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WSLL @ Your Service   February, 2007
An E-publication of the Wisconsin State Law Library

To our Readers: It’s been about five years since we last covered the topic of Wisconsin briefs in an issue of WSLL @ Your Service. A few things have changed since then, so in this issue we update you on where and how to locate briefs, provide some general information about Wisconsin briefs, and highlight some resources in our collection on the topic of brief writing. We hope you find it useful. – Editor

Accessing Briefs @ WSLL – Angela Sanfilippo

Are you looking for the briefs for a Wisconsin Court of Appeals or Supreme Court case? Visit or call WSLL. We have briefs and appendices for all Wisconsin appellate cases for which an opinion has been ordered published or unpublished. Coverage dates back to the beginning of each Court: approximately 1839 for the territorial and early state Supreme Court; 1853 for the re-established separate Supreme Court; and 1978 for the Court of Appeals. Depending on the age of the case, the briefs are available in print, on microfiche, on CD-ROM, and/or freely on the web.

WSLL receives a copy of the briefs after they have been distributed to the appropriate court. Using the Wisconsin Supreme Court & Court of Appeals (WSCCA) case access database, look at the “Case History” to verify whether WSLL has received the briefs for recently filed cases. The most current briefs are housed in the WSLL Wisconsin Collections Office, where they are processed and shelved in docket number order. Once an opinion has been published or listed in a table of unpublished opinions in Wisconsin Reports, the briefs are scanned to our internal database; the printed pages are bound into large volumes and shelved in order by Wis. Reports citation; and the electronic files are sent to the UW Law Library, which provides free access on their Wisconsin Briefs website. It generally takes 12-18 months from the date of the decision to availability of the briefs on the website. To verify what’s available there, check the scope statement at the top of the homepage.

WSLL does not keep or archive briefs for cases that have been summarily disposed or otherwise terminated. To access the briefs for such cases, or to obtain copies of motions, orders or other filings kept only in the official correspondence files, contact the office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court & Court of Appeals.

Briefs kept at WSLL circulate to Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges and staff only. Others may come to the library to read or copy them. You may also utilize WSLL’s fee-based Document Delivery Service to request hard copies of briefs or to request that WSLL scan briefs and appendices on-demand and e-mail them to you in PDF file format for 75 cents per page, plus sales tax where applicable. For more information, please contact our Reference Desk.


Tech Tip in Brief – Heidi Yelk

Finding Briefs on the Web

Here in Wisconsin, we are fortunate to have free web access to nearly 15 years’ worth of state court appellate briefs as well as a respectable archive of 7th Circuit federal court briefs. Briefs from other jurisdictions are also available on the web, but coverage is less extensive.

A great source for finding briefs from other jurisdictions is Michael Whiteman’s Free and Fee Based Appellate Court Briefs Online. This well-organized, interactive article lets you jump to various sources for briefs and also provides scope information for each resource. WSLL patrons should also note the article’s section about briefs on Westlaw and Lexis. If a brief you need is available on either of those fee-based services, WSLL librarians can retrieve it for a fee. Please contact our Reference Desk for assistance in finding appellate briefs for cases in Wisconsin or any other jurisdiction.

Wisconsin Briefs “Factoid” -- Julie Tessmer

When did it all start?
The first term of the separate Wisconsin Supreme Court commenced on June 1, 1853. The court’s first case was Winnie v. Nickerson, which involved a $10.40 debt and $14.36 in court costs. The dispute centered on a question of the reliability of an account book. Source: Timeline from the 2005-2006 Wisconsin Blue Book feature article The Wisconsin Court System: Demystifying the Judicial Branch. (Timeline begins on page 181.)

Why are they called “briefs” when many of them are so long?
It’s true that the word brief is derived from the Latin adjective brevis, which means “short, low, little, shallow” and dates back to 1292. However, Etymonline.com indicates that by 1631, the use of the noun derivative breve had evolved to mean “letter of authority” which in turn led to the modern, legal sense of “summary of the facts of a case.”

Not only are briefs long, but there are also lots of them!
The Library’s Wisconsin Briefs collection is anything but brief! Currently at 6200 bound volumes, it continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

What do the different colored covers on Wisconsin briefs signify?
The color of the cover serves to identify what type of brief it is. An appellant’s brief cover is blue, respondent’s is red, and the appellant’s reply brief is gray. An amicus curiae brief has a green cover, a Guardian ad Litem brief is yellow, and an appendix to any brief has a white cover. Online briefs don't show the colors, but information found on each cover states which party filed it.

Where can I find information about how to file a brief with the Court of Appeals?
See the Court of Appeals brief filing FAQ webpage.

