Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Drafting a Strong Preliminary Statement

            The preliminary statement, or introduction, is among the most critical parts of a brief. Indeed, the preliminary statement affords you the opportunity to concisely and persuasively explain why you should win, and thus make an excellent first impression on the reader. Below are a few tips on how to draft a strong preliminary statement.

1.    Begin with a strong opening sentence that captures the reader’s attention.

            The first sentence in the opening paragraph of your preliminary statement should tell the court precisely and persuasively why you should win. Put differently, it should contain the theme of the case. Doing so will capture the court’s attention and focus the court’s attention immediately on the arguments that you believe support a ruling in your favor.  Be sure, however, not to draft an opening sentence that contains over-the-top language and unnecessary adjectives, that is excessively long, or that contains excess or esoteric words. Keep it simple and to the point. Consider the following examples:

“The defendant subjectively believed that her life was in danger when she used lethal force, and the decision to use such force was objectively reasonable.”

Versus

“This case is about the defense of self-defense, and the defendant should be found by this court to have exercised the defense of self-defense in this case.

            Of course, the first example is not perfect, but you get the point. The second sentence is an unmitigated disaster and will certainly not capture the judge’s attention (in a positive way) or begin your brief persuasively.

 2.    Tell the court what you want.

            In the first paragraph of your preliminary statement, inform the court of the relief that you are seeking. For example, if you are opposing a summary judgment motion, say, “The defendant’s motion for summary judgment should be denied,” or if you are the plaintiff moving for leave to file an emergent appeal, say, “The plaintiff’s motion for leave to file an emergent appeal should be granted.” It sounds simple – and it is – but it's important to let the court know at the outset what relief you are seeking.

 3.    Tell the court why you should get what you want.

            Explain to the court why you should get what you want. One strategy to ensure the effective organization and flow of your preliminary statement is to use the Rule of Two or the Rule of Three roadmap, in which you state concisely the two or three reasons that support ruling in your favor.  Doing so gives the court an outline of the arguments to expect in the brief and allows you to explain why those arguments are meritorious.  Consider the following examples:

 “The plaintiff’s defamation claim should be dismissed because the allegedly defamatory statements: (1) were substantially true; (2) constituted protected opinion; and (3) did not cause the plaintiff’s alleged harm.”

 Versus

“The plaintiff has alleged that the defendant defamed her, but that claim should be dismissed because, as discussed below, several defenses exist that prohibit the plaintiff from recovering damages in this matter.”

             The problem with the second sentence is that it doesn’t say anything, and it gives the court no indication of the arguments that you intend to rely on to support your position.

            Importantly, each paragraph that follows should be dedicated to explaining separately why each of the two or three reasons supports your position. 

4.    Be concise.

            Always be concise and get to the point, using simple language and, as a general matter, never exceeding three pages. As such, avoid, among other things, Latin, legalese, fancy “SAT” words, long sentences, adverbs, adjectives, over-the-top language, and unnecessary repetition. Using such language suggests that you are trying to artificially persuade the court and do not believe in the strength of your arguments. Consider the following examples:

“On December 1, 2022, a blizzard struck Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, a town of 15,000 residents, with accumulations of approximately twenty-two inches of snow. The defendant, Mike Smith, owned Mike’s Grocery Store, a popular destination for many Hasbrouck Heights residents. In the aftermath of the blizzard, and for approximately five days, Mike remained open but did not make any effort to clear the snow and ice that had accumulated in the parking lot and walkway. As a result, on December 3, 2022, as Barbara Johnson, an elderly woman and a frequent patron, was walking to the front door, she fell, suffering severe injuries, including a concussion and broken shoulder. Barbara’s injuries were the direct and proximate result of Mike’s negligent conduct and entitle Barbara to damages.”

