Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Monday, February 27, 2023

ChatGPT & Grammar

This past weekend I was at a conference in Las Vegas. At the conference, my colleague Diana Simon presented on her recent book--The (Not Too Serious) Grammar, Punctuation, and Style Guide to Legal Writing. During the social time after the presentation, someone asked how ChatGPT handles grammar.  While many professors are stressing over student use of ChatGPT, some professors are considering a key question: Can ChatGPT help me grade papers (at least grade grammar)?

I was mostly just eavesdropping while the professors were discussing grammar, but at least one person noted that ChatGPT does a pretty decent job, and it can give you explanations. Turns out that is right. Stephen Horowitz, a professor of Legal English at Georgetown, has a detailed blog post on how he used ChatGPT for an assignment with his LLM students. For the assignment, he had his students run a short essay through ChatGPT with the instruction to "Please fix any language issues in this essay."

While I commend the full post to you, I will share just his conclusion: 

What I really liked about the assignment is that it succeeded in helping my students build grammatical awareness. Also, I think my students greatly appreciated a way to get detailed language feedback. In my class, while I provide language feedback to the extent it connects to the communicative purposes related to legal analysis and writing, it’s not a grammar class and I don’t have the bandwidth to provide detailed language feedback on every aspect of the students’ writing. (A statement I’m assuming many in the legal English/legal writing field likely relate to.) Additionally, I believe there’s a certain amount of value in receiving the feedback in a manner removed from the power dynamic associated with the student-teacher relationship, i.e., not from an authority figure who has the power to decide your academic fate, but from a neutral, non-judgmental chatbot. And I think it also opens up the potential for more focused conversations and questions between student and teacher about language and grammar, as it helps narrow down areas of student concern from the perspective of each student.

February 27, 2023 in Current Affairs, Legal Writing, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (4)

Advice for Law Students on Oral Argument

After judging a regional round of the National Appellate Advocacy Competition this weekend in Los Angeles, it was apparent immediately that the law students participating in this competition demonstrated intelligence, talent, and persuasiveness. Indeed, the participants were quite impressive and showed that the future of the legal profession is bright. Having said that, below are a few tips for law students to help improve their already-impressive appellate advocacy skills.

1.    Slow down. Once again, slow down. Your goal is to advocate for your client and maximize the persuasive value of your argument. To do so, you need to be authentic and conversational. In so doing, you should change your pace, tone, and inflection to emphasize (and de-emphasize) specific points. When you speak too quickly, you lose credibility and negatively impact the persuasiveness of your argument. And you lose points. So be sure to focus on being yourself, which means being authentic, conversational, and comfortable at the podium.

2.    Don’t be scripted. You should never draft every word of your oral argument. Instead, you should draft an outline of the substantive points that you want to make, and trust yourself to articulate those points effectively and persuasively. When you memorize a script, you appear rehearsed and thus inauthentic.

3.    Watch your conduct at the counsel table. Being professional and respectful is vital to ensuring your credibility with a court. Thus, be sure never to show emotion at the counsel table, either toward your teammates or in response to your adversary’s arguments. The failure to do so is unprofessional and immature – and will cost you points. When a moot court or mock trial team, for example, displays unprofessional conduct at the counsel table, they signal to the judges that they are not a good team.

4.    Be flexible and concede weaknesses in your argument. Every argument has weaknesses, whether on the facts or the law. Denying these weaknesses, particularly in the face of difficult questions from the judges, will affect your credibility and persuasiveness. Thus, be sure to concede weaknesses in your argument, such as by acknowledging unfavorable facts or law, and explain why such weaknesses do not affect the outcome you seek.

5.    Answer the judges’ questions directly and persuasively. The key to an outstanding oral argument is how you respond to the judges’ questions. Those questions tell you precisely what the judges are concerned about or focused on when deciding the merits of your case. As such, you should answer the judges’ questions directly and persuasively, and not offer evasive or non-responsive answers, which will compromise your credibility. In other words, do not view the judges’ questions as an attack on your argument. View them as an opportunity to make your case.

6.    Be willing to adapt and modify your argument (or desired remedy) based on the judges’ questions. Far too often, oralists propose a categorical rule – or seek a particular remedy – and relentlessly advocate for that rule or remedy regardless of the judges’ concerns. That is a mistake. You must demonstrate flexibility – within reason – to ensure that you obtain the best result, even if it is not the perfect result. For example, if you were arguing that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and a majority of the justices on the United States Supreme Court suggested through their questions that they were unwilling to do so, yet were willing to impose stricter limits on the time within which a woman could seek an abortion, you need to pivot and explain why, in the absence of overturning Roe, such a limit would be warranted. In other words, you must exercise good judgment in the moment and, based on your perception of how the judges might rule, propose alternative remedies that will persuade the judges even if it means not getting everything you want. Remember that the best is often the enemy of the good.

7.    Be prepared. The best advocates are the most prepared. They know the page and line numbers of deposition testimony.   They know precedent by heart and can recite the holdings and dicta in relevant cases without notes or hesitation. Simply put, the best advocates are the most prepared advocates.

