Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
Regent University School of Law

Friday, August 26, 2016

To Swear or Not to Swear, that is the Question....

Should judges and lawyers quote profanity in their opinions, briefs, and oral arguments?  Zoe Tillman tackled this touchy issue in a recent article on  The article, aptly entitled "In Quoting Profanity, Some Judges Give a F#%&. Others Don't," Tillman includes several quotes from federal judges on the use of profanity in judicial opinions.  Well some try to avoid it at all costs, others don't mind including it, especially if it is relevant to the case.

Tillman notes:

Profanity has become increasingly prolific in court opinions. Since 2006, the word “fuck” was quoted in approximately 445 federal appeals court opinions, according to a search of court records. That’s nearly as many as the preceding four decades combined.

While judges may have the freedom to quote profanity in an opinion, what should an attorney do in writing a brief or in oral argument?  With respect to oral argument, one option is to call the court in advance and notify the court that you plan on using profanity.  According to First Circuit Judge Bruce Selya, who was interviewed for the article, his court always gives permission when attorneys ask.

With respect to briefs, I think that calling the court to ask how these issues have been handled in the past is always a good option.  It also doesn't hurt to do your homework and know the tenure of the court that you will appear before.  Finally, ask yourself if it is truly relevant to use the profanity in the brief.  

Apparently the Washington Redskins included a fair amount of profanity in their brief to the Fourth Circuit over the team's trademark.  According to a post on the Business Law Basics blog,

In support of the latter argument [that the Patent & Trademark Office arbitrarily enforces offensive trademarks], the team provides extensive lists of wildly offensive trademarks that the PTO has issued.  Certainly many of the issued trademarks mentioned in the brief are so salacious, crass, sexist and/or racist that we hesitate, on this family-friendly blog, to list them here.  Indeed, this opening brief is notable in being one of the most [not inappropriately] profanity-laden court filings we have ever seen, and is worth a look for that reason alone. 



August 26, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Keeping it Brief

On December 1, 2016, several important changes to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure will go into effect (assuming Congress doesn't act in the interim).  Among other things, these changes impact the length of federal appellate briefs, particularly those filed under the word limit listed in Rule 32(a)(7)(B).  Under the current rule, briefs must not "exceed 30 pages," contain "more than 14,000 words," or contain "more than 1,300 lines of text" using a "monospaced face."  Under the new rule, the first and third options remain the same; however, the word limit decreases to 13,000 words.  Why?

Attorney John E. Roberts explains:

In support of the rule change, the Advisory Committee noted that the current 14,000-word limit resulted from an attempt in 1998 to convert the 50-page limit then in effect into a cap on words. At that time, the Committee concluded that briefs generally contained about 280 words per page — and 280 words-per-page times 50 pages equaled 14,000 words. Now, the Committee has revised its view and concluded that appellate briefs prior to 1998 actually had closer to 250 words per page, which in its view justified reducing the word limit to 12,500 words. Pushback from appellate practitioners resulted in the new limit being upped from 12,500 to 13,000 words.

The whole package of rules changes can be viewed here.  Most of the changes do concern the length of filings.  As one can imagine, the changes have been opposed by some practitioners and bar associations.  As Roberts notes, "[t]he Rules do allow the Circuit Courts to extend word limits in particular cases or even in all cases by local rule."  It will be interesting to see if that happens.  Based on my experience, most federal appellate judges believe that even under the current rules briefs are just too long.  While there is that occasional complex case that might warrant a brief length extension, that is the exception and not the norm.  

Perhaps making the length of briefs a congressional campaign issue is the only option appellate practitioners have left!

August 22, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Appellate Advocacy Meme Contest

With classes starting up again at law schools around the nation and the October 2016 Supreme Court term fast approaching, we could all use some levity.  Thankfully, the Appellate Section of the State Bar of Texas is offering just the thing--an Appellate Advocacy Meme contest.  Here is the information that I received about the contest:

Reminder to send in your submission to the Appellate Meme Contest:

There’s still time to participate in the Appellate Section's meme contest. Here’s a link to one meme generator site, but there are many such free apps and websites that make it easy to create your own appellate meme. Just find an appropriate photo, upload it, add your creative, funny, snarky, or “appealing” caption, and click “generate meme.” Then right click on your image and save it to your desktop.

All submissions are due by August 31 and should be sent to Jeff Levinger [] and April Farris []. Winners will be announced at the Appellate Section annual meeting on September 8, 2016, during the first day of the Advanced Civil Appellate Practice Course in Austin.

I hope that the Appellate Section will share the winning meme with us!

If memes are not your thing, Scholastica is hosting a haiku contest on Twitter.  They are asking people to tweet their best haikus about the law review submission process using the hashtag #LawRevHaiku.

August 15, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Congratulations and changes at the Appellate Advocacy Blog

David Cleveland, the Founding Editor of the Appellate Advocacy Blog, has been appointed Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Valparaiso University Law School.  Congratulations David on your appointment!  Due his increased duties, he has decided to step down as Managing Editor of the blog.  I am honored to fill his shoes and thank him for all the work that he did in getting this blog off the ground.  The editorial team here at the Appellate Advocacy Blog hopes that we can continue to keep you informed on current topics in the courts of appeal and appellate practice.  We also hope that David will still contribute a post when he has time!

August 11, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 1, 2016

SEALS 2016

The Southeastern Association of Law Schools 2016 Conference kicks off on Wednesday, August 3, in Amelia Island, Florida.  As always, Prof. Russell Weaver from the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law has put together an excellent program.  

There are several panels that may interest readers of this blog, including:

  • A discussion group on Equality & Identity in a Post-Scalia World (Wednesday, Aug. 3)
  • A discussion group on Justice Thomas after 25 years on the bench (Wednesday, Aug. 3)
  • Supreme Court Update:  Business, Administrative, Securities, Tax, and Employment Issues (Thursday, Aug. 4)
  • Supreme Court Update: Individual Rights (Thursday, Aug. 4)
  • The Scalia Legacy (Friday, Aug. 5)
  • Understanding the Effects of Judicial Selection on State Courts (Saturday, Aug. 6)
  • The First Amendment and the Changing Supreme Court (Sunday, Aug. 7)

I will be on a panel on Monday, August 8, called "The Road to Scholarship as Seen by Newer Professors," which was organized by Prof. Suzanne Rowe from University of Oregon School of Law.  This panel is designed to offer advice to newer law professors on what to do (and of course what not to do) to establish a good scholarly agenda.  SEALS typically offers great programming for new law professors and for those thinking about entering academia.

I encourage all those attending to check out the full program here.

Special recognition to Prof. Tim Zinnecker at Campbell for the most creatively named panel:  "God created the world out of nothing in six days; I'm only the academic dean."


August 1, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Is Justice Ginsburg wrong for voicing her opinion on Donald Trump?

This week Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg drew criticism for her negative public remarks about Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump. In three separate forums, Justice Ginsburg made remarks about not wanting Trump to become president and saying he has a big ego. The New York Times Editorial Board chastised Justice Ginsburg for speaking out and listed the instances:

In the New York Times: “I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president,” joking that if her husband were alive, he might have said, “It’s time for us to move to New Zealand.”


In an interview with the AP: “I don’t want to think about that possibility [a Trump victory], but if it should be, then everything is up for grabs.”


And with CNN: Trump was “a faker,” who “has no consistency about him.” In that interview, with CNN, she added: “He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego.”

Not at all unexpectedly, Donald Trump responded via Twitter by questioning Justice Ginsburg’s competence and ending with a curt command - "resign!"

Justice Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court has embarrassed all by making very dumb political statements about me. Her mind is shot - resign!

Commenters have noted that Supreme Court justices are not held to the Code of Conduct as are other federal judges which states that judges should refrain from political activity. Judges should not "make speeches for a political organization or candidate, or publicly endorse or oppose a candidate for public office . . . ." But Justices are subject to 28 U.S. Code § 455 which requires a judge to disqualify himself in any proceeding "where his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." Further, a judge should disqualify himself if “he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party . . . .”

Even Justice Ginsburg supporters have agreed that statements like this do put her in a precarious position should a replay of Bush v. Gore become necessary in this election cycle, or for any number of President Trump policy contests that are likely to come before the Court, if the volume of challenges is anything like those President Obama has faced. Further, even under a President Clinton, Justice Ginsburg's decisions may be perceived to be biased in favor of Hillary. Either way, her opinions could draw even more criticisms based on bias, with the evidence being provided by Justice Ginsburg's own words.

Others see no problem with Justice Ginsburg remarks:

Former Ginsburg law clerk Lori Alvino McGill, partner at Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz in D.C., defended the justice’s remarks.


“The Justice is human like the rest of us, and an American citizen,” McGill said. “That she uttered out loud some of her personal fears about a potential Trump administration does not cast doubt on her ability to be impartial, should a hypothetical ‘Bush v. Gore’-type case arise and come to the court.”


McGill added, “Any case that comes to the court concerning Trump v. Clinton would not be a referendum on who is the better candidate. It would present a legal question for the court to decide, and I have no doubt that Justice Ginsburg would faithfully execute her duty to decide that question without regard to whether she would give Mr. Trump her vote.”

In theory, it is possible that a judge may hold political views and still provide a judgment in accordance with the law. But, as humans, we inevitably, and probably unfortunately, instantly look for bias in controversial opinions. Lately, it doesn't even seem that a person’s opinion may be considered without an immediate allegation of bias - a personal attack upon that person’s character. This phenomenon has contributed to an increasingly polarized political environment, so much so that productive discussions become more rare every day.

Certainly it is true that judges are human too and invariably will hold personal political opinions. However the accepted norm has been that judges will refrain from stating such opinions in an overtly public way in order to maintain the appearance of impartiality. Perhaps the appearance of impartiality is just a lie we have come to accept as the norm, even though we value impartiality itself. When we hear such a pointed statement come from such a prominent Supreme Court Justice, it is something unusual and may cause us to reconsider the norm. 

Would we be better off if our judges freely shared their political views? Would that be better for transparency within the judiciary or would it lead to greater distrust of the judicial system? What are the advantages or disadvantages of abandoning the long held tradition of judges refraining from entering the political arena? 

July 13, 2016 in Appellate Court Reform, Legal Ethics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What's in a name

On March 31, George Mason University School of Law announced that it will be renamed in honor of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.  According to a recent article in The National Law Journal by Tony Mauro, the announcement of the school's new name--the Antonin Scalia School of Law--and the possible acronyms stemming from that name set Twitter "abuzz."  Mauro notes, however, that Justice Scalia was known for his dislike of acronyms, and he cautioned lawyers against using them in brief.  George Mason will certainly want to avoid some of the acronyms associated with their new name as well!

On a more serious note, the issue of acronyms in appellate briefs is definitely a problem.  Last April, The National Law Journal published another story about acronyms--this time reporting on a letter from the clerk's office for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit directing lawyers in a campaign finance case to make sure that "'avoid using acronyms that are not widely known.'"  When I grade student briefs I am also frustrated by the use of acronyms.  They cause me to pause and translate what the jumble of letters means, which interrupts the flow of the argument and makes the argument less persuasive. Acronyms can also reduce the emotional appeal of your brief by taking the focus off key terms.  For example, "hate crime prevention act" has much more of an emotional appeal than HCPA. If you want to focus on the hateful, discriminatory nature of a crime committed, you are much better to write the term "hate crime," which brings the judge back to the purpose of the statute and its connection to the crime committed.

So, while Justice Scalia's legacy will live on in the newly named law school, let the school's acronym problem help us remember the excellent legal writing tips that Justice Scalia has given us--including avoiding acronyms!


April 7, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Short Article on Appellate Advocacy - ABA Student Lawyer Magazine

At the risk of shameful self-promotion, and fully aware that there are thousands of articles and blog posts out there providing advice on appellate advocacy practices, I thought readers here might enjoy a short article that I authored and that is available in the latest edition of the American Bar Association's Student Lawyer magazine.  The article was written with law students as the intended audience, and with a somewhat informal tone requested by the editors.  But the point of the article is to highlight lessons that students are taught in law school that have counterparts or are easily adapted to real world rules and tips for being more effective in writing appellate briefs.

The article is available electronically on the ABA website for law students:  Student Lawyer Magazine article.

March 31, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Impact of Justice Scalia's Death on the Court and the Country

As Jennifer has noted in her earlier post, yesterday our country lost a legal giant.  Regardless of what one thinks of the substance of Justice Scalia's opinions, it is undeniable that he was a brilliant man who made a huge impact on how we think about and interpret the Constitution. He also contributed greatly to the field of advocacy.  I plan to discuss both of those issues in a future post.  Today, however, I would like to discuss the impact of Justice Scalia's death on the cases before the Court and its impact on our country as we are in the midst of a presidential election year.

