Prudent Practitioners Prune Points on Appeal

The point has often been made, including here and here, that appellants’ briefs are best off if they focus on the few best arguments available, rather than raising every conceivable argument in the hope that something will bring reversal.  Now, the Seventh Circuit has expressly endorsed that idea in its decision in Pierce v. Visteon Corp., 791 F.3d 782 (7th Cir. 2015).

Pierce was a class action.  Most of the Seventh Circuit’s decision dealt with issues as to the timeliness of the appeal and principles surrounding the award of attorneys’ fees under a fee-shifting statute.  The panel’s decisions on those issues did not go well for the attorney who represented the class, an attorney whom the Seventh Circuit criticized in its opinion by name.

As part of the court’s rejection of the attorney’s contention that his attorneys’ fee should have been higher, the panel pointed out the poor quality of his briefing.  The final substantive paragraph of the Seventh Circuit’s opinion added more criticism of his brief.  “And his brief on the merits has problems beyond those pointed out already.  It presents 13 issues for decision, violating the principle that appellate counsel must concentrate attention on the best issues.  (To brief more than three or four issues not only diverts the judges’ attention but also means that none of the issues will be addressed in the necessary depth; an appellate brief covering 13 issues can spend only a few pages on each.).”

In short, as difficult as it is, we must all recognize that if our best arguments won’t win the day, our weaker arguments certainly won’t.  Limiting appellants’ briefs to the few best points maximizes the chances of success.