8.    Non-verbal conduct is critical to persuasion. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. When you are making an oral argument, know that your hand gestures, your tone, your cadence, your volume, and your movement all matter tremendously. If, for example, you speak in a monotone voice, it doesn’t matter how persuasive your argument is or how much the law supports your argument. You will lose points and minimize the persuasive value of your argument if your non-verbal conduct (how you say it) is not as powerful as your verbal conduct (what you say).

February 27, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, February 19, 2023

When Your Opponent’s Brief is a Headscratcher

 “I’m glad you have to write the reply brief, not me.” That’s the whole email I received from a prominent appellate advocate who had written an amicus brief supporting my position after he had read opposing counsel’s brief. The difficulty he alluded to was not because the responsive brief was so stellar that I would be hard pressed to formulate winning counterarguments. Instead, it was because the brief was such a head-scratcher. We weren’t just ships passing in the night; we were sailing in different oceans.

When that’s the case, writing a reply brief can be extraordinarily difficult. It is far easier to argue with an opponent who engages you than one that seems to have dropped in from another case altogether. A well-researched and disciplined brief provides a better foil than one that lacks a theme or anything solid to refute.

More typically in a reply brief, one can argue that one set of precedents is more relevant than another, that key cases were misconstrued by your opponent and the court below, or that the issue presented is one of first impression, requiring a new rule. Yet, when the opposing brief states seemingly valid propositions that relate to the case but not to the issue presented, it is tempting to say that the brief fails in every way to address the appellants’ arguments and that those arguments remain valid and should be adopted by the Court. And, there is certainly good reason to make sure the court understands why the arguments made by your opponent lack relevancy.

Yet, underlying the propositions of law proffered by my opponent were assumptions, sometimes unexpressed, that clarify why that brief provides no useful guidance to a court. In my brief, I labeled them fallacies that constituted an act of misdirection. I ran through six separate fallacies that knocked the legs out from under those arguments – at least, to me, they powerfully served that purpose.

For example, my opponent argued that a rule of civil procedure cannot alter substantive law. We know that that is a correct statement of law. Federal law, 28 U.S.C. § 2072(b), denies civil rules from abridging, enlarging, or modifying any substantive right. Having made the valid point, then opposing counsel did little to connect that to the rule at issue. He asked the court to assume that my argument would make the rule substantive. And, my reply demonstrated that following the proper procedure implements the underlying substantive law, rather than changes it.

Similarly, he recited the holding of a case I cited, as though that holding is the sum total of the analysis, because our case did not fit that holding. Yet, my brief suggested that the type of analysis employed in the case supported the analysis appropriate to the issue. While dicta of the type I relied upon does not formulate binding precedent, it was from the U.S. Supreme Court and therefore takes on a heightened character. As the Sixth Circuit put it recently, “Supreme Court dicta is persuasive and cannot be ignored by lower courts for no good reason.” Cunningham v. Shoop, 23 F.4th 636, 659 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 143 S. Ct. 37 (2022).

It is also tempting to ignore, for good reason, a brief you believe fails to advance your opponent’s case. Prudence, however, requires that you make clear to the court that your version of the case is the one that it should entertain.

February 19, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, February 18, 2023

The 2023 Justice Donald L. Corbin Appellate Symposium

On March 30 and 31, the Pulaski County Bar Foundation will be hosting its Annual Justice Donald L. Corbin Appellate Symposium at the University of Arkansas Little Rock Bowen School of Law.  This national symposium honors the late Justice Donald L. Corbin of the Arkansas Supreme and Appellate Courts.  The event offers the chance to discuss and learn about the appellate process from federal and state judges, professors, and experienced practitioners in beautiful Little Rock.  You can tour the Clinton Library too! 

The impressive lineup this year includes many members of the appellate bench:

  • A United States Court of Appeals panel discussion with Judge Michael Y. Scudder of the Seventh Circuit, Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith of the Eight Circuit, and Judge Jane Kelly of the Eight Circuit;
  • Judge Morris S. "Buzz" Arnold, United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, speaking on ethics;
  • A state Supreme Court panel discussion with Justice Courtney R. Hudson of the Arkansas Supreme Court, Justice Holly Kirby of the Tennessee Supreme Court, and  Justice Piper D. Griffin of the Louisiana Supreme Court;
  • Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck (Retired), Arkansas Supreme Court, speaking on oral argument; and
  • An Arkansas Court of Appeals Panel Discussion with Judges Cindy Thyer, Wendy S. Wood, and Stephanie P. Barrett.

Robert S. Peck, of the Center for Constitutional Litigation, will be speaking on framing issues for appeal, and How Appealing's founder Howard Bashman will present as well, along with several other appellate practitioners and professors. 

You still have time to register, and you can find all of the details here:  https://www.pulaskibarfoundation.com/corbinsymposium.

This year, I am honored to be speaking on appellate brief writing, and I invite you to join us at the beautiful Bowen School of Law for the 2023 Corbin Symposium.  Plus, if you have never been to Little Rock, I highly recommend a visit.  Trust this Chicago gal living in Los Angeles, Little Rock is a charming and welcoming town with big city amenities in a gorgeous part of the country.  See you there!