Impact on the Court

There are two main questions to consider when evaluating the impact of Justice Scalia's death on the current Court.  The first is what will happen in the cases that the Court has heard argument for and voted on in conference.  The second is what will the impact be on the cases yet to be heard this term.  The first question is complicated, and in the less than 12 hours since Justice Scalia's passing was announced, I have heard differing views.  According to a post by Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSBlog, "Votes that the Justice cast in cases that have not been publicly decided are void."  However, a friend of mine who clerked on the Court believes that if Justice Scalia signed on to the final opinion his vote would be counted.  So, there could theoretically be a small number of opinions released that Justice Scalia signed on to, but it is unlikely.  I expect that we will hear something from the Court on this issue.  

So, what happens to the rest of the cases?  Well, the Court will decide them with just eight members.  There is certainly precedent for the Court deciding cases with just eight members--it happens when a Justice is recused.  What happens then in those really controversial cases where the Court ties 4-4?  In those cases, the decision of the lower court stands, unless the Court decides to rehear the cases when it has a full bench.  Let's look briefly at how that would impact some of the big cases this term. 

  • Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association:  Friedrichs involves a challenge to mandatory public sector union dues.  The union won below at the Ninth Circuit.
  • Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin:  Fisher, up for the second time before the Court, concerns the constitutionality of the University of Texas's affirmative action policy.  The Fifth Circuit upheld the University's policy.
  • Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt:  This case concerns a challenge to a Texas law regulating physicians who perform abortions and abortion clinics.  The regulations were upheld by the Fifth Circuit.
  • Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell:  This case concerns the regulatory accommodation to contraception mandate for religious nonprofit organizations.  There are in fact seven consolidated contraception mandate cases before the Court.  The religious nonprofits all lost below (D.C. Circuit, Third Circuit, Fifth Circuit, and Tenth Circuit).  Interestingly, there are two Eighth Circuit cases not before the Court where the accommodation was struck down.
  • United States v. Texas:  In this case, Texas is challenging President Obama's executive action on immigration.  Texas won below.

This is just a small sample of the close cases before the Court this term that will be impacted by Justice Scalia's death. 

Impact on the Country

Justice Scalia was thought by many to be the leading conservative voice on the Court.  By replacing Justice Scalia with a more liberal nominee, President Obama has the opportunity to change the direction of the Court for years to come.  President Obama has already announced that he will nominate Justice Scalia's successor.  But, in case you haven't noticed, we are in a presidential election year, and that makes things complicated.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley have announced that they believe that the Senate should wait to confirm a nominee until after the presidential election.

Legal scholars on both sides of this debate have started releasing talking points and statistics on how much (or how little) the presidential election should impact the nomination and confirmation of Justice Scalia's successor.  Amy Howe, also of SCOTUSblog, presents the "pro-confirm" argument, while Prof. Josh Blackman presents an interesting discussion of how divided government impacts the nomination and confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.  

Both sides like to discuss the nomination and confirmation of Justice Kennedy.  He replaced Justice Lewis Powell, who retired in June 1987.  President Reagan first nominated Judge Robert Bork to the Powell seat, but Bork was rejected by the Senate.  Judge Douglas Ginsburg was nominated next, but his nomination was ultimately withdrawn.  Finally, Judge Anthony Kennedy was nominated in November 1987, and confirmed in February 1988, which was a presidential election year.

Finally, there is always the possibility of a recess appointment by President Obama.  However, given the Supreme Court's recent decision in Noel Canning, which concerned when the Senate was properly in recess for purposes of a recess appointment, it seems likely that the Senate can keep itself in session enough to avoid any recess appointments.

Disclaimer:  I have joined two amicus briefs in cases noted above.  In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, I joined an amicus brief on behalf of Scholars of Federalism in support of Respondents.  In Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. BurwellI joined an amicus brief on behalf of Constitutional Law Scholars in support of Petitioners.

February 14, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Remembering Justice Scalia

Upon the passing of Justice Scalia, I wanted to share my personal recollections I have associated with him. I was only twice in the same room with Justice Scalia. The first time I was just barely a 1L and had a last minute opportunity to see him in an auditorium in downtown Ft. Worth. I even dragged my four year old son with me! I didn't know much about the Court at that time but found him to be engaging, funny, witty, and amazingly quick and intelligent. I loved him immediately.

