Brief (Lat. brevis, short), in English legal practice, the written statement given to a barrister to form the basis of his case. It was probably so called from its at first being only a copy of the original writ. Upon a barrister devolves the duty of taking charge of a case when it comes into court, but all the preliminary work, such as the drawing up of the case, serving papers, marshalling evidence, etc., is performed by a solicitor, so that a brief contains a concise summary for the information of counsel of the case which he has to plead, with all material facts in chronological order, and frequently such observations thereon as the solicitor may think fit to make, the names of witnesses, with the "proofs," that is, the nature of the evidence which each witness is ready to give, if called upon. The brief may also contain suggestions for the use of counsel when cross-examining witnesses called by the other side. Accompanying the brief may be copies of the pleadings (see Pleading), and of all documents material to the case. The brief is always endorsed with the title of the court in which the action is to be tried, with the title of the action, and the names of the counsel and of the solicitor who delivers the brief. Counsel's fee is also marked.
The delivery of a brief to counsel gives him authority to act for his client in all matters which the litigation involves. The result of the action is noted on the brief by counsel, or if the action is compromised, the terms of the compromise are endorsed on each brief and signed by the leading counsel on the opposite side. In Scotland a brief is called a memorial.
In the United States the word has, to a certain extent, a different meaning, a brief in its English sense not being required, for the American attorney exercises all the functions distributed in England between barristers and solicitors. A lawyer sometimes prepares for his own use what is called a "trial brief" for use at the trial. This corresponds in all essential particulars with the "brief" prepared by the solicitor in England for the use of counsel. But the more distinctive use of the term in America is in the case of the brief "in error or appeal," before an appellate court. This is a written or printed document, varying according to circumstances, but embodying the argument on the question affected. Most of the appellate courts require the filing of printed briefs for the use of the court and opposing counsel at a time designated for each side before hearing. In the rules of the United States Supreme Court and circuit courts of appeals the brief is required to contain a concise statement of the case, a specification of errors relied on, including the substance of evidence, the admission or rejection of which is to be reviewed, or any extract from a charge excepted to, and an argument exhibiting clearly the points of law or fact to be discussed.
This form of brief, it may be added, is also adopted for use at the trial in certain states of the Union which require printed briefs to be delivered to the court.
In English ecclesiastical law a brief meant letters patent issued out of chancery to churchwardens or other officers for the collection of money for church purposes. Such briefs were regulated by a statute of 1704, but are now obsolete, though they are still to be found named in one of the rubrics in the Communion service of the Book of Common Prayer.
The brief-bag, in which counsel's papers are carried to and from court, now forms an integral part of a barrister's outfit, but in the early part of the 19th century the possession of a brief-bag was strictly confined to those who had received one from a king's counsel. King's counsel were then few in number, were considered officers of the court, and had a salary of £40 a year, with a supply of paper, pens and purple bags. These bags they distributed among rising juniors of their acquaintance, whose bundles of briefs were getting inconveniently large to be carried in their hands. These perquisites were abolished in 1830. English brief-bags are now either blue or red. Blue bags are those with which barristers provide themselves when first called, and it is a breach of etiquette to let this bag be visible in court. The only brief-bag allowed to be placed on the desks is the red bag, which by English legal etiquette is given by a leading counsel to a junior who has been useful to him in some important case.