February 18, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 17, 2023

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, February 17, 2023

WeeklyRoundupGraphic

Each week, the Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup presents a few tidbits of news and Twitter posts from the past week concerning appellate advocacy. As always, if you see something during the week that you think we should be sure to include, feel free to send a quick note to either (1) Dan Real at [email protected] or on Twitter @Daniel_L_Real or (2) Catharine Du Bois at [email protected] or on Twitter @CLDLegalWriting.

US Supreme Court Opinions and News

  • Adam Feldman at Empirical SCOTUS posted an historical look at the timing of Supreme Court decisions. The post compares the pacing of this year’s releases to past pacing.

  • On Friday, March 17, the Supreme Court will honor the memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The Court will hold a meeting of the Supreme Court’s Bar, followed by a special sitting of the Court. The bar meeting will be held at 1:45 p.m. in the Upper Great Hall and will feature several notable speakers, including Honorable Elizabeth B. Prelogar, Solicitor General of the United States. The meeting will be live-streamed on the Court’s website: www.supremecourt.gov. See the Supreme Court press release.

  • After the filing of the Solicitor General’s brief announcing that the end of the public health emergency will moot the case, the Supreme Court has cancelled oral argument in the challenge to the Biden administration’s attempts to end Title 42 (see previous coverage from this blog). Title 42 is the pandemic-era immigration measure that has allowed migrants, even those who might otherwise qualify for asylum, to be quickly expelled at the southern border. Last year, when Title 42 was challenged, the Federal District Court set a deadline for the end of the measure, finding that the measure did not advance public health but did endanger immigrants. When the Biden administration did not appeal that ruling, 19 states sought intervention to defend Title 42 and asked to stay the deadline. The Court of Appeals for DC denied the stay finding that the Petitioner States had not timely intervened. On appeal of that decision, the Supreme Court agreed to hear only the question of whether the Petitioner States had properly intervened and granted a stay to maintain the status quo. Oral argument was set for March. The Solicitor General’s brief states that the expected end to the public health emergency will moot the case: “ the end of the public health emergency will (among other consequences) terminate the Title 42 orders and moot [petitioners’ attempt to intervene].” Today, the Petitioner States filed a reply arguing that the end to the public health emergency does not moot the issue presented by the case: whether the petitioner states properly intervened. See reports from CBSNews, Politico, and CNBC.

Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The Third Circuit ruled that Johnson & Johnson was not in financial distress when it filed for bankruptcy, and the court rejected J&J’s attempt to move the close to 40,000 talc lawsuits against it to bankruptcy court. The ruling creates a new financial distress standard and seems to undercut the use of what’s known as the Texas two-step bankruptcy strategy. To avoid much of the financial liability it faces from the talc-cancer suits, J&J employed the Texas two-step: J&J created a subsidiary and transferred liability for the talc-related claims to the subsidiary; then the subsidiary filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, claiming insolvency. If permitted, the strategy could have allowed J&J to avoid much of the financial liability it faced from the mass tort talc cases. The court ruled that J&J’s agreement to fund the subsidiary’s liabilities made J&J the subsidiary’s ultimate financial safeguard and that was “not unlike an ATM disguised as a contract.” See a 2022 WBUR discussion of the Texas two-step strategy and see the decision and reports from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Bloomberg, and NBCNews.

  • The Fifth Circuit found unconstitutional a decades-old law barring domestic abusers from possessing firearms and ruled that those convicted of domestic abuse have an unrestrainable right to bear arms. The decision stated that the statute contradicts an “historical tradition” allowing access to guns. The court determined that the statute gives too much power to Congress to determine who qualifies as “law-abiding, responsible citizens.” The opinion seems to compare domestic abuse to crimes like speeding, political non-conformity, and failing to recycle. The ruling earned a rebuke from US Attorney General Merrick Garland, who said: “Whether analyzed through the lens of Supreme Court precedent, or of the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment, that statute is constitutional. … Accordingly, the department will seek further review of the Fifth Circuit’s contrary decision.” See the ruling and reports from Bloomberg, CNN, and The Hill.

Other News

  • The Senate confirmed Cindy Chung for the Pennsylvania federal appeals court; she will be the first Asian American to sit on the Third Circuit. See reports from Reuters and Bloomberg.

February 17, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Latinate v. Anglo-Saxon terms in legal writing

English is a funny animal. It reached its namesake land after the Roman Empire fell and tribes from Northern Germany and Denmark (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes) invaded and settled what had up to then been peopled by people who spoke Celtic languages (who, according to John McWhorter, likely contributed the use of what he calls "meaningless do" to our language). A few hundred years later, Vikings invaded (speaking another branch of Germanic language) and, by speaking Old English poorly, simplified it, ridding it of many declensions and complicated verb conjugations. A few hundred years after that, some French-speaking Vikings from northern France (Normans) invaded and took over. Between the Norman invasion and middle-aged efforts to expand the English vocabulary with Latin-root words, it suddenly had a bunch of synonyms, with the Latinate terms generally in use among the nobility, and the Germanic terms generally in use among the lower classes--beef v. cow; pork v. pig; cordial v. hearty; reception v. welcome, etc. 