What about information on how to file an appeal?
See the Citizen’s Guide to Filing an Appeal in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. For information about how cases are filed with the Supreme Court, see their new publication, Filing a Petition for Review: A Guide to Seeking a Review in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

I’d like to know more about the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, including caseload statistics.
The Supreme Court and Court of Appeals webpages provide information about the judges, functions and activities of each court. Statistical reports and other publications are found on the Wisconsin Court System’s “publications” page.

This Just In… - - Pete Boll

In keeping with the theme of this month’s issue, here are several library titles that provide guidance in writing legal briefs.

The Winning Brief: 100 Tips for Persuasive Briefing in Trial and Appellate Courts, 2nd edition / Bryan A. Garner. Oxford University Press, 2004.
Call Number KF 251 .G37 2004

Bryan Garner, editor of Black’s Law Dictionary, has put together 100 tips for writing clear, concise, and persuasive legal briefs. Some deal with major issues (“Frame the deep issues at the outset, so that you meet the 90-second test.”), and others are more specific in nature (“Strike ‘pursuant to’ from your vocabulary.”). Thorough explanations and practical examples are given for each tip. Especially helpful are “before and after” paragraphs written with and without heeding Garner’s tips. The writing in the “after” paragraphs is more concise and easier to understand.

Winning On Appeal : Better Briefs and Oral Argument, 2nd edition / Ruggero J. Aldisert. National Institute for Trial Advocacy, 2003.
Call Number KF 9050 .A935 2003

In this greatly expanded second edition, Aldisert, a forty-five year veteran of the federal appeals bench, provides an extensive overview of the appellate review process. No less than 14 of the 25 chapters delve deep into the thought process and mechanics of brief writing, which cover:

  • Requirements for briefs at the federal and state court levels
  • Stating the issues and facts of the case
  • Stating the theme of the brief
  • Identifying the flashpoint of controversy
  • Identifying the logical form for each issue
  • Shortening and perfecting the argument, and writing to persuade

The book also includes a compendium of advice on brief writing given by both state and federal appellate judges.

The Amicus Brief: How to Be a Good Friend of the Court, 2nd edition / Reagan Wm. Simpson and Mary R. Vasaly. American Bar Association, 2004.
Call Number KF 251 .R42 2004

The amicus brief, filed by the amicus curiae or friend of the court, has its roots in ancient Rome and was intended to provide a court with legal information that was beyond its notice or expertise. The role of the amicus brief has changed little since fist appearing in England in the seventeenth century. In an easy to read style, Simpson and Vasaly present important topics to consider in preparing to submit an amicus brief, including:

  • Who may file an amicus brief and why
  • When and how to seek amicus support
  • Functions of the amicus brief
  • How to write an effective amicus brief
  • Responding to an amicus brief
  • Ethical considerations in filing an amicus brief

The appendix provides amicus brief examples and excerpts from such top names as Professors Laurence Tribe and Robert Rains, Pamela Stanton Barron, Roger Townsend, and Karen Grundy.

Persuasive Written and Oral Advocacy in Trial and Appellate Courts / Michael R. Fontham et al. Aspen Law and Business, 2002.
Call Number KF 251 .F658 2002

Divided into four parts, this book covers all aspects of producing effective written and oral advocacy. Part I discusses persuasive legal writing, including organization, writing for clarity, writing persuasively, and editing. Part II deals with oral argument, covering the requirements of good oral argument, and preparing, planning and delivery. Part III focuses on preparing research and trial court memoranda. Part IV covers writs and appeals, with an entire chapter on preparing appellate briefs and oral arguments containing detailed discussions of the need for preparation and efficient use of time, the importance of reviewing the record, and the various components of the appellant’s brief.

The appendices are especially useful. In Appendix I, the authors present problems and practical exercises in preparing an outline, and use a simplified abstract of facts and a few possibly controlling cases designed to let the reader extract the rule of law, identify related facts, and organize the material into an outline. Appendix II is an example of an appellate brief filed in the United States Supreme Court, in which the appellants asserted that the Court had appellate jurisdiction over the case before that jurisdiction was curtailed by Congress.

Check our library catalog for availability of these or other materials you may need. For additional assistance, please contact our Reference Desk.

Ask a Librarian:  800-322-9755; 608-267-9696 (In Madison); wsll.ref@wicourts.gov
Library Hours/Locations:  WSLL (WI State Law Library), DCLRC (Dane Co. Legal Resource Center), MLRC (Milwaukee Legal Resource Center)
Visit Our Website: http://wilawlibrary.gov

Connie Von Der Heide 608-267-2202 Comments welcome!


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