The second time, I managed to be within a few feet of him at the U.S. Supreme Court when I was sworn in with my Texas Wesleyan colleagues on a special trip to DC. That was a great day - it's memorialized on my office wall where I proudly hang a picture of me with Chief Justice Roberts. I met Justice Ginsberg that day too. I will never get over what a tiny lady she is, but when she speaks you can hear a pin drop. Justice Kennedy was there too and he also was also very funny and lovable.

As a writing teacher, I will especially miss Justice Scalia's unique style. I'll never again rush straight to his opinion, skipping over the others, no matter whether he was in the majority or the dissent. A true historical giant. Regardless of political persuasion, whoever replaces him has monumental shoes to fill.

February 14, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Who Really Created The Bluebook?

Last month Adam Liptak had an interesting article on a forthcoming article questioning the established wisdom that the Harvard Law Review created The Bluebook.  According to Liptak, the conventional account of The Bluebook's origins comes from a speech by former Harvard Law Review President (and former Solicitor General and HLS Dean) Erwin N. Griswold.  However, research by librarians Fred R. Shapiro and Julie Graves Krishnaswami shows otherwise.  According to the Yale Law School librarians, the true origins of The Bluebook can be found in "an eight-page booklet prepared in 1920 by Karl N. Llewellyn, who was editor in chief of The Yale Law Journal."

Shapiro and Krishnaswami's research will be published in the Minnesota Law Review.  It is currently available on SSRN.

January 5, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Advice on Writing Briefs from Judges Kozinski and Kopf


In a recent episode of the Legal Talk Network podcast Lawyer 2 Lawyer, hosts J. Craig Williams and Bob Ambrogi interviewed Judge Alex Kozinski from the United States Court of Appeals for The Ninth Circuit and Judge Richard Kopf from the U.S. District Court, District of Nebraska, to get the judges’ thoughts on the essential elements that go into persuasive legal writing.


If you have about half an hour, you should listen to the whole interview, available HERE via Soundcloud.  If you don’t have time to listen to the whole interview, or in the meantime, here are a few of the highlights:


One interesting perspective about the quality of brief-writing that the court comes from Judge Kozinski’s recognition at roughly the 6:30 mark of the interview, where he noted that the court realizes that lawyers are busy. Judge Kozinski noted that the court recognizes that staffing and economic factors certainly play a role in the quality of the briefs submitted by attorneys, and that quality is not solely a function of the lawyers’ abilities. He noted, for example, that staffing plays a role; larger firms with larger clients with larger budgets can devote more resources, including reviewers and editors, to fine tuning and polishing briefs than a solo practitioner representing an individual without deep pockets. He noted that sometimes the quality of briefs submitted to the court are not necessarily representative of failings of the individual lawyers, but are a matter of economic feasibility. Courts recognize that, and courts have their own staff to work on the case and provide additional assistance to the court in reaching the correct result.


At roughly 5:30 into the interview, Judge Kopf advises that attorneys writing briefs try to emulate what one might read in a “really well-written newspaper.” He identifies the three key attributes of effective brief-writing as that it be simple, precise, and readable.   


Simplicity is really important to Judge Kopf and, in my experience, most judges.  They are busy and are always trying to focus in on the essential aspects of the case to reach a timely and accurate resolution, usually in the most direct way possible. Judge Kopf explains starting at roughly the 11:00 mark of the interview that a litigant who spends a little time narrowing in and simplifying the issue right at the outset of a brief does the court a significant favor. He compares an example wherein a litigant starts a brief by noting that it is in support of “a motion for summary judgment” with one noting that it is in support of “a motion for summary judgment, limited to the issue of qualified immunity.” Simplifying and narrowing the focus at the outset helps the court to understand immediately where the rest of the discussion is going to go.


In cases involving complex technical issues or areas of the law, simplicity obviously becomes all the more important.  In class, I always stress to my students the importance of explaining the issues, the law, and the facts in the simplest and most straightforward way possible. I always tell my students that there is little risk of offending any judge by making something seem “too simple,” but there is great risk of a judge not fully understanding technical issues that are not simplified and explained. Judge Kopf echoes this thought at roughly the 30:15 mark of the interview by noting that a litigant writing a brief should “not assume [the judge is] smart.” Judge Kopf advises at roughly the 29:25 mark of the interview that a litigant writing a brief addressing a technical issue have “a real human being” read the brief before it is submitted – someone with no background in that technical area. If that person cannot understand it, the writer needs to reevaluate. 


