brief, the opposing lawyer may try and find a quote that snaps back at the one you’ve used.  Give that some consideration, but if you’ve got a great quote that encompasses the theme of your appeal, give it a try.  Appellate court judges never complain when a brief is “too” interesting.

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