Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Monday, January 14, 2019

More Appellate Practice Tips from the Bench

Last week I blogged on a Georgia Bar Journal interview with Chief Judge Stephen Louis A. Dillard of the Georgia Court of Appeals.  In the interview, Chief Judge Dillard shared some excellent practice tips.

This week I want to share another article that contains practice tips from judges--this time from the American Bar Association.  The article discusses Ross Guberman's work in surveying judges on "what they want to read in briefs and motions."  As someone who has surveyed judges on this very topic, I am always interested in reading about someone else's work.  While I won't discuss each item on Guberman's list, I do want to highlight a few of my favorites (and a few that I think people miss all the time).

  1. Use party names or descriptors over litigation/appellate labels.  Interestingly, most appellate court rules direct attorneys to use names over labels like petitioner or appellant.  Yet many attorneys, even very accomplished ones, still use terms like petitioner or appellant in their briefs. Judges, however, just want you to use names.  It helps keep the parties straight, and it makes your writing more clear.
  2. "Stay classy."  Judges tire quickly of anything that lacks civility.  Chief Judge Dillard's interview confirmed this point.  So, don't belittle your opponent or their arguments.  Rather, focus on your strengths.
  3. Avoid space wasting phrases like "it should be noted that" and "it is beyond doubt that."
  4. "Be succinct when citing cases."  Guberman quotes one judge who said, “Skip the long description. Just state the damn proposition, cite the damn case and be done with it.”

The rest of Guberman's list is fascinating too (especially his discussion of introductions, which I am still not 100% sold on).  As the ABA article summarizes, "Guberman advises lawyers to 'shoot for strong, compelling, yet concise introductions; a restrained use of case law; and modern diction.'"  Good advice.

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