Inside Track: 'Punchy' Headings and Good Citations: Lessons from Winners of 'Best Briefs' Competition:

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  • 'Punchy' Headings and Good Citations: Lessons from Winners of 'Best Briefs' Competition

    Learn tips from the winners of the Appellate Practice Section's second "Best Briefs" competition. Congratulations to the winners – and consider joining in the celebration on June 29 in Milwaukee.

    Shelley Fite

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    June 20, 2018 – Loyal InsideTrack readers may recall that the State Bar’s Appellate Practice Section held its first-ever “Best Briefs” competition last year to recognize exceptional appellate writing.

    The competition recognizes great writers, promotes appellate advocacy, and identifies briefs that can be used as models for new and improving appellate lawyers.

    Time flies, and now the second competition – for briefs filed in appellate cases decided in 2016 and 2017 – has come to a close.

    Charles W. Giesen and Jessica Jean Giesen

    Charles W. Giesen and Jessica Jean Giesen of Giesen Law Offices S.C., Madison.

    Ryan J. Walsh

    Ryan J. Walsh, Wisconsin Department of Justice, Madison.

    But first, the winners are …

    Charles W. Giesen and Jessica Jean Giesen of Giesen Law Offices S.C., Madison, for the defense brief filed in the Supreme Court of Wisconsin in State v. Stietz.

    Ryan J. Walsh, Wisconsin Department of Justice, Madison, for the state's brief filed in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139 v. Schimel.

    The Process

    Just like with the first competition, we asked State Bar members to nominate real briefs filed in real appellate cases. This time, the contest was open to any brief filed in a case that was resolved between March 31, 2016, and Dec. 31, 2017. Our web form on WisBar.org made nominating anonymous and easy. Once the nomination period ended, State Bar staff redacted the authors’ names and passed on the nominated briefs to Appellate Practice Section volunteers.

    We were very pleased to get about 40 nominations. Six section members, representing diverse areas of practice, whittled those down to 20 excellent briefs.

    The 20 finalists went to three judges, to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude: Justice Louis Butler, former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice; and Judge Richard Brown and Judge Pat Curley, both retired from the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

    We were lucky that these dedicated jurists were willing to come together to form an unusual appellate panel. They did a fantastic job finding deserving winners.

    The Winning Briefs

    In the end, the judges chose two briefs – two very different briefs.

    Shelley FiteShelley Fite, U.W. 2006, is an associate federal defender at Federal Defender Services of Wisconsin Inc.

    The first is a criminal defense brief filed in the Wisconsin Supreme Court in State v. Stietz, by Charles and Jessica Giesen, that garnered a rare defense win in that court.

    The second was a State’s brief filed in a civil case challenging Wisconsin’s new “right-to-work” law, by Ryan Walsh, which prevailed in the Seventh Circuit.

    You wouldn’t think that these two briefs would have much in common. But upon closer look, you can see similarities that reveal why they are so good:

    • They both use clear, fresh, jargon-free language.

    • They avoid boilerplate and stay on message throughout.

    • They have punchy headings that keep their factual and argument sections moving and provide readers with a handy road map.

    • They argue persuasively for their positions without getting overheated, and they make sure that factual and legal propositions come with citations.

    The Next Competition

    The next competition is already underway. It covers briefs filed in cases resolved between Jan. 1, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2019.

    The Appellate Practice Section has an improved nomination page on our State Bar webpage, which allows for ongoing nominations. As always, nominators are completely anonymous.

    Since the competition won’t be judged until early 2020, any time you read or write a great brief, go ahead and nominate it – there’s no need to wait for the case to be decided.

    In early 2020, when it’s time to get judging again, we will pull all the briefs and check whether their cases were resolved yet. If so, these briefs will be considered in the next competition.

    Join in the Celebration

    Celebrate these fine briefs and their writers on Friday, June 29. All are welcome! Here is the information about the event:

    Date: Friday, June 29

    Time: 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. A short program begins at 5:15 p.m.

    Location: County Clare Irish Pub 1234 N. Astor St., Milwaukee

    Justice Louis Butler will kick off the awards ceremony with a discussion of great brief-writing. After we give out the awards, there is time to network and socialize with appellate practitioners and jurists. There will be hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. We hope to see you there.

    More About the Author

    Shelley Fite previously spent seven years in the Appellate Division of the Wisconsin State Public Defender and is immediate past chairperson of the Appellate Practice Section Board, and chair of the competition committee.




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