5 Stages in Editing an Appellate Brief

In a post earlier this year, Kirby Griffis argued that lawyers should not try to edit their appellate briefs in one pass. He noted that book publishers have multiple editors to go through distinct tasks, including looking at organization and structure; checking the facts; reading for transitions and flow; and proofing for grammar, spelling, and usage.

These stages roughly correspond to the roles that Betty S. Flowers identified for writing. She identified the madman, the architect, the carpenter, and the judge.The madman is creative, spewing out ideas. The architect then comes in to create order from the chaos, followed by the carpenter who examines the text line by line. In the end, the judge polishes the draft and reviews the punctuation, grammar, and usage.

Flowers’s roles makes sense. I often let my judge jump in and start criticizing my madman before the madman can get all the ideas on paper. I want to write perfectly polished drafts the first time around. It will never happen.

I also will never be able to rewrite only once. I agree with Kirby that editing should come in distinct stages because I need to look for different things and will never catch everything the first time around.

Stage one – For me, stage one focuses on the big picture. I confirm here that I have a theme that has come through clearly, and that the draft structures the arguments logically around the theme. Reviewing the headings used in the table of contents helps.

Stage two breaks out the blue pencil. I try to rearrange the points for the best impact, and cull out points and paragraphs that do not directly advance the theme or argument.

Stage three is spading, where I make sure that the record and cases say what I say they said, that the citations are pin-point citations, and that the citations are in proper form.

Stage four begins polishing. In it, I make sure that there are transitions between arguments and between the points made within each argument, and that each sentence ends emphatically.

Stage five ends the process by proofing the document for spelling and grammatical errors, and to make sure that the headings are consistent. At this stage, a second proofreader is invaluable because I often read what I meant instead of what I wrote.

How do you all review and edit your appellate briefs? Please leave a reply or reach me at www.attorneyroberthill.com.

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