Inside Track: Hate Formatting Appellate Briefs? There's an App for That:

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  • Hate Formatting Appellate Briefs? There's an App for That

    Writing an appellate brief requires attention not only to details of the case, but also to very specific formatting requirements. A new web application from the State Bar of Wisconsin Appellate Practice Section allows lawyers and pro se litigants to generate correctly formatted briefs.

    Colleen D. Ball

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    Sept. 5, 2018 – That’s right. The Appellate Practice Section now has its own app.

    The Brief Assistant is a web application designed for anyone who finds formatting Wisconsin appellate briefs tedious and Rule 809.19 an impenetrable thicket.

    In other words, it’s for lawyers, paralegals, secretaries, and pro se litigants.

    Think Turbo Tax Meets Appellate Briefs

    The Brief Assistant allows the user to draft a correctly formatted initial brief, response brief, or reply brief that can be downloaded, saved, edited, and then filed in an appeal.

    Colleen Ballwi ballc opd gov Colleen Ball is a State Public Defender appellate attorney. She can be reached by wi ballc opd gov email or by phone at (414) 227-4805.

    It asks the user to create an account, then select which type of appellate brief to create. Then, like Turbo Tax or other document creation programs, it asks the user a string of basic questions about the appeal – such as the names of the parties, the county, and the circuit court judge.

    The Brief Assistant also asks the user to provide preliminary information for required sections of an appellate brief, such as the issues for review, the statement on oral argument and publication, the statement of case, the argument, and so forth. It provides tips for writing each one of these sections along with handy links to the applicable rules.

    Once the information is filled in, the user can generate a draft initial, response, or reply brief in a format that complies with Rule 809.19. The draft brief can be saved to the user’s computer, saved to a password-protected area of the cloud, or emailed to the user for further drafting, editing, and finalizing.

    Brief Assistant App homepage

    You have a choice of three briefs: initial, response, and reply. The app provides explanations to help you determine which brief you need.

    Two Tracks, Two Types of Users

    The app follows two tracks: one for pro se litigants and one for lawyers.

    Any lawyer can use the app for any kind of appeal (civil or criminal). We hope it will be especially helpful to solo or small-firms lawyers who may not have administrative support, and to lawyers who file appellate briefs only occasionally.

    For all users, the app even provides a handy checklist to help avoid the sort of pesky oversights that cause the court of appeals clerk’s office to reject a brief.

    For pro se users, it also provides a sample model brief so they can see just what a record cite, a case cite, an argument heading, and so forth look like in the finished product.

    Why the App is Needed

    A brief must be formatted to satisfy Rule 809.19(8), which requires very specific parameters for the form and contents of an appellate brief. Writers must pay attention to margins, font type and size, specific sections that address only certain subjects, appropriate citations to the record and law, point headings, and so forth. And the person filing the brief must submit signed certifications assuring the court of appeals that the brief actually meets these and other requirements.

    The court of appeals clerk’s office rejects briefs that do not comply with these rules. It’s not unusual for lawyers – even appellate specialists – to have a brief rejected for some oversight.

    This app lets the user generate a draft of a properly formatted appellate brief with the click of a button and hopefully avoid such rejections.

    I hope it makes preparing and filing a rules-compliant brief easier for everyone.

    Brief Assistant App list of your saved briefs

    The app saves your draft briefs to your account, allowing you to download or edit them at a later time or on another device.

    Development of the App

    The Appellate Practice Section is very grateful to four newly graduated and very talented software engineers from the Milwaukee School of Engineering. They built the app for their Senior Design Class with Professor Chris Taylor, program director of the university’s software engineering program.

    Taylor wanted the students to gain real-world experience working closely with a client putting their skills to good use developing an app for a legal nonprofit.  They chose this project and spent an entire academic year designing and testing the app.

    In addition, members of the Appellate Practice Section – and a few friends – contributed to the development of the app at various stages, from inception and initial design to testing and debugging.

    The students worked especially hard on one particular aspect of the app: so users who don’t have their own computer could at least start a brief on a library computer, a friend’s computer, a tablet, or even a smartphone, and be able to return to it later. Users can save and email draft briefs.

    Suggestions Welcomed

    Apps are never “done.” The Appellate Practice Section welcomes suggestions for enhancements.

    For more information, visit briefassistant.com, email org briefassistant wisbar wisbar briefassistant org, or visit the State Bar’s Appellate Help Desk.

    On Developing the Brief Assistant App

    “It felt like I was back in school studying a whole new, exciting field,” said Colleen Ball. “I met with the students every three weeks for the entire academic year. The students had to identify each step of the design process, break it into subparts, and estimate how many hours it would take to complete each subpart, and then report back. Along the way, they asked lots of questions about the appellate process, and we (Appellate Practice Section members involved with the project) gave feedback on their design ideas.”

    App Team Developers

    App Team Developers Man Ching Kung, Jacob Gralinski, Cal Harden, and Trevor Dickson

    The software developers who created the app as a class project at the Milwaukee School of Engineering are, from left: Man Ching Kung, Jacob Gralinski, Cal Harden, and Trevor Dickson.

    About the Author

    Colleen Ball, U.W. 1991, is a State Public Defender appellate attorney who enjoys improving access to justice, particularly for pro se parties navigating the appeals process. She has coordinated the Appellate Practice Section’s pro bono program since 1998. In 2016, she received the State Bar of Wisconsin Lifetime Legal Innovator award for leading the way in expanding the program by creating the online Appellate Help Desk. The new Brief Assistant App is her idea – and she kept the project going from start to finish.

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