Number your headings correctly.

Learn and stick with the traditional outline format.

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When I teach legal writing, I sometimes see students turn in briefs with unusual outline numbering. It’s best to learn and stick with the traditional outline format, however.

A traditional outline proceeds as follows:

I.      First-level point headings
A.   Second-level point headings
1.     Third-level point headings
a.     Fourth-level point headings

I also recommend using a few unnumbered “zero-level” headings, which can be centered and put in bold. These can include the following, depending on the task:

  • Jurisdictional Statement

  • Question Presented (or “Issues”)

  • Brief Answer

  • Facts (or “Statement of the Case”)

  • Procedural History

  • Introduction (or “Preliminary Statement”)

  • Argument Summary

  • Argument (or “Discussion”)

  • Conclusion.

Federal appellate briefs must include the following unnumbered (zero-level) headings: corporate disclosure statement (if required by FRAP 26.1), table of contents, table of authorities, jurisdictional statement, statement of the issues, statement of the case, summary of the argument, argument, conclusion, and statement of compliance (if required by FRAP 32(g)(1)). See Fed. R. App. P. 28.


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Ryan McCarl (LinkedIn | Twitter | Blog) teaches Advanced Legal Writing at the UCLA School of Law and is a partner at the law firm Rushing McCarl.