The advice of seeking review by a reader who is not technically trained in the particular subject matter of the brief was also echoed by Judge Kozinski in his final thoughts, at roughly the 31:20 mark of the interview.  Judge Kozinski urged writers to ask themselves if they could explain the arguments presented in their briefs to an educated, smart person who is not an expert, in plain language. If not, the writer needs to go back and rethink the argument and rethink how to present it. As Judge Kozinski put it, “writing is thinking.”



November 10, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Importance of Following the Rules

I am constantly stressing to my appellate advocacy students the importance of not just excellent substance in their briefs, but also the importance of complying with the court’s technical rules.  There is nothing more frustrating as a legal writing professor than reading a brief that makes great legal arguments, but is so poorly formatted that the substance is lost in the technical errors. 

A few days ago one of my students sent me a post by Casey C. Sullivan on FindLaw’s Strategist Blog about an attorney in Indiana who requested permission to file a corrected Table of Contents and Table of Authorities in a case before the Court of Appeals of Indiana.  The court granted the request, but directed that “[n]o substantive changes . . . be made to the Amended Appellant’s Brief.”

According to the court’s opinion the new Table of Contents represented “at best, an abject failure to understand the most basic requirements of appellate briefing.”  The attorney expanded the one-page Table of Contents in her first brief to a whopping thirty-seven pages in the amended brief.  The Table of Authorities was expanded from four to eleven pages.  The court’s opinion contains a few snippets from both tables including this gem from the Table of Authorities:

Hirsch v. Merchants Nat’l Bank & Trust Co. of Indiana, 336 N.E.2d 833 (Ind. Ct. App. 1975) (providing eight percent interest in action for breach of lease).  When the parties’ contract does not provide an interest rate; therefore, the statutory interest rate of eight percent is applicable.  (cited in App. 75-76) [appearing on page] 12

Unfortunately for the attorney, not even the page number in this entry was correct, as page 12 of the brief contained no case citations at all and was actually part of the Statement of Facts.  According to the court, “the Table of Authorities fail[ed] at its basic and only purpose of informing us of the cases cited in the brief and directing us to where in the brief a particular case is discussed.”

The attorney’s failure to follow the rules came at a steep price—the court disregarded the entirety of both Tables—proving once again that formatting matters!


October 31, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Handful of Links to Tips and Thoughts on Appellate Brief Writing

With the Supreme Court’s new term now underway, there is likely to soon be much to discuss in the world of appellate advocacy and developments from cases heard by the Court.  In the interim, I thought I’d share a handful of links for those who are in practice or in law school settings, working on drafting an appellate brief, and looking for some little tidbits concerning ways to maximize effectiveness.  The following links cover a wide range of brief-writing topics and perusing them might offer some new thoughts or perspectives to increase your overall impact.

 Overview of Each Section:

The Duke Law School has a helpful guide to appellate advocacy on its website that includes a table of contents and then individual sections addressing various parts of an appellate brief, including the Question Presented, the Tables, the Statement of the Case, the Argument, and the Conclusion: 

Duke Law School Guide

 Finding Your Appellate Voice:

Noted appellate advocacy blogger Howard Bashman of How Appealing presented “Finding the Appellate Style and Voice That Works Best for You” back in September at The Legal Intelligencer: 

Bashman on Style and Voice

 Some Tips Regarding Your Statement of the Case / Fact Section:

Stephen V. Armstrong (Director of career Development at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, an international firm based in Washington, D.C. and former Director of Professional Development and Training at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, a law firm based in New York City)  and Timothy P. Terrell (Professor of Law at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and former Director of Professional Development a the law firm of King & Spaulding in Atlanta) present tips on “Organizing Facts to Tell Stories” in the  Winter 2001 edition of Perspectives

Armstrong & Terrell on Organizing Facts

Palmer Gene Vance II and Madonna E. Schueler (both of the firm of Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC in Lexington, Kentucky) present “Ten Tips for Developing Your Case Theme” in the September/October edition of GPSolo, a publication of the American Bar Association: 

Vance II and Schueler on Case Theme

 Standard of Review:

