R. 2:6-2(a), Contents of Appellant’s Brief, lists the required section headings for formal briefs submitted on behalf of an appellant. Among these are a concise Procedural History, a concise Statement of Facts and the Legal Argument. R. 2:6-2(a)(6) adds to these an “optional Preliminary Statement.” While clearly not required, many judges consider the Preliminary Statement the most important part of any brief. Placing this section front and center allows the attorney to paint with a broad brush and tell the judges from the start what the issues are and what they should look for in the remaining portions of the brief.
Most judges indicate that they first read the Preliminary Statement and then the point headings of the Legal Argument as listed in the Table of Contents in order to get their feel for the issues. Presenting a well-written Preliminary Statement and clear and concise argument point headings is critical to the success of any brief. Going this step beyond will focus the attention of the judges and enhance the chance of success.
Also not required under the rules is a section heading listing the applicable Standard of Review. It is not necessary to cite endless lists of cases setting forth the standard, but all too often this information is completely overlooked in appellate briefs. Including this section directly before or at the beginning of the Legal Argument presents the judges with the specific way in which they must determine whether or not the ruling below was correct or erroneous and whether it can withstand an attack on appeal. While not required in an appellate brief under the rules, a Standard of Review is included by New Jersey appellate courts in nearly all decisions whether approved for publication or unpublished.
Above all, don’t ignore the most obvious. Make your brief easy to read so as not to annoy or bore the reader. The Procedural History and Statement of Facts should read as narratives, easily understood by a person untrained in the law. Going a step beyond means making it as easy as possible for the reader to understand what the writer has written. This includes referring the reader to the specific page, paragraph and even the line where critical language contained in an appendix may appear. Keep your brief “short and sweet,” direct and to the point and you will have gone a step beyond for the client.
Rule 2:6-2(a), Contents of Appellant’s Brief, can be viewed here.