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Writing a bad brief can cost you. Hint: Avoid the Mike Tyson quotes

Baddest of the Bad

By Michael Goodwin

Bad briefing loses cases and clients. Sometimes a brief is so bad that its badness, by itself, will be grounds for dismissal.

For a New York lawyer, bad brief writing was among the transgressions that resulted in a 2-year suspension of his license. According to the state court opinion, the lawyer’s “shockingly poor” briefs were “replete with defects such as incorrect clients’ names, inclusion of irrelevant boilerplate, and reference to evidence that had not been submitted.”

What are some other ways to write a bad brief? Here are a few:

Wordiness:  A lengthy brief replete with irrelevant facts and inapposite legal doctrine is rarely helpful to the court. It is almost never a good idea to exceed the court’s word limit, especially by more than 4,000 words.

Overblown rhetoric: Be careful with hyperbole. One federal judge took a lawyer to task for overuse of phrases like “failures are staggering, violations of this magnitude rarely occur, stunning display of incompetence, bitter irony, breathtaking dereliction of duty.”

Grammatical errors: Everyone makes an occasional typo, but when the court compares your writing to that of a fourth grader, it is a safe bet that your brief was not persuasive.

Cutting and pasting: It may be okay to re-use parts of briefs (assuming you check the legal authority to make sure it is still valid), but it is pretty obvious when you cut and paste the facts from another case.

Questionable authority: It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it is hard to imagine what this attorney was thinking in using the movie The Hangover to frame his argument for a new trial (complete with an expletive-laden quote from Mike Tyson).


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