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In Alabama it is unusual to have the opportunity to argue the merits of your appeal, in person, to the judges who will decide it.  Oral argument happens only infrequently.  Indeed, the Alabama Lawyer, the magazine of the Alabama State Bar announced the death of oral argument in one of its articles over ten years ago.  While it has always been true that the best opportunity to make your case is through the briefs, in Alabama it is likely your only opportunity to tell the appellate court why your side should prevail.

Use Syllogisms – As Simple As Possible

To begin, be as simple as possible.  Where possible use a three sentence syllogism.  A syllogism is a form of legal reasoning in which a conclusion is drawn from two or more premises.

Think about your syllogism as having three parts:

  1. A sentence about the law;
  2. A sentence about the facts;
  3. The conclusion you want the court to draw from the law and facts.

For example if you wanted to show that someone broke the law by running a light your syllogism might be:

  1. The law requires people to stop at an intersection when the traffic light is red;
  2. John drove through the intersection when the traffic light was red;
  3. Therefore, John broke the law.

While you may be tempted to expand and include more facts and more law into your syllogism, try to make it as simple and as short as possible.  Then in subsequent paragraphs you can expand into more detail.

A great place to do this is in the “Summary of Argument” section, required by the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

The Rules Tell You How to Organize the Appellate Brief

What to say is the most important part of your brief, and compact syllogism should be the starting point of each and every argument.  But there are also rules on where to say what you’re going to write – and in what order.

Alabama Appellate Rule 28 provides that guidance.  The Alabama Judicial System makes copies of the appellate rules available for free online.  You can review Rule 28 here.

Say More With Less

The rules of Appellate Procedure allow 70 pages in which to make your argument.  It’s even more when you consider that many of the pages don’t count towards the limit.  However, no judge wants to read 70 pages if they could have read just 50, 30, or 25.  Like the syllogism, the shorter the better.

Where to Go for More Help:

  1. Read as much as you can of Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges by Bryan Garner and Antonin Scalia.  Once you’ve finished it, the best parts again.  It’s a short book, and if your library doesn’t have it, shame on them.
  2. Read, re-read, and then triple check your brief against Appellate Rule 28 to make sure you’ve got each of the required sections, then check out Appellate Rule 32 to make check your formatting;
  3. Still have questions?  Check out the State’s appellate court website, and their Frequently Asked Questions page;
  4. Check out this classic article on brief writing by one of the nation’s most best appellate judges, Judge Posner;
  5. Contact the lawyers of Browne House Appeal about taking on your case, or giving advice on an hourly basis to help you prosecute or defend your appeal.

Whatever you do, don’t rely solely on this article.  Times change, rules change, and different circumstances call for different approaches.  To the extent possible, seek help from a qualified attorney.