Mike Skotnicki, an appellate attorney in Alabama, presented “The Standard of Review is the Lens Through Which You View Your Facts and Issues” on his appellate practice blog, Briefly Writing, back in January 2012: 

Briefly Writing: Standard of Review

 Point Headings:

Bryan Garner discussed the value of effective point headings in the September edition of Bryan Garner on Words at the ABA Journal: 

Garner on Point Headings

 Paragraph and Sentence Structure:

Mike Skotnicki presented “Borrowing a Fiction Writing Technique: Using Pacing by Paragraph and Sentence Length to Build to a Conclusion” on his appellate practice blog, Briefly Writing, back in March 2012: 

Briefly Writing: Pacing by Paragraph and Sentence

 Raymond Ward, an appellate lawyer in New Orleans,  linked to articles by Stephen V. Armstrong and Timothy P. Terrell from recent issues of Perspectives, concerning “Lessons in Paragraph Building” on his blog, the (new) legal writer

Ward: Armstrong and Terrell on Paragraph Building

 Editing to Meet Page Limits:

Lady (Legal) Writer presented a blog entry in September about “Editing to Meet Page Limits”: 

Lady (Legal) Writer on Editing to Meet Page Limits


If you have links to articles, blog posts, or other resources that you’ve found to be useful with tips and thoughts on ways to improve appellate brief writing, share them in the comments!

October 15, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fifth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Seminar

Readers may find this of interest:

On October 5 and 6, 2015, the Bar Association of the Fifth Federal Circuit will host our Annual Appellate Advocacy Seminar in New Orleans. The cost is $100 for 9.75 hours of Continuing Legal Education, including both an hour of Professionalism and an hour of Ethics. Attend a two-hour writing workshop to hone your brief-writing skills, observe oral arguments and get practice tips from seasoned attorneys and sitting judges. This seminar is an ideal introduction to federal appellate practice, with specifics about Fifth Circuit procedures.

September 15, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Ethics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 31, 2015

On Justice Thomas and Language Shared from Briefs and Lower Court Opinions

                Adam Liptak’s article in the New York Times last Thursday (August 27), Clarence Thomas, a Supreme Court Justice of Few Words, Some Not His Own, has been making the rounds on legal blogs, social media, and email exchanges.

                In the article, Liptak notes that not only is Justice Thomas the least likely Supreme Court Justice to ask questions during oral argument, but that he is also the most likely to author opinions that “contain language from briefs submitted to the court.” Although the article noted that Justice Thomas’s reliance on the words of others in this manner did not suggest any wrongdoing, it did repeatedly indicate that Justice Thomas’s opinions contained the “highest rates of overlaps with language in parties’ briefs,” and referred to the “high rates of seemingly borrowed language in his opinions.”

                Last Friday (August 28), Orin Kerr at Volokh Conspiracy posted A misleading story about Justice Thomas, in which Kerr opined that Liptak’s article created an inaccurate impression of the actual data in the studies that precipitated the article.  As Kerr noted, although the data did indicate that Justice Thomas’s majority opinions contained language from merits briefs at a rate of 11.29%, Justice Sotomayor’s majority opinions contained such language at a rate of 11.04%, Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinions at a rate of 10.55%, and even Justice Kagan’s majority opinions (at the bottom end of the spectrum) at a rate of 7.13%.  As Kerr points out, that means that the spectrum on the Court is really a rate of 7 to 11 words out of 100 being taken from majority briefs, and the difference between Justice Thomas’s opinions and Justice Sotomayor’s is really less than 3 words out of every 1,000.  Kerr suggests that although the data may support the notion that Justice Thomas’s opinions contain more language from briefs and lower court opinions than the other Justices, the differences are not sufficient to label Justice Thomas as an outlier in this regard.

                From an appellate advocacy standpoint, I think the underlying notion of appellate courts (at any level) taking language from the briefs and including it in the opinion is an interesting one.  I teach my students that they should strive to craft briefs and arguments to the court in a way that the court could take the language and adopt it as the court’s decision.  Courts are busy, have large caseloads and many issues competing for the attention and focus of the judge, and are always under some timing crunch to get decisions out to the litigants.  If, as an advocate, you focus crafting your arguments in a way that you are helping to provide the court with a way to explain a favorable decision and analyze the legal issues that is so well done that the court could simply take your presentation and adopt large portions of it wholesale, then you are doing your job.  You are helping the court, advocating in an effective way for your client, and developing a reputation for presenting work product that the court will look forward to seeing in future cases.

