How To Order Your Arguments

As a very general rule, arguments in a brief should appear in order of descending power or importance.  A judge may stop reading on reaching a clearly winning argument or on deciding that the opening briefing is so weak as not to justify more time.  Either way, there is no benefit in saving the best for last.  There are a few exceptions:

  • Jurisdictional arguments normally go first, even if they are not the strongest.  If the jurisdictional argument is a winner, the court has no power to rule on the remaining arguments.  A judge may not appreciate having to read pages of substantive arguments before reaching a dispositive jurisdictional point.
  • Other arguments that will be dispositive if accepted, like statute of limitations, should appear early in the brief on the same reasoning.
  • Arguments that raise the rights of absent third parties often should lead.  A court will not rule on the merits in the absence of an indispensable third party, so it makes sense to resolve early whether the third party must be joined.
  • Very short arguments might be offered early even if they are not the strongest.  This depends on the relative strength and the characteristics of the various arguments.  A short argument that accurately and fairly casts the opponent in a negative light might be made early so that the remaining arguments are seen in that light.  A weak and technical short argument is best left to the end or omitted.
  • The number and complexity of the facts required to present the argument may affect the placement.  A judge may absorb all the facts at once, in an opening presentation, or a judge may more easily absorb an initial overview of the facts followed by briefing of specific arguments and the facts relevant to those arguments.
  • Some arguments build on an earlier argument or make sense only after an earlier argument. Look for any logical connections that impact the ordering of the arguments.