We’re back with the second in our series of guest posts from recent Supreme Court of Virginia clerk and avid water skier Tommy Strelka. Today, Tommy shares some more things that his clerkship taught him about brief writing:

  • Ditch the hyperbole. Your appeal from your client’s sixth conviction of shoplifting probably does not amount to “a case of extreme jurisprudential and meritorious weight.” Don’t oversell. You will lose credibility.
  • Use the correct number of assignments of error. A petition for appeal with forty-five assignments of error is either a petition for appeal from a death penalty sentence or it is a poorly written brief. Most cases on appeal have only a handful of truly relevant and contested issues of law. You can obscure the main thrust of your argument by addressing far too many issues.
  • Craft your assignments of error with care. You define the scope of your client’s appeal. When you submit an assignment of error or question presented, you are effectively setting the bounds of your argument. But be sure not to paint yourself in a corner. Every word matters in an assignment of error. Ask yourself, “What is the real legal issue at the heart of my case?” Boil it down to a single statement and write it down. If you knew nothing about this case and another attorney read this statement, would that attorney still understand the argument of law?

I’m enjoying Tommy’s guest posts, and I hope that you are as well. Clerks have the ear of justices, and they are a primary audience for our briefs. It helps to know what they find persuasive and annoying.

Also, I like the goofy pictures he comes up with.