Clarity in writing is a life’s work. Any
suggestion about clarity is contextual and
likely has at least one (and perhaps many)
exceptions. Avoiding ambiguity, however,
is an important part of writing.
Stated simply, ambiguity is caused
either by context or word choice.
Ambiguity caused by context is, well, con-text-dependent and can be minimized by
close editing. Ambiguity caused by word
choice, however, is more easily avoided. As
a prime example, third-person personal
pronouns (he, she, it, they, them) often are
ambiguous. Unless used in the simplest
sentence, “it” likely can refer to two or
more things, slowing down the flow while
the reader tries to determine what “it” is.
Even when not used in an ambiguous way,
because “it” often is ambiguous, the read-
er may perceive an ambiguity and stop
to search for clarification of an ambiguity
that does not exist. A better approach is to
focus on word choice and be cautious in
using words that cause, or appear to cause,
A request for attorneys’ fees must be made
in the briefs or motion filed before oral
argument or submission of the appeal and
must specify the statute, rule, case, contract or other authority for such an award.
Hint: Citing Arizona Rule of Civil
Appellate Procedure 21 without a substantive source authorizing an award doesn’t
suffice. A client successful on appeal may
not be particularly happy if a fee request
is denied as untimely or not properly
supported. Don’t steal defeat from the
jaws of victory; make sure any fee request
is timely and properly supported.
Specify the Relief Requested
Appellants want something fixed. Often,
the fix will be clear, but not always. If the
39 DECEMBER 2013 ARIZONA ATTORNEY www.azbar.org/AZAttorney
briefs don’t say what should be fixed, the
issue is left to court’s somewhat unenlight-
ened guess. To avoid such guessing, all par-
ties should specify the relief requested.
Is the proper relief reversing? Reversing
and remanding? Reversing with a specific
direction on remand? Affirming? Affirming
in part and reversing in part? Modifying
the judgment or sentence? Dismissing the
appeal? Declining jurisdiction? Accepting
jurisdiction and granting relief? Think
about the proper relief to request early in
the drafting process. Then make sure the
brief specifies the relief requested and the
arguments support that relief.
Let me conclude by how I started: Every
case is unique, every judge is different and
every suggestion has exceptions. It is my
hope, however, that these thoughts of one
rookie appellate judge help further the art
of writing appellate briefs.
Writing Appellate Briefs