Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Monday, January 7, 2019

Appellate Practice Tips from the Bench

The December 2018 edition of the Georgia Bar Journal has a delightful interview with Chief Judge Stephen Louis A. Dillard of the Georgia Court of Appeals.  Chief Judge Dillard is one of the more well-known state appellate judges due, in large part, to his active social media presence.  He was asked in the interview about why he considers his social media presence so important, and his answer was enlightening:

I think judges have a duty to educate those we serve about the important role the judiciary plays in their daily lives. But in order to do that, we need to rethink the way we engage with the public. In my view, reimagining the judiciary’s engagement with those we serve begins with putting to rest the notion that it is a good idea for judges to essentially separate themselves from the rest of society. Judges are public servants. They are accountable to the people, and they need to be accessible to the people, so long as they do so in a manner that is consistent with their oath of office and the code of judicial conduct. There is no reason that a judge cannot maintain the integrity of his or her office and engage the public in a more meaningful sense. But in order to do this, we—especially those of us in the legal profession—need to get past our collective unease with technology and embrace the social-media platforms that are increasingly used by those we serve. Indeed, the ability of a judge to use social media to directly reach and communicate with his or her constituents is nothing short of revolutionary. And when you serve the public, the public has a right to know who you are as a human being. I want those who follow me on social media to know who I am as a person. I am not just a judge. I am a husband, a father, a person of faith, and I have a life outside of the courthouse. I love reading, history, sports, music, my church, and spending time with my family and friends. And I am blessed beyond measure to wake up every day and work at a job that I dearly love. My hope is that the people who follow me on social media will sense this about me—that I am a joyful public servant. My goal is for my online personality to be an accurate reflection of who I am in real life. And if my constituents truly get a sense of who I am as a person from my engagement with them on social media, then my time online will have been well spent.

Chief Judge Dillard also had some great advice on preparing for oral argument:

My oral-argument preparation began with writing the underlying brief. As a practitioner, I spent a considerable amount of time in the record and researching the relevant issues before I even started writing. I also made sure that my brief contained pinpoint citations to the record and relevant case law. . . . As an appellate practitioner, I also spent a significant amount of time preparing for oral argument. The week before an argument, I re-read the briefs and record and then jotted down any new impressions
that came to me from that review, refined my overarching narrative, prepared index cards with the questions I anticipated being asked, and then practiced my opening
remarks and answering questions (both alone and with my colleagues).

In addition to the advice above, Chief Judge Dillard also expressed his wish that lawyers would "[t]reat the law like a profession." As he explained:

Every time you file something with a court, you put your reputation on the line. It takes years to build up your reputation and just a moment to lose it. In my view, many instances of unprofessional behavior stem from lawyers engaging in “zealous advocacy.” I have come to dislike this term because I think it instills in lawyers the idea that they have to act like zealots in order to effectively represent their clients. And the most effective advocates I have seen, as both a lawyer and judge, are those who calmly and dispassionately present their arguments. Your client is important; but when you become so zealous in your advocacy that you fail to treat opposing counsel or the court with respect, or when you misrepresent the facts or relevant law to win a case, then you are harming both your client and the profession. 

Thank you to the Georgia Bar Journal for such a great interview (and for providing it online free of charge).  I also appreciate that, despite their editing guidelines, the Georgia Bar Journal used the Oxford comma in the printed piece out of deference to Chief Judge Dillard's strong (correct) preference for the Oxford comma.

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