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Punch Up Your Briefs by Using Parentheticals

punch up your brief by using parentheticals

Have you ever read a brief in which the writer discussed every case in the text instead of using parentheticals to explain the relevance of some of the cited cases? If so, you probably thought the brief was wordy and plodding. You can avoid writing a such brief by skillfully using parentheticals.

First, it is important to know when not to use parentheticals. Generally, you should discuss the cases that are most important to your argument in the text. When you do this, you devote at least a few sentences (even, perhaps, a paragraph or more to a leading or controlling case) to discussing the facts of the case and the resulting rule, and explaining why the court should follow the case discussed in the text in your case by analogizing your case to the case discussed. (Of course, in some instances you’re stuck with the opposite problem: explaining why your case is distinguishable from the leading or controlling case.)

Parentheticals are used for cases that are relevant to your point but don’t merit full textual discussion. The citations followed by parentheticals are often introduced by the “see also” or “E.g.” signals.

In The Stellar Parenthetical Illustration: A Tool to Open Doors in a Tight Job Market, 19 Perspectives Teaching Legal Res. & Writing 35 (2010), author Laurie Lewis discusses four types of parentheticals. First is the parenthetical used for elucidation, which is the parenthetical’s most important function. In this type of parenthetical, “the writer provides a specific example of how a rule is applied in a previous case. The narrative helps clarify the rule by placing it in context.”

The second type of parenthetical is for elimination. This type of parenthetical “can serve to eliminate rule interpretations other than the one the legal writer intends.”

The third type of parenthetical is for affiliation. This type of parenthetical can be used to make a rule more meaningful. The…writer employs familiar terms to enhance the reader’s understanding.”

Finally, the fourth type of parenthetical is used for accentuation. This type of parenthetical “emphasizes the rule’s effect, and can be quite dramatic in presentation.”

Parentheticals should always start with a lowercase letter; begin with a verb ending in “ing”; describe the court’s action; not include articles or ending puncutation (unless the parenthetical is a full sentence quote); and not exceed one sentence in length. A few well-chosen citations followed by parentheticals should take the place of string cites, which should rarely be used.


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