Versus

“As discussed in more detail infra, on December 1, 2022, a shocking event occurred in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey that no one could have ever predicted or imagined. Almost two feet of snow fell and the deleterious effects on the town’s vulnerable residents were incalculable and incomprehensible. However, despite the undeniable dangers that the storm engendered, Barbara Johnson, an elderly and mercurial woman, make the fateful decision to risk her life by venturing to Mike's Grocery Store, where the parking lot was covered in snow and the deleterious conditions unquestionably apparent. Not surprisingly, Barbara fell while endeavoring to enter the store and suffered injuries that any reasonable person would have foreseen. As such, and as described infra, Barbara’s injuries are ipso facto the result of her negligence and the complaint should be dismissed.

            Again, the first example is not perfect, but the point should be obvious. The second example is about as bad as it gets.

5.    In most instances, do not cite cases in the preliminary statement.

            Some may disagree with this point, but in my view, the preliminary statement should provide a concise and compelling overview (and roadmap) of your arguments, including the facts that support granting the relief you seek. Citing cases can disrupt the flow and is arguably unnecessary because the legal argument section is where you will rely on case law to expand upon and further support your position.

***

       *For an additional and helpful discussion of the preliminary statement, see Jayne T. Woods' excellent post, dated May 9, 2023, titled "Should I include a stand-alone "introduction" section in my brief?" 

May 28, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 21, 2023

When Is a Judge Unfit, and What Can be Done About It?

The controversy surrounding Judge Pauline Newman of the Federal Circuit raises an interesting question for appellate advocates. Judge Newman, age 95 and appointed by President Reagan in 1984, was asked to step down by the circuit’s chief judge but declined the suggestion. Allegations against her include bouts of paranoia in which she claims that the court is spying on her, that her staff is betraying her and at least one of them should be arrested, that she engages in conversations with dead colleagues, and that she forgets how to log into her computer or where files on it can be found.

She is now being investigated by a special committee of the circuit about her competency to continue to serve as a judge. A recently released 26-page Order requires Judge Newman to undergo “neurological evaluation and neuropsychological testing to determine whether she suffers from a disability.” The order follows a previous one where Judge Newman refused to comply, labeling the requested medical records “irrelevant,” objecting to examinations by court-designated professionals and to their scope, and asking that the determination of her fitness to remain on the bench be determined outside the circuit. The new order rejects those objections and includes more specificity about what the investigative committee of fellow judges requires.

Judge Newman has responded with a lawsuit, filed May 10, in the federal district court in Washington, DC. It denies that she suffered a heart attack that prevented her from sitting during the summer of 2021, asserting instead that she was a member of 10 panels from June to September of that year and issued at least eight opinions from those sittings. Her productivity, it alleges, eclipses that of all but two colleagues. It further asserts that the circuit, by unanimous vote of the other judges, refuses to assign her any more cases. The complaint further states that Judge Newman’s judicial assistant and law clerk were reassigned without leave for the judge to replace them.

The complaint argues that the treatment of Judge Newman, constructively a removal from office, violates separation of powers because she serves “during good Behaviour,” removable from office only through impeachment and conviction by Congress. It further asserts that the circuit judicial council acted prematurely under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980, which requires a completed investigation before action, comparing the procedure utilized to “Sentence first—verdict afterwards” from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” It further asserts a Fifth Amendment due-process violation “because the special committee is composed of witnesses to Plaintiff’s alleged disability.”

Judge Newman also claims the court has violated the First Amendment by virtue of a “Gag Order [that] forbids Plaintiff or her attorneys from engaging in any speech that would in any way publicize the ongoing disciplinary proceedings against Plaintiff.” Indeed, until the complaint was filed, the court’s order was filed under seal and released only because of the lawsuit.

Finally, Judge Newman asserts most of the authority claimed by the investigating committee is unconstitutional, due to the vagueness of “what constitutes a mental disability that renders a judge ‘unable to discharge all the duties of office’” and what remedies the judicial council may employ.

For appellate counsel facing a court with a judge displaying erratic behavior or otherwise unable to follow the argument, what happens in Judge Newman’s circumstances could be instructive. We may learn what authority courts have to intervene when a judicial council acts, what authority judicial councils may exercise, and what behavior provides grounds for action against a judge. We may also learn what appointment by the president and confirmation by the Senate, subject to impeachment, means in these circumstances.

