Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Case Overload

I often talk to my writing and appellate advocacy students about their audience, the members of the court from which they are seeking relief. I have spent most of my career working for appellate courts and, so, having been the audience, I like to educate my students about the reader’s perspective. It is hard sometimes to grasp who your audience is, or how much attention the reader pays to legal motions, memoranda, and briefs. I confess that when I was a student I used to romanticize about my reader sitting in an overstuffed, leather chair in a dimly lit room slowly perusing briefs while sipping cognac. It never occurred to me that the sheer volume of work makes that picture a ridiculous fantasy.

Let’s talk about numbers. The United States Supreme Court website tells us that over 7,000 cases are filed in the Court each term, and that, of that number, about 80 receive plenary review, with another 100 disposed of without plenary review. The Court writes thousands of pages a term, if you count all the opinions and orders. See https://www.supremecourt.gov/about/courtatwork.aspx (last visited 7/23/2019). Imagine that! Even shared amongst all of the Justices, law clerks, clerks, and staff attorneys, the volume of written work in a term far exceed what most people will produce in a lifetime.

These numbers are just staggering. Imagine having to read just a fraction of the briefs and other legal documents filed in these cases. There is nothing romantic about it. But it is awe-inspiring to consider the dedication and sacrifice involved in devoting so much of time into the cares of the litigants and the future course of this country. The same can be said about every appellate court, where incoming cases can range from a few hundred in smaller states to more than 10,000 in the largest states each year.

See https://www.ncsc.org/Sitecore/Content/Microsites/PopUp/Home/CSP/CSP_AD_Overview

Keeping the sheer volume of cases in mind, over the next few weeks I will explore what we can do as appellate advocates to ease the burden.

July 31, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 5, 2019

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, July 5

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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 Dan Real a quick email atDReal@Creighton.edu or a message on Twitter (@Daniel_L_Real).  You can also send emails to Danny Leavitt at Danny@tsalerno-law.com or a message on twitter @Danny_C_Leavitt

 

Supreme Court Opinions and News:

@Steven Mazie had an article in the Economist this week reviewing the past term of the Court, its movement to the right, and the emerging political alignment of Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch.

The New Yorker had an article this week addressing how the Court’s recent decision in Gundy v. United States  likely foreshadows a shift in the Court’s position with regard to allowing Congress to broadly delegate authority to agencies.  Gundy involved a challenge to Congress’ delegation to the Attorney General the decision of whether mandatory registration requirements under the Sex Offender Registration Act apply to individuals who were convicted prior to the Act’s passage.  Gundy is such a defendant, did not register, and was charged and convicted as a result.  He challenged Congress’ delegation as impermissible.  As the article notes, the Court has long allowed Congress broad authority to make such delegations.  In Gundy’s case, the Court was divided with the four more liberal Justices voting to continue allowing delegation, three more conservative Justices voting to deviate from prior law, and Justice Alito siding with the more liberal Justices but explicitly indicating that if a majority of the Court was inclined to change the law, he’d be on board.  The decision in Gundy strongly suggests that the next case to raise the issue to the Court will likely be decided differently because Justice Kavanaugh had not yet been confirmed when it was argued and did not participate.  The article notes that changing this practice of delegation may result in wide sweeping changes to federal government, as a substantial amount of federal law currently depends heavily on such delegations to agencies.

FiveThirtyEight.com had an article this week reviewing the voting habits of the members of the Court (especially the conservative members) since the retirement of “swing vote” Justice Kennