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What is a Brief?

Updated on March 24, 2010

A brief, in law, a document prepared by an attorney as the basis for the argument of his case, usually in an appellate court. Supplied for the information of the judge and the opposing party, a brief has three functions: (1) to state the main facts as disclosed by the record; (2) to frame the issues, that is, to provide a reliable formulation of what the dispute concerns; and (3) to present the arguments of counsel.

When the two sides cannot reach a mutually agreeable statement of the facts, the fact function of the brief becomes more important. The brief gives each attorney the opportunity to emphasize what he views as the significant facts and to minimize the lesser ones. In general, however, the most important part of the brief is the attorney's "framing," or formulation, of the issues. Its purpose is to present to the judge in concise form the question in controversy and to acquaint him with the general outlines of the case. The final function of the brief involves applying the law to the facts of the case, that is, presenting tile argument. In an attempt to convince the judge that the case under review should be decided in a particular manner, the attorney refers to earlier decisions reached in similar cases, as well as secondary legal authorities such as statements made in legal treatises and law review articles. With opposing sides presenting their briefs, the judge is given a comprehensive view of the facts, issues, and applicable law.

In appellate courts in the United States it is a general rule diat both parties should file briefs, although in a few states it is left to the option of the attorneys. If briefs are required, the failure of the appellant (the party appealing the decision of the lower court) to file one may result in the dismissal of his appeal; the appellee's failure to file generally results in a reversal of the lower court's decision. In trial courts a brief is usually filed only when the court orders it or state statute requires it. The judge may also avail himself of briefs filed by others who are interested in the case.

In English court practice, the brief is more of a preparatory document, written by an attorney (solicitor) and given to the barrister (trial counsel). It contains the information necessary for the conduct of the client's case.

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