                Liptak recognized as much in his article, when he quoted an email from Professor Ronald Mann, a law professor at Columbia, who specifically attributed the use of common language from briefs to successful advocacy.

                That’s not to say that the court will, or even should, just resort to cutting and pasting arguments and analysis presented in briefs, without the court’s personal revisions, as a matter of habit.  But if you consider the quality of advocates that typically appear before the United States Supreme Court, the number of nuances and revisions that the arguments being presented have undertaken from the beginning of a trial to briefing before the Court, and the highly technical nature of some of the cases presented, that one Justice averages an additional 2.5 words out of every 1,000 in a majority opinion being common with the briefs or lower court opinion does not seem like something that merits going viral.


See, also:

Adam Feldman, A Brief Assessment of Supreme Court Opinion Language, (March 20, 2015),

Pamela C. Corley, Paul M. Collins Jr., and Bryan Calvin, Lower Court Influence on U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Content, 73 The Journal of Politics 31 (2011).

August 31, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Pop Culture in the Classroom [Survey Request]

A colleague is seeking input from law professors regarding the use of popular culture in the classroom...

Greetings Law Teacher Colleagues:

I am working on an article this summer on uses of popular culture in the law school classroom.  I am defining popular culture broadly to include mass culture texts like movies, TV shows, popular music, images which circulate on the internet, etc, and also any current events that you may reference in the classroom which are not purely legal in nature (i.e. not simply a recent court decision).

 To support this article, I am doing a rather unscientific survey to get a sense of what law professors are doing in this area.  If you are a law professor and you use popular culture in your class, I would be most grateful if you could answer this quick, anonymous survey I have put together:

Thanks in advance for your time and have a wonderful rest of summer!

Please direct questions to Cynthia Bond, The John Marshall Law School, Chicago, IL:


July 26, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Speaking With Some Authority

A reader kindly passed along this interesting link: The Art of Appellate Advocacy: A Conversation With the Supreme Court of Virginia.

The two-hour video, organized by Jeffrey A. Breit, adjunct professor at William & Mary Law School, offers members of the Virginia Supreme Court discussing brief writing, oral advocacy, structuring arguments, and the role of appellate courts. Inspired by the Bryan Garner series, interviewing U.S. Supreme Court Justices, this video may be similarly useful in legal writing and appellate advocacy classrooms. The video can be viewed in its entirety or in shorter, topic-specific segments.


June 22, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 29, 2015

How the Sausage Is Made

I'm a bit behind on this, so most readers of this blog have probably read this article by Gulati and Posner: The Management of Staff by Federal Court of Appeals Judges.  This look at the management of judges' staffs is an interesting one. I'd be interested in a similar examination of the circuits' central staff arrangements. If cases are rated, tracked, or otherwise "managed" in a manner that yields greater or lesser (or even just different) review of some cases, then substantively, the results of cases may turn more on those processes than on the ones in the judge's chambers. Or maybe not. I suppose some field research is necessary to resolve that question.


Also, my apologies for a lack of content lately. I suspect things will be slow for the next couple weeks.

May 29, 2015 in Federal Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Bits and Pieces on Writing

Of interest on the topic of writing...

First, Bryan Garner has a column on the ABA Online, "First impressions endure, even in brief writing." In it, Garner makes use of social science research and the work of Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman to support three basic principles regarding good (legal) writing: "(1) little errors in a brief betoken bigger mistakes, (2) less is more, and (3) good briefs demand little physical or mental effort from the reader." While the advice isn't novel, the use of psychology and economic principles to support these ideas may be compelling to some readers.

Second, in a similar vein, "10 top writing tips and the psychology behind them," offers ten discrete pieces of writing advice and discusses why it matters, why we often fail to heed the advice, and how to fix our processes to follow that advice more consistency. The advice is mostly applicable to legal writing and the format, which tries to pull back the curtain on why we make the errors we do, is especially helpful.

Third, some amazing filings: dismissal of a complaint filed in D. Nebraska against "Homosexuals" and a filed in N.D. Georgia, a "Notice to F*ck this Court and Everything It Stands For."


May 7, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Legal Writing, Moot Court | Permalink | Comments (0)