Though we are many centuries separated from those days, their legacy remains in the tone that our words convey. If you were to say that someone gave you a cordial reception, you would picture a formal event with well-dressed, high-class people drinking champagne; if you were to say that someone gave you a hearty welcome, you would picture a bunch of men in beards, wearing flannel shirts and drinking beer. Right? Though we don't think about it consciously, we tend to associate Latin words with formality and fanciness, and Germanic words with concrete and everyday things. 

For this reason, many law students think that they sound more authoritative when they use more Latinate words. But the effect of that is too often too many words saying too little. Sprinkle in some passive voice and a bunch of nominalizations, and you've got yourself some nearly impenetrable prose.

If your writing is hard to unpack, the odds that your reader will follow and agree with your argument go down. To cure this, focus on a few things. First, look for "to be" verbs and get rid of as many as possible. Second, put in actors before the action. Third, prefer verbs to nominalizations. Finally, when choosing your words, generally prefer ones of Anglo-Saxon origin. If you don't know a word's origin, just put it into an online etymology dictionary.  If you can't think of a good synonym, go to a thesaurus until you find a Germanic one. Doing these things will make your writing more straightforward and concrete. That way, you won't tax your reader's attention nearly as much, which will increase the odds that you will persuade her. And that's what we're all after in this business.  

February 16, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Future of Citations: Moving Them, Modifying Them, or Just Cleaning Them Up

Ah, citations. Some appellate advocates may see these as the bane of their writing existence. But, of course, they perform an important--indeed, an essential--function in supporting an appellate advocate's argument. Without them, a judge reading your brief would never know if your point is backed up by precedent or not. Even so, it is worth thinking about how citations can be made less burdensome while still being useful to an appellate court.

Let's start with the Bluebook. While almost universally accepted as the authority on citations, there are some alternatives. And courts often have their own style guides. Perhaps an overhaul of how we've always done things is in order including whether to use something other than the Bluebook.

Further, various legal writing experts have made suggestions about reforming citations. One of the legal writing experts that has long advocated for change is legal writing guru Bryan Garner, who has contended that citations should be moved from the text to footnotes. See Bryan Garner, The Winning Brief 114-19 (1999). Of course, not everyone--well, maybe hardly anyone--has made that change. I, for one, am just fine where they are. Frequent readers of briefs have learned how to simply ignore the citations as they read, unless, of course, they want to know what is being cited. But this doesn't mean we can't think about it.

Some courts also have implemented new ways to cite cases. A recent movement has been toward what is commonly called "universal citation." This citation form is sometimes referred to as "media neutral" or "vendor neutral." Ostensibly, the idea is to make locating an authority easier. It also steers advocates away from citing proprietary products of any particular publisher. And it directs the Court to a specific paragraph of a decision rather than just to a specific page. Apparently, this is not a new idea. The ABA recommended the use of universal citation in 1996. And as of August 31, 2020, at least sixteen states had implemented universal citation.

But not all of these state-mandated modifications have survived. Who would have thought that the North Carolina Supreme Court's first "controversial" ruling (but not its last) after flipping from a 4-3 Democratic majority to a 5-2 Republican majority would be to abandon universal citation just two years after it was implemented? Interestingly, the administrative order rescinding the requirement noted two dissents.

The other newest sensation in the world of citations is the use of the parenthetical "cleaned up" to replace the bulky parentheticals of the past. But now there is a new contender thanks to--again--the North Carolina Supreme Court. Although that Court has used "cleaned up" in at least 200 cases since February 2000, it more recently has in 33 decisions utilized instead the parenthetical "extraneity omitted." It does not appear that any other appellate court in the country has used this parenthetical. I'm not sure that one is going to catch on, but I'm open to it--particularly because I have been known to appear before that Court on occasion.

Are there other ideas for simplifying citations? Making them easier for practitioners? More helpful for the appellate courts? Maybe ChatGTP can come up with something, although I understand it has had some trouble with legal citations. Regardless, citations aren't going away. We might as well try to make them better.

February 16, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Rethinking First Amendment Jurisprudence

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the rights to freedom of speech and religion, which are essential to liberty and an informed citizenry. Indeed, the original purpose of the First Amendment was, among other things, to create a “marketplace of ideas” in which diverse opinions on matters of public concern, however unpopular, distasteful, or offensive, are rightfully protected. And the United States Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence reflects steadfast adherence to these principles, with the Court holding in numerous cases that a robust and expansive right to free speech is critical to ensuring liberty, autonomy, and a society where diverse viewpoints inform citizens’ views on various political and social issues.

But shouldn’t there be a limit?

Aren’t there some types of expression that are so vile, so valueless, and so vituperative that neither the Constitution nor the courts should afford them protection?

The answer to both questions is yes.

Think about it:

  • Should people be permitted to hurl racist slurs at minorities? No.
  • Should they be allowed to stand outside the funeral of a deceased gay soldier who died in the Iraq War with signs that say, “God Hates Fags?” and “Thank God for 9/11?” No.
  • Should a newspaper have the freedom to publish a satirical depiction of a famous evangelical minister having sex with his mother in an outhouse? No.
  • Should people be allowed to depict horrific acts of animal cruelty? No.
  • Should wealthy individuals be permitted to donate millions to political candidates knowing that such donations will give them unfair influence in and access to the political process? No.
  • Should Nazi groups and the KKK be allowed to march on Main Street spewing antisemitism and racism? No.
  • Should people be allowed to wear t-shirts with a symbol of a Nazi swastika? No.
  • Should pro-life groups be permitted to march with signs depicting dismembered fetuses? No.

Such speech should be banned everywhere and in any circumstance for three reasons.

First, speech such as that mentioned above has absolutely no value. It contributes nothing whatsoever to the “marketplace of ideas,” an informed citizenry, or a functioning democracy. And neither the text nor the original purpose of the First Amendment supports allowing individuals to express utterly valueless speech when it is expressed for the purpose of demeaning or traumatizing others, including vulnerable and marginalized groups.

Second, such speech causes substantial and often lasting harm. Make no mistake: speech can and does traumatize individuals, often causing severe emotional distress and other psychological injuries. Think about it: how would you feel if, as a minority, someone hurled a racist slur at you? How would you feel, as a person of Jewish faith whose great-grandparents died in the Holocaust, if you had to tolerate people marching with Nazi swastikas? How would you feel if, as a homosexual, someone called you a fag? To ask the question is to know the answer. Such speech serves no public purpose whatsoever.

This is not to say, of course, that offensive, distasteful, and unpopular speech should be restricted in any manner whatsoever.  Indeed, such speech may and often does cause emotional distress. It is to say, however, that there is a limit. When speech has no value whatsoever and is intended to – and does – traumatize others, it should enable individuals to sue for the resulting emotional harm.

Some may argue that limiting such speech will empower the government to enact content-based restrictions on speech with which it disagrees. This slippery slope argument is without merit. First, the Supreme Court has already recognized limits on free speech, such as in Miller v. California, when it held that obscene speech that appeals to sexual interests receives no First Amendment protection, and in Brandenburg v. Ohio, where the Court held that words intended to incite violence lacked First Amendment protection.[1] Second, the solution to this problem is obvious: enact a statute that delineates with specificity the precise words or expressions that are prohibited. In so doing, the limits on speech – which admittedly should be narrow – will be unambiguous. In Germany, for example, it is a crime to publicly deny the Holocaust – and for good reason.

Additionally, some may argue that the standards used to determine what speech should be limited will be invariably subjective and will thus lead to arbitrary and unconstitutional restrictions on speech. But this argument misses the constitutional mark. Many, if not most, constitutional provisions require subjective value judgments, such as whether a punishment is cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment, whether a search is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, and whether counsel is ineffective under the Sixth Amendment. Moreover, banning the type of speech mentioned above is hardly subjective. Any reasonable person with a conscience would agree that this speech has no value and inflicts severe injury on its targets.

The United States Supreme Court, however, is reticent to support any limits on speech other than sexual obscenity and fighting words. In Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, for example, the Court held that the First Amendment protected a depiction of the Reverend Jerry Falwell having sex with his mother in an outhouse.[2] In Snyder v. Phelps, the Court held that the First Amendment protected members of the Westboro Baptist Church who held signs stating “God  Hates Fags” and “Thank God for 9/11” outside the funeral of a deceased military veteran.[3]

These decisions were wrong.

The notion of allowing individuals to express offensive, distasteful, and unpopular speech should not preclude reasonable limits on valueless speech that cause severe emotional harm. It’s one thing, for example, to say that homosexuality is a sin. It’s quite another to call someone a fag. It’s one thing to say that abortion is immoral. It’s quite another to shove pictures of dismembered fetuses in the faces of women trying to access abortion services. In each example, the former should be protected, and the latter should not. The distinction is predicated on value and injury.

Ultimately, a society that values liberty, autonomy, and democracy need not tolerate valueless speech that contributes nothing to public discourse, and that marginalizes others, causes others to commit suicide, or humiliates others in a manner that causes lasting harm.

If you disagree, let’s see how you feel when, if you are gay, another person shoves a sign in your face that says, “God Hates Fags” or, if you are Jewish, a person shoves a sign in your face that says, “The Holocaust Never Happened.” You know exactly how you’d feel. That is the point – and the problem. And it’s a problem that needs to be solved – now.

 

[1] 413 U.S. 15 (1973); 395 U.S. 444 (1969).

[2] 485 U.S. 46 (1988).

[3] 562 U.S. 443 (2011).

February 11, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Paragraphs and Pilcrows

This blog has featured paragraph-pertinent musings before. Today I hope to share a little about the petite pilcrow, offer some guidelines for proper paragraphing, and provide a tip for formatting with pilcrows in legal writing.

What is a pilcrow?

If you are an attorney, you have likely been using the pilcrow for years.  I certainly have, but until today I did not know its name (how impolite!).  The pilcrow is the paragraph symbol: ¶. 

I stumbled upon a fascinating article on the origin of the pilcrow.  According to the article, "pilcrow" evolved from the very fitting Greek word paragraphos for "write beside."  It iterated through French (paragraph) and Middle English (pylcrafte) to "pilcrow."

The symbol was originally written on a page to signal changes in topic or speaker, similar to its function today.  It started out looking like a K, then morphed into a C in a nod to "chapter" differentiation.  Ultimately scribes added a line to the C to distinguish the mark from the rest of the sentence, then the symbol stretched and straightened into the ¶ we know today. 

The symbols became quite ornamental, requiring extra time for decoration at the end of a written document, and when the scribes ran out of time to finish the decorating, they left out the pilcrows altogether.  That is why we generally use pilcrows in legal writing only to separate statutory paragraphs and cite complaint allegations, not at the beginning of our paragraphs.

What is a proper paragraph?

If a pilcrow developed to separate speakers and topics, how do we mimic their function in our prose?  Paragraphs should follow some basic guidelines in legal writing to make the document easiest to read and comprehend.

Contains an average of 150 words

As has been said, Bryan Garner recommends that paragraphs average about 150 words, and no more than 250 words.  Some writers recommend three to eight sentences.

These are good rules of thumb.  When your topic is complex or involves large or unfamiliar words, err on the side of fewer, shorter sentences in your paragraphs.  Capitalize on readers' ability to process small chunks of information at a time and provide them necessary breaks in the word flow.

Conveys a distinct thought

Besides length, you can decide to start a new paragraph when you begin writing a distinct thought.  While all thoughts in a brief should connect to the main idea and ultimately seek the same relief, slight variations in thoughts or angles of the argument should trigger new paragraphs.  Cramming too much into one paragraph contradicts the small chunk principle and makes the reading a slog.

Has a topic sentence

In the same vein, every paragraph should have a topic sentence.  The topic sentence signals what each paragraph is about and how it is different from the paragraphs before and after it.  As you edit your writing, use your topic sentences to cut extraneous material from the brief.  Legal writers should never aim to repeat themselves.  Judges are intelligent folks.  You need not say the same thing five different ways; once is sufficient.

Starts with a meaningful transition

Finally, while you need not repeat yourself when you have made your point, it is always beneficial to link distinct thoughts between paragraphs.  Legal readers are looking for connections between concepts and logical through lines in your argument.  Make those explicit.

How do I ensure my pilcrows never hang alone at the end of lines?

This is one of the easiest ways to clean up a brief before you even finish writing.  You can eliminate lonely pilcrows hanging at the edges of lines of text by adding a nonbreaking space (CTRL + Shift + S) after every pilcrow.  The nonbreaking space, which looks like a small open circle when you show formatting, holds the pilcrow and following number together (¶ 1).

You can even build in an automatic nonbreaking space every time you type a pilcrow using Word's AutoCorrect feature.

Step 1:

A.   Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters > Paragraph > Insert // Or type ALT + 0182

B.    Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters > Nonbreaking Space > Insert // Or type CTRL + Shift + S

Step 2: Copy those two characters (CTRL + C).

Step 3: File > Options > Proofing > AutoCorrect Options > Replace

Step 4: “Replace” box > Paste the two characters you copied (CTRL + P).

Step 5: Backspace over the nonbreaking space. Only one character should be in the box.

Step 6: “With” box > Paste the two characters again. Backspace over any additional space at the end.  Only two characters should be in the box.  One is your invisible nonbreaking space.

Step 7: OK

Presto!  Proper paragraphs and partnered pilcrows in perpetuity.

February 8, 2023 in Humor, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 6, 2023

Should Courts Dispense With the Table of Authorities?

Pending before the Arizona Supreme Court is a petition to change court rules and dispense with the table of citations in state briefs. According to the full petition,

The Table of Citations is no longer needed to help a reader navigate to a particular cited source because most briefs are filed in electronic format with searchable text. Cumulatively, appellate litigants spend an unjustifiable amount of time and resources creating Tables of Citations.

The authors claim that readers now use "searchable text and hyperlinks to navigate the brief and locate cited authorities," rather than the table. The tables, are incredibly time-consuming to create:

Petitioners have found no data-driven analyses on the average length of time it takes to build a Table of Citations. Anecdotal estimations, however, abound. For example, the company ClearBrief—which sells AI software that formats and edits appellate briefs—claims that its “conversations with hundreds of attorneys, paralegals, and legal assistants across the country, indicate that manually creating a perfectly formatted and accurate Table of Authorities can take anywhere from 3 hours to a full week, depending on how complicated the document is.” See Clearbrief, How to Create a Table of Authorities in One Click in Microsoft Word, https://clearbrief.com/blog/authorities (last accessed Jan. 8, 2023). Considering that this source is selling a tool that builds Tables of Citations, Petitioners take the high end of that range with a grain of salt. 

Still, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and noted legal writing scholar Bryan Garner warn advocates to “[a]llow a full day” to prepare a Table of Citations, and to “[n]ever trust computers to prepare the tables automatically.” Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 90 (2008). Experienced advocates working for a firm or company willing to pay for assistive software might manage to generate a perfectly formatted and accurate Table of Citations in less than 45 minutes. Meanwhile, a litigant without access to these programs may spend considerably more time using Word’s built-in citation-marking tool. The tool is not intuitive, and an average-length brief requires anywhere from a couple of hours to a full day to manually mark the citations, depending on the user’s familiarity with the tool. And, many self-represented litigants, particularly inmates, write out their Table of Citations by hand. 

. . . .

Even accounting for time savings from modern technology, the time it takes to compile the Table of Citations, confirm its accuracy, and correct any errors is not insignificant. And all this work must be performed after the substantive briefing is complete, meaning parties are often running up against their deadlines by the time they are ready to build the table. This leaves no room for last-minute adjustments, which creates its own challenges in cases where the drafting attorney needs to seek feedback from a supervisor, trial counsel, or a client. And in both criminal and civil litigation, “the time it takes” translates into actual dollars—either billed to a client at hundreds of dollars an hour or in salary paid to State-funded employees. It is the litigants and taxpayers who ultimately bear these costs.

Petitioners claim that, given the fact that most Arizona courts have now moved to electronic briefs, the "court's infrequent use of the table of citations as a navigational tool renders the cost unjustifiable." They likewise dismiss the non-navigational uses of the table:

Although few people use the Table of Citations as a navigational tool, some have found non-navigational uses, including: (1) to get a “feel” for the case before reading the brief; (2) to check whether a draft decision addresses the main authorities cited by parties; (3) to prepare for conferences or oral argument; and (4) as an aide for finding the correct citation when the citation in the body of the brief is incomplete or inaccurate. See Ball, Jancaitis & Butzine, Streamlining Briefs, at 33–34. None of these uses justify the continued requirement that briefs contain a Table of Citations.

First, readers can “get a feel” for the case by reading the introduction, summary of the argument, and the table of contents. Separately, while first impressions are inevitable when reading any brief, “feeling out” the argument serves little purpose for the end result. Appellate courts base their decisions on the law and facts of the case, not initial impressions. The substance of the arguments should be far more persuasive than a mere list of authorities.

Second, while the Table of Citations may make the brief more formal and emphasize the need to support arguments with legal authorities, other procedural rules and formatting requirements compensate for the loss of the Table of Citations. See, e.g., ARCAP 13(a)(7)(A) (requiring appellate argument contain the litigant’s “contentions concerning each issue presented for review, with supporting reasons for each contention, and with citations of legal authorities . . . .”). Moreover, formatting rules are meant to “promote succinct, orderly briefs that judges can readily follow.” Judith D. Fischer, Pleasing the Court: Writing Ethical and Effective Briefs, 51 (2d ed. 2011). That purpose is not served if the Table of Citations is being used merely to test an advocate’s ability to follow directions. Other aspects of the brief can provide that signal while also improving readability.

Third, while some use the Table of Citations to gather sources to download or refer to at oral argument, it is not a necessary tool to complete either task. More practitioners are hyperlinking their briefs so courts can easily access the cited material as they read the brief. And relatively few cases have oral argument, further diminishing the value of the Table of Citations for this particular purpose.

Finally, the use of the Table of Citations as a “backup” for locating correct citations when they are missing in the body of the brief is unlikely to occur with sufficient frequency to justify the time and resources spent creating the tables. From a logical standpoint, if a litigant has not spent the time ensuring their citations in the body of the brief are accurate, it is unlikely they will have a reliable Table of Citations, or in some cases, any table at all. See State v. Haggard, 2 CACR 2010-0307-PR, 2011 WL 315537, at *2, ¶ 8 (Ariz. App. Feb. 1, 2011) (mem. decision) (attempting to identify cases vaguely referred to in a pro-per brief and noting that no Table of Citations had been provided).

I agree with much of what the Petitioners say. The tables do take a lot of time to prepare, and there are not a lot of great, free, resources for making the tables. I see this with student briefs all the time. I always warn my students to leave time to prepare the tables, and they don't. They then usually comment that they had no idea how time-consuming the tables were to create (despite my prior warning).

Still, I hope that the Supreme Court keeps the table. First, although most briefs are now filed electronically, my research for Winning on Appeal revealed that many judges still like to read briefs in paper form. This means that the table does still play a navigational role. I also find tables useful to identify what cases the parties relied upon. This is more than just getting the "feel" of a brief. It tells me the strength of the reasoning and points me to where in the brief I need to look if I am concerned about a particular case. I think that we often forget how important citations are to the courts. I blogged on this several years ago when talking about citations in footnotes:

Last week, over at The Volokh ConspiracyEugene Volokh blogged on this very topic, quoting a district court opinion that stated, 

The Court strongly disfavors footnoted legal citations. Footnoted citations serve as an end-run around page limits and formatting requirements dictated by the Local Rules. Moreover, several courts have observed that "citations are highly relevant in a legal brief" and including them in footnotes "makes brief-reading difficult." The Court strongly discourages the parties from footnoting their legal citations in any future submissions.

