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Practice Pointer – Top 10 Tips for Drafting an Appellate Brief

By Haley M. Owen*

Navigating the complexities of insurance law in appellate courts requires the ability to communicate effectively with judges and staff attorneys who may be unfamiliar with insurance law. Here are ten essential tips for drafting compelling insurance law appellate briefs:

1. Understand Your Audience: Judges and staff attorneys may not have specialized knowledge (or, in fact, any experience at all) in insurance law. Write with the assumption that they need clear, concise explanations of industry-specific terms and practices. Avoid jargon and overly technical language.

2. Use Names Not Titles: In a case where there are multiple parties, insurers, reinsurers, subrogation, or other complex insurance issues, rather than using “appellant/ee,” use the parties’ names and clearly describe their roles, both in litigation and in the insurance relationship.

3. Frame the Issues Simply: Clearly state the legal issues at the heart of the appeal. Use simple, direct language to articulate these issues. Consider seeking feedback from colleagues who are less familiar with the case to ensure your arguments are accessible.

4. Provide Context: Where applicable, explain the broader context of the insurance industry and relevant legal standards. This helps the court understand the significance of specific issues within the larger framework. Highlight any broader policy implications of the court’s decision. Explain how your interpretation of the law aligns with sound public policy and the principles underlying insurance regulation.

5. Tell a Story: Present the facts in a narrative form. A coherent story helps the reader grasp the context and significance of the issues.

6. Cite Relevant Authority: Support your arguments with citations to relevant case law, statutes, and regulations, prioritizing those that are binding on the court you are before.

7. Anticipate Counterarguments: Address potential counterarguments and weaknesses in your case. By acknowledging and refuting opposing viewpoints, you gain credibility.

8. Focus on the Standard of Review: Clearly identify the applicable standard of review and tailor your arguments to meet it. The standard of review can significantly influence the court’s analysis.

9. Be Concise: Judges and staff attorneys have heavy caseloads. Respect their time by being concise and to the point. Eliminate unnecessary repetition and superfluous details.

10. Use Visual Aids: Where appropriate, include charts, timelines, tables, or diagrams to illustrate complex points. Visual aids can make dense information more digestible.

By following these tips, you can draft appellate briefs that effectively communicate complex legal issues, making it easier for judges and staff attorneys to understand and rule favorably on your arguments.

*Haley M. Owen is Staff Attorney at the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas.

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