What is a Trial Brief?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 07 February 2020
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A trial brief is a formal statement presented to a court to provide information about a person's position in a case, familiarizing the judge with terminology, arguments, and other matters. For some types of cases, people may be required to file a brief and in others, it is a good idea to prepare one. Judges can also request briefing on particular matters in a case to make sure they fully understand them and are prepared to handle the case appropriately.

In a trial brief, people set out information about their position and back it with citations referring to existing legal scholarship. The goal is to explain why this position should be aired in court and to support it. People can also provide information about topics in the case if there is a concern the judge might not be familiar. In a case involving environmental remediation, for example, the trial brief could define it, provide information about different approaches, and clarify the acronyms and language used in discussions about remediation so the judge will understand the case as thoroughly as possible.


Trial briefs are prepared by the legal team as part of the overall process of getting ready to present a legal case in court. Briefs offer people a chance to start articulating, exploring, and backing up arguments before they hit the courtroom. The response to a brief can also provide useful guidance. A judge may, for example, believe that a legal reference is questionable or fail to see how a cited document supports a claim being made. Rather than presenting this again in court, the attorney can find better approaches.

Like other legal documents, a trial brief is written in formal language and the wording is chosen very carefully to make sure the communication is clear. Various members of the legal team can be involved in drafting the document. The attorney in charge of the case will review it, request changes if needed, and submit the final version of the trial brief to the court. Trial briefs using highly informal or casual language are generally frowned upon.

Judges review their trial briefs carefully, along with other information pertaining to the case. They want to thoroughly understand the legal matters underlying the topic at hand so they can make fair rulings throughout the case in response to motions made by both parties. The judge is also ultimately responsible for sentencing or making a ruling, depending on the type of case, and wants to be sure the case is handled fairly and in accordance with existing jurisprudence.


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