Eugene also mentioned a federal appellate judge who told him "You view citations to authority as support for the argument. I view them as often the most important part of the argument."

I do agree that we need more technology tools to make efficient tables, and I would be happy to highlight any such tools in this blog (just shoot me an email!).

February 6, 2023 in Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, February 5, 2023

A Call for Law Over Politics

In the novel Guy Mannering, Sir Walter Scott wrote that a “lawyer without history or literature is a mechanic, a mere working mason; if he possesses some knowledge of these, he may venture to call himself an architect.” As lawyers and especially as appellate advocates, we aspire to creating an edifice where the rule of law governs and not simply the politics of the day. We seek to design the law to withstand political winds while capable of change though remaining true to rules and standards that sensibly apply regardless of the ascendant ideologies.

It is not an easy task, and we are not always very good at perpetuating that approach. Sometimes, our inability to do so leads to embarrassment and harm to the rule of law. Other times, it leads to revolutionary and welcome change. Rarely, though, do we realize which outcome is most likely going to result until significantly later as we look back retrospectively.

Today, our courts have lost enormous public confidence and respect, traits that are essential to their salutary operation. We have seen the rhetoric of politics in the place of timeless legal principles populate judicial opinions — and appellate briefing at levels and rates that mark a departure from past instances of the same developments.

New evidence of the escalating trend may have emerged from the North Carolina Supreme Court. The new year saw that court flip from a 4-3 Democratic majority to a 5-2 Republican majority (use of party labels is perhaps unsettling but unavoidable in this instance). The new majority has granted petitions for rehearing in two election law cases: one involving redistricting and another on a voter identification law.

Reconsideration of this type is normally used when a court made its decision under a misapprehension of the record or some other error that demands correction. It is an extremely rare event. Here, it is clear that the law is unchanged, and there are no evidentiary issues. The only thing that changed was the membership of the court — and that is a troubling basis for reconsideration.

            As Justice Anita Earl put it in dissent from the grant of reconsideration:

it took this Court just one month to send a smoke signal to the public that our decisions are        fleeting, and our precedent is only as enduring as the terms of the justices who sit on the bench. The majority has cloaked its power grab with a thin veil of mischaracterized legal authorities. I write to make clear that the emperor has no clothes.

Hall v. Harper, No. 413PA21 (Feb. 3, 2023) (Earl, J., dissenting).

I write this post in a bit of a state of shock, simply because of how blatant and clear the coming reversal is. If law is not to become little more than a yoyo or roller coaster ride, it cannot simply become the spoils of political warfare. As much as there are precedents that I hope will be overturned, and there are past examples of judicial composition driving changes in the law, this precipitous reversal of field renders the law less the work of architects and more a political game where appellate advocacy becomes less relevant. Rather than the rule of law, the rule of seat warmers prevails.

 

 

 

February 5, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Third Circuit's Proposed Filing Time Rollback Would Reduce Practitioners' Autonomy

The Third Circuit has been in my news feed this week.  Chief Judge Michael Chagares has proposed to roll back the Third Circuit Court of Appeals' filing deadlines from 11:59 pm to 5:00 pm.  The offered justification for the proposal?  Work-life balance.

But of course.  The child of self-preservation, work-life balance has become a go-to intrinsic good.  (What would our grandparents have to say about this, I wonder?)  Unfortunately, citing this popularized concept can also stifle discourse.  Who can argue with the hallowed and lofty buzzphrase of "work-life balance"?

I offer a counterpoint: autonomy.  This is the intrinsic good we should promote in filing deadlines and much else in the legal profession. 

Consider junior associates with very little autonomy over their work and schedules.  They want to know their contributions are valuable, but they don't have the time or autonomy to add value where they already have a leg up in subject matter expertise.  Consider mid-level associates hammering out tricky (or mundane) legal issues in dispositive briefing, all while partners and clients and ping ping ping their phones and inboxes.  Consider working parents who have afternoon pickups and family frivolity to breathe life into their days between leaving the office and opening up their laptops before bed. 

All of us need autonomy in our work.  Work-life balance requires flexibility and autonomy, not harsh--even jurisdictional--cutoffs.  Autonomy gives people freedom to work at quieter hours of the day.  For me, that is often past 7 pm.  For others, it may be early in the morning.  The less harried we are, the more careful and thoughtful we can be.  Midnight filing deadlines give us breathing room to review commas and tables of authorities one more time.  And autonomy breeds creativity, which clients value and the legal profession needs to solve complex problems.

Moreover, the Third Circuit proposal appears to create a problem that does not exist.  In a 2018 study of federal docket filings, only one in ten docket entries in federal courts occurred after 5 p.m., and only one in twenty occurred after 6 p.m.  Most attorneys apparently file documents before 5 p.m., meaning the work-life balance concern is a minor one in federal courts. 

But for all of us who prize autonomy and crave its attendant flexibility in our practice--which transcends life and work stages--the midnight filing deadline is a gift.  We should not easily release it.

The Court is accepting public comments on its proposal until February 18, 2023. 

February 1, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (0)