There are many ways to conduct legal research, but perhaps the most powerful is through the utilization of one specific document: the legal brief. A brief is a document submitted at the beginning of a case that essentially summarizes exactly what a lawyer will argue on behalf of his or her client throughout that case. Lawyers will spend hundreds of hours preparing their briefs by conducting research in case law in order to find the specific cases that establish precedent for the specific argued. Aside from citing case law within them, legal briefs also provide lawyers with an opportunity to showcase their creativity and ability to write. There have been many famous briefs written, such as the brief written by Louis Brandeis, referred to now as the “Brandeis Brief”, which was the first brief to use empirical evidence collected through scientific processes to prove a case. There have also been many amicus briefs filed, which are filed by a third party, such as an NGO, to show support for an issue at hand. Of late, a few notable amicus briefs have been filed in the issues surrounding gay marriage. Further, different types of briefs are filed at different levels of the court. Briefs flow throughout the court system, but vary in terms of their format and objectives amongst different courses. For example, a legal brief submitted at the beginning of a case in a trial court will be arguing why a case should be ruled in favor of the party filing the brief, while a case filed at the appellate level will argue why a case should or should not be upheld.
There are a few primary steps in terms of writing a legal brief:
1) Fully understand the purpose of preparing a brief
a. The ultimate purpose is to persuade the court that your views and rationale is correct
b. A brief must present the issues at hand in a methodical way
2) Adhere to the proper format of your specific jurisdiction
a. Various courts have various ways and requirements they follow in terms of filing a brief. Make sure yours strictly adheres to these requirements.
Aside from simply writing a brief, a lawyer can utilize them for research purposes too. Searching other briefs previously filed that won a case with the same issues at hand provides a way to speed-up the research process-essentially, lawyers can use briefs to augment their own research by finding briefs filed historically with similar issues to their own. One significant aspect of this process to understand is the validity of case law used in previous briefs. If lawyers use briefs to find a relevant topic, they should make sure to check that the cases cited in that brief are still good law-in other words, that the opinions cited haven’t been overturned since the brief was filed.