Of course, appellate counsel has no means to challenge the assignment of a judge to a matter, absent a clear conflict of interest. Still, the Disability Act and the Rules for Judicial-Conduct and Judicial-Disability Proceedings provide a complaint process, which basically follows the process that the Federal Circuit employed – although in this instance the Chief Judge filed the complaint herself.

We have at least one historic precedent of a court acting to restrict a judge who had lost the ability to discharge his duties. Justice Gabriel Duvall, a once prominent Maryland lawyer and judge appointed to the Supreme Court by President Madison, became so sick and deaf during his final years on the bench that Chief Justice John Marshall ordered that the clerk not supply the infirm justice with any supplies, lest he actually write something about one of the cases before the Court.

Today, we live in a different world, but the problem of a judge who does not recognize when the time to step down has come remains. Whether that time has come for Judge Newman or not, her case and the Federal Circuit’s actions may provide some answers about what a court can do.

May 21, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 15, 2023

On Deadlines

On Tuesday, May 2, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit amended its local rules to create a uniform filing deadline of 5 pm eastern time. Robert recently posted about the change.

The Third Circuit gives several reasons for the change, including:

  • Equalizing deadlines between pro se litigants and attorneys;
  • Allowing the Court’s Helpdesk to help with technical issues;
  • Eliminating the need for attorneys to check for after hour filings; and
  • “alleviating confusion by equalizing the filing deadlines for electronically filed and non-electronically filed documents in most cases.”

As Robert noted in his post, the court’s move was opposed by several groups, including the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the Third Circuit Bar Association, and a group of 43 appellate attorneys that included Howard Bashman, who I greatly respect.  I found this third letter to be the most persuasive.

All of the opposition letters argue that the rule change will not improve attorney quality-of-life. The letters note that solo practitioners and young attorneys who like to leave work early to be with kids and then work after hours will be negatively affected. The letter from the appellate attorneys also mentioned that the rules change will make it harder for clients in Alaska and Hawaii to review filings.

While I sympathize with some of the concerns raised in the letters (I often work after my young kids are in bed), I ultimately have no problem with the rule change.

As a professor, I have had to set deadlines for my students for over a decade. Early in my teaching career, my students had to turn in their papers both in person and electronically by a certain time for their student briefs to be “timely filed.” For the last 6 or so years, I have only required “electronic” filing.  While I am confident that many students find deadlines in legal writing classes to be “arbitrary,” I assure you that they are not.  Rather, they are the product of significant thought, experience, and even coordination.  For example, while students might like an 8:00 am deadline that gives them all night to work, are such deadlines fair to professors who teach morning classes? Are deadlines set in the university’s time zone fair to students taking online classes in other time zones? Do you give students the weekend to work, or do you set deadlines on Thursdays or Fridays to give yourself time to grade over the weekend?

In setting deadlines for assignments, I try to keep a few things in mind.  First, I aim for consistency—assignments are typically due on the same days of the week. My major assignments are usually due on Thursdays, with minor assignments following a set weekly schedule of Tuesday and Friday.  Second, I aim for clarity. My assignments are due at 11:59 pm Arizona time.  I find a midnight deadline to be too confusing. I could easily pick an earlier time in the day, but I haven’t since I moved to pure electronic submission.  Third, I want to encourage good habits. For me this means encouraging my students to develop clear timelines for producing their assignments. I post an extremely thorough syllabus at the beginning of the year with all of the major and minor deadlines clearly listed. This allows students to develop a briefing schedule for submitting their assignments.  If they are working with a partner to submit a final paper, and that partner is going to be busy the evening an assignment is due, they need to figure out how to get that assignment finished early.  And guess what, nine times out of ten that is exactly what they do. They plan ahead and get the work done.

Here, the Third Circuit has set a deadline. While it may seem arbitrary, I find the reasons that they give to be related to their decision and thus, not arbitrary. And while some might not like deadline, it is one that attorneys can easily adapt to and work around. It means that attorneys will have to finish filings sooner, which might be burning that midnight oil the night before the filing is due so that the client in Alaska can review the brief first thing in the morning.

While adapting schedules can be hard, it is what we as attorneys should be able to do best. We pivot to meet the needs of our clients, the court, and the profession.

May 15, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Should I include a stand-alone “introduction” section in my brief?

I was recently discussing persuasive writing with an appellate attorney, and he mentioned how important he believed the “introduction” section of the brief was.  He wasn’t talking about an introductory paragraph to the argument; he meant an entirely independent, stand-alone section of the brief. 

The idea of an “introduction” (or preliminary statement) section has taken hold over the past few years in the appellate practice world.  It was mentioned on this very blog back in 2019:  https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/appellate_advocacy/2019/12/writing-an-outstanding-appellate-brief.html. But those who support it also recognize that not all appellate courts authorize it.[1]  And that raises several questions.

  • What is an “introduction” section?

An introduction section has been described by advocates as “a short and persuasive overview of the case,”[2] or “a concise statement of the issues and arguments that the writer view[s] as most important, as well as the desired outcome.”[3]  

While most appellate courts do not expressly authorize its inclusion in briefs, some do.  Arizona, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Utah, and Washington all expressly authorize (or require) an introduction section in their state appellate court rules.[4]  Utah’s rule says that “[t]he introduction should describe the nature and context of the dispute and explain why the party should prevail on appeal,” while the Illinois rule provides a model:  “This action was brought to recover damages occasioned by the alleged negligence of the defendant in driving his automobile. The jury rendered a verdict for the plaintiff upon which the court entered the judgment from which this appeal is taken. No questions are raised on the pleadings.”[5]  But the other state rules provide less guidance, suggesting that the introduction should address the “nature of the case” (Kentucky and Maine) or be “concise” (Washington), while Arizona and Minnesota provide no guidance at all.

With respect to the federal circuits, none address introductions in their local rules, but Westlaw’s Practical Law toolkits suggest that introductions are commonly included by practitioners in the First, Second, Fifth, Eleventh, and Federal Circuits.  These introductions are generally described as “a short preliminary explanation of the facts and procedural history of the case [with an] expla[nation] why the . . . Circuit should grant the appellant relief from the district court’s order or judgment.”[6]

  • What are the pros and cons of using an introduction?

As with any persuasive writing, you must first know your audience.  As a law clerk, I’ve seen only a few of these (they are not expressly authorized by my state’s rules), and I was neither put off nor blown away.  For me, it was meh.  But it’s really the judges’ opinions that matter, so I asked the judge I work for if she had noticed them and what she thought.  She also expressed mixed feelings, noting that introductions were helpful only if they were well-written, avoided redundancy, were brief, and acted as a guide for analyzing the claims on appeal.[7]

There are several potential benefits from a well-written introduction section.  You get to frame the case; you get to prime your reader to accept your legal positions or view the facts favorably to your claims;[8] and you can help the court navigate your brief.

But there are risks, as well.  The most obvious is potential redundancy.  Most appellate courts permit or require a summary of the argument section.  According to the federal rules, this section “must contain a succinct, clear, and accurate statement of the arguments made in the body of the brief, and . . . not merely repeat the argument headings.”[9] And, presuming your argument identifies the nature and context of the dispute and explains why your client should prevail, it’s hard to see the distinction between the summary of the argument and an introduction.  As one author put it, “At best, the brief simply contains two summaries of the argument, rather than one.”[10]  And one Florida court noted, “Outlines of substantive arguments are more proper in a brief's summary of argument section.”[11]

An additional (and very real) risk is violating a procedural rule.  Most appellate courts allow for dismissal of appeals in the face of briefing rule violations.  Even in jurisdictions allowing introductions, failing to write them properly (or taking liberties with the opportunity) can land you in a court’s crosshairs.  See, e.g., Yakima Sch. Dist. No. 7 v. Magee, 16 Wash. App. 2d 1079 (Wash. App. Div. 3 2021) (rejecting the appellant’s “preamble” as “a confusing jumble of words” that failed to “help the court or opposing counsel ‘expeditiously review’ the issues in the case”).  Furthermore, in jurisdictions without express rules, it is unclear whether an introduction counts in the page and word limits or whether the failure to include legal or record citations constitutes a violation of other briefing requirements.  And both the Second Circuit and the United States Supreme Court have rules requiring briefs to be free of “irrelevant” or “immaterial” matter.[12]

In short, the inclusion of an optional or unauthorized introduction is a gamble with some significant risk for potentially high reward—but only if it is done well.

  • How do I effectively use an introduction?

The first decision is where to put it.  Its name, alone, suggests it should appear near the beginning of the brief, and jurisdictions with express rules generally say it should appear immediately after the table of authorities.[13]  In federal circuits where common practice exists, introductions appear immediately after the table of authorities (First and Second Circuits), after the statement of issues presented (Fifth Circuit), or between the statement of related cases and the jurisdictional statement (Federal Circuit).  Common practice in the Eleventh Circuit appears variable, with some introductions appearing at the very beginning, some after the table of authorities, and some as the first heading in the statement of the case.  (Though it seems odd to include the introduction within the statement of the case, the reason for doing so may be logistical; some appellate judges rely on summaries provided by staff attorneys, and including the introduction in the statement of case increases the likelihood that it will be included in those summaries.  Of course, placing the introduction within the statement of case may also increase the likelihood of a rules violation if the introduction lacks citation or includes argument.)[14]

The next decision is whether to include citations to either the record or legal authority.  In Washington, “[t]he introduction need not contain citations to the record or authority.”[15]  And judges who are open to introductions generally suggest that citations in this section detract from its purpose and effectiveness.  But, as mentioned above, whether you are required to include record citations depends to some degree on location of your introduction, and many appellate courts require citations to the record for every factual assertion in the brief.[16]

Additional considerations are whether introductions are appropriate in every case and, if included, how long they should be.  Considering how judges and law clerks use introductions, they are most effective when included in complex cases and least effective in simpler ones.  And there is universal agreement that they must be brief and concise or risk being ignored.  Thus, one author suggests, “Where introductions are concerned, you should make sure that every single word counts.”[17] 

As for contents, begin by describing the type of case (e.g., premises liability, landlord/tenant dispute, employment discrimination) and then provide a roadmap (as opposed to a summary) for the main arguments.  “This roadmap should say, in basic terms: what happened; what law applies; and what the result should be.”[18]  Here’s an example from a brief in the Eleventh Circuit:

This is a dispute regarding insurance coverage. [Insured] lived at Lakeview apartments. She sued Lakeview after she slipped and fell on a leak when the “air conditioning units” at the apartments stopped working. At issue is whether a Water Related Exclusion, which precludes coverage for bodily injuries arising out of, related to, or in any way involving a discharge or leak from “appliances,” applies to [Insured’s] lawsuit against Lakeview.

[Insurer’s] position is it does not have a duty to defend because [Insured] clearly alleges her bodily injuries arise out of a leak from an appliance, i.e., the air conditioning units. While the word “appliance” is not defined in the Policy, its ordinary meaning is a “device for a particular use or function.” An air conditioning unit meets this definition; simply, it is a device used to heat or cool air. There is no coverage under the terms of the Policy.

The district court disagreed and concluded [Insurer] has a duty to defend because it is not clear whether an HVAC system is an appliance. In the district court's view, an “appliance” means something “that you plug in, like a dishwasher or refrigerator.” The district court appears to have been swayed by Lakeview's expert who opined that the word “appliance” does not mean a building's HVAC system.

Applying the ordinary definition of “appliance” it is clear the Water Related Exclusion applies to the allegations in [Insured’] complaint. Moreover, expert opinion is irrelevant to the duty to defend. See Selective Ins. Co. v. William P. White Racing Stables, 718 Fed. Appx. 864 (11th Cir. 2017). This Court should reverse.[19]

The Takeaways:

  • Check your local rules first to see if introductions are authorized, and if so, whether there are any requirements or constraints on usage;
  • Use introductions for only complex cases where they can be a helpful guide for your reader;
  • Ensure you are complying with other briefing requirements (e.g., record references and word/page limits); and
  • Be concise—limit yourself to one page at most.[20]

*For more detailed advice on drafting effective preliminary statements, check out Adam Lamparello's recent post:  https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/appellate_advocacy/2023/05/drafting-a-strong-preliminary-statement.html

 

[1] See, e.g., Chris W. Altenbernd, Legalizing the Appellate Introduction, 90 Fla. Bar J. 60 (Sept./Oct. 2016), available at https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-journal/legalizing-the-appellate-introduction/.

[2] Savannah Blackwell, Legal Writing Tip:  Start Your Brief With a Solid Introduction, available at https://www.sfbar.org/blog/legal-writing-tip-start-your-brief-with-a-solid-introduction/

[3] Lance Curry, No Introduction Needed?  The Effectiveness of Introductions in Appellate Briefs, The Record, Journal of the Appellate Practice Section of the Florida Bar (Winter 2011), available at http://therecord.flabarappellate.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/AP-Winter-11.pdf.

[4] See Ariz. R. Civ. App. P. 13(a)(3); Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 341(h)(2); Ky. R. App. P. 32(A)(1); Me. R. App. P. 7A(a)(1)(C); Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 128.02.1(d); Utah R. App. P. 24(a)(4); Wash. R. App. P. 10.3(a)(3). 

[5] According to Illinois law, “The introductory paragraph should not include lengthy recitations of fact and should not contain argument.”  Slater v. Illinois Lab. Rel. Bd., Loc. Panel, 144 N.E.3d 618, 624 (Ill. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 2019).  Thus, it is probably not the kind of introduction most advocates envision.

[6] See, e.g., Fifth Circuit Appellant's Brief, Practical Law Standard Document w-000-5018.

[7] These views have been echoed by other appellate judges, though some believe the introduction (if not expressly authorized by rule) is not only a waste of time but also a violation of appellate briefing rules.  Curry, supra note 3.

[8] Joe Regalia, Eight Easy Strategies to Write Better Introductions, available at https://write.law/blog/eight-simple-strategies-to-write-better-introductions

[9] Fed. R. App. P. 28(a)(7).

[10] Altenbernd, supra note 1.

[11] Florida Second District Court of Appeal, PRACTICE PREFERENCES, pg. 4, available at www.2dca.org.   

[12] 2d Cir. R. 28.1(a); Sup. Ct. R. 24.6.

[13] See Ariz. R. Civ. App. P. 13(a)(3); Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 341(h)(2); Ky. R. App. P. 32(A)(1); Me. R. App. P. 7A(a)(1)(C); Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 128.02.1(d); Utah R. App. P. 24(a)(4); Wash. R. App. P. 10.3(a)(3).  But see Ky. R. App. P. 32(A)(1) (indicating the introduction should be the first section of the brief); Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 128.02.1(d) (indicating the introduction should appear between the facts and the argument sections).

[14] See Curry, supra note 3, pg. 13-14.

[15] Wash. R. App. P. 10.3(a)(3); but see Est. of Gilkey v. Gilkey, 11 Wash. App. 2d 1080 (Wash. App. Div. 1 2020) (unpublished) (stating, “we disregard factual statements not supported by the record in the introduction, just as we disregard them in other parts of a brief”).

[16] E.g., 3d Cir. R. 28.0(c) (“All assertions of fact in briefs must be supported by a specific reference to the record.”); 5th Cir. R. 28.2.2 (“Every assertion in briefs regarding matter in the record must be supported by a reference to the page number of the original record”); 6th Cir. R. 28(a) (“A brief must direct the court to the parts of the record it refers to.”); 9th Cir. R. 28-2.8 (“Every assertion in the briefs regarding matters in the record, except for undisputed facts offered only for general background, shall be supported by a citation to the Excerpts of Record”); 11th Cir. R. 28-1(i) (“In the statement of the case, as in all other sections of the brief, every assertion regarding matter in the record shall be supported by a reference to the record”) (emphasis added); Fed. Cir. R. 28(f) (“Any reference in a brief to the underlying record . . . must be to the corresponding appendix page number(s) assigned to the material”); D.C. Cir. R. 28(b) (“When citing to the record, authorities, or any other material, citations must refer to specific pages of the source”).

[17] Jon Barnes, Intro to Intros: How to Write the Winning Preliminary Statement, 58-APR Ariz. Att’y 28 (April 2022).

[18] Id.

[19] KINSALE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. LAKEVIEW TOWER VENTURE, LP, et. al., Defendant-Appellee., 2023 WL 1778409, at *1-2 (11th Cir. App. Br.).

[20] Federal practice suggests that one-to-two pages is an acceptable length, but some state court rules expressly limit introductions alone, or in combination with other sections, to one page.  See, e.g., Ky. R. App. P. 32(A)(1).

May 9, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, May 8, 2023

Giving your law clerks an awesome experience

Recently I traveled to a neighboring state to talk to state appellate judges about maximizing their law clerks' experience. This invitation stemmed in part from my recent book, The Short & Happy Guide to Judicial Clerkships. While that book largely focuses on how to apply for clerkships, I do briefly talk about how law clerks can get the most out of their clerkship year.

In preparing for the talk, I found that there is not a lot written on the topic of maximizing the clerk experience.  Well several articles and books exist about how law clerks can be good clerks (like my brief discussion)--there is less instruction for judges on how to ensure that their clerks have a positive experience. I have decided to spend some time this summer writing an essay to help fill this gap. 

Specifically, I am going to look at three topics:

(1) What can judges do to make the clerk experience positive? 

(2) How can judges best mentor law clerks?

(3) What can judges do to help their clerks learn how to research and write effectively?  

There are a few articles on this last topic, notably this excellent, short piece by Sara Warf.

I would like to invite readers of this blog, both judges and former (or current) clerks to reach out to me with their thoughts on this topic.  I am interested in the perspectives of both trial and appellate judges and clerks. Thanks!

May 8, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 7, 2023

To Burn the Midnight Oil . . . or Not

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit adopted a rule that requires filings be submitted by 5 pm on the due date, rather than any time before midnight that day as part of an effort to impose better work-life balance on lawyers and their staffs, effective July 1. To help people get used to the new rule, a “grace period” allowing acceptance of filings submitted later in the day will be permitted through the remainder of 2023.

The new L.A.R. 26.1 applies the Clerk’s Office’s closing time to electronic filings. Fed. R. App. P. 26(a)(4)(B) sets the deadline for electronic filings in a court of appeals to be midnight in the court’s time zone on its due date. However, that rule is premised on the condition that no “different time is set by a statute, local rule, or court order.” The Third Circuit is the only circuit to take advantage of that clause to set a uniform 5 pm filing deadline.

In a Public Notice issued May 2, the court explained that the new deadline permits its Helpdesk to assist with last-minute filing problems during regular business hours, the Clerk’s Office to extend deadlines on the due date, and allows judges to receive and review the filings at an earlier hour. The court also expressed concern for pro se filers, who comprise more than half the court’s filers and do not have access to the electronic filing system and thus must file by paper in the clerk’s office. The court stated that a 5 pm deadline equalized the requirements between attorneys and pro se litigants. The rules was also aimed at the “practice by some of unnecessary late-night filings intended to deprive opponents from hours that could be used to consider and formulate responses to such filings,” while saving opposing counsel from checking their email to see if the papers were filed yet. Finally, the court said the rule prevents confusion on when the filing must be made. It noted that about a quarter of all filings come in after business hours.

The rule was promulgated over the opposition of bar groups. The Pennsylvania Bar, for example, argued that the court’s quality-of-life concerns were misplaced because further constraining the time to file “intensifies the existing strain on the well-being of the lawyer,” would alternatively engender more 11th-hour motions to extend the time to file, and, consequently, further burden “scarce judicial resources.” The bar’s letter also noted that the “brunt” of the burden from a shortened deadline would fall on small firms and individual practitioners with more limited resources. Finally, the Pennsylvania Bar asserted that the rule would increase confusion by making the Third Circuit different from each of the other federal circuits, where the same appellate lawyers might practice.

The Third Circuit Bar Association also complained. It noted that the reduced hours took away flexibility needed to address “family care, medical appointments, unforeseen circumstances, and other work obligations” that could crop up. It also asserts that the fairness concerns are overblown and easily addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Forty-three appellate lawyers sent a memorandum that praised the flexibility that a midnight deadline provides, noting that post-COVID that many people work non-regular hours from home, and urged the court to keep the old rule.

None of these pleas were successful. Some of the arguments were or should have been easily dismissed. While uniformity among the circuits is desirable, appellate lawyers, like their trial-level counterparts, should read the local rules. For example, Fed. R. App. P. 32 sets the word count for principal merit briefs at 13,000 words and reply briefs at 6,500 words. The Ninth Circuit, however, its Cir. Rule 32-1 maintains the old rule of 14,000 and 7,000. On the other hand, the idea the public notice advances that a judge was anxiously awaiting the filing to begin diving into the brief that evening seems pretty farfetched for everything but emergency filings, which often have their own specific deadlines.

Others should have been taken more seriously. I look at the issue from the perspective of a solo practitioner with a national practice. In the last several circuit arguments I have made no one came from within that circuit. In arguments in the Seventh and Ninth Circuits, both parties were represented by counsel from Washington, DC. In the Fifth Circuit, my opponent was from New York. The point is that a substantial number of appellate lawyers practice in circuits where they do not reside. If the Ninth Circuit adopted a 5 pm deadline, the time difference from Washington, DC gives me an extra three-hour window. By the same token, the Third Circuit’s new rule would deprive a practitioner from San Francisco of three hours of regular business time due to the time difference.

In a world adjusting to remote work where offices have become less meaningful, the idea that a 5 pm deadline will have meaning for quality-of-life concerns strikes me as fanciful. In all likelihood, it merely shifts the extra hours needed to the days before. As the Supreme Court term started moving toward its last few months, Justice Byron White would tell his clerks that it was time to start burning the midnight oil. What the Third Circuit seems to be saying by its new rule is burn the midnight oil every day up to but not including the due date for a filing.

May 7, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Legal Communication and Rhetoric: JALWD Turns 20

The journal, Legal Communication and Rhetoric: JALWD, (formerly the Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors) will publish its twentieth volume this year. The journal has this mission statement:

The journal is dedicated to encouraging and publishing scholarship (1) focusing on the substance and doctrine of legal writing. Legal writing is broadly defined to include many types of writing in a lawyering setting; (2) grounded in legal doctrine, empirical research, or interdisciplinary theory; and (3) accessible, helpful and interesting to all “do-ers” of legal writing: attorneys, judges, law students, and legal academicians. Published articles are intended to reach all of those audiences.[1]

The journal regularly includes articles that appellate practitioners will found helpful and it publishes articles written by practitioners as well as academics. Here are just a few examples:

  • Raffi Melkonian, Thoughts and Worries About Appellate Practice Post-Pandemic, 19 Legal Commc’n & Rhetoric 129 (2022)
  • Stephen Boscolo, Using Judicial Motives to Persuade Judges: A Dramatistic Analysis of the Petitioners’ Brief in Lawrence v. Texas, 17 Legal Commc’n & Rhetoric 103 (2020)
  • Scott Fraley, A Primer on Essential Classical Rhetoric for Practicing Attorneys, 14 Legal Commc’n & Rhetoric 99 (2017)
  • Barbara K. Gotthelf, The Lawyer’s Guide to Um, 11 Legal Commc’n & Rhetoric 1 (2014)
  • Stacy Rogers Sharp, Crafting Responses to Counterarguments: Learning from the Swing-Vote Cases, 10 Legal Commc’n & Rhetoric 201 (2013)
  • Scott Fraley, A Primer on Essential Classical Rhetoric for Practicing Attorneys, 14 Legal Commc’n & Rhetoric 99 (2017)

You’ll find a complete archive of the journal here Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD

 

[1] https://www.alwd.org/aboutlcr

May 2, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Oral Argument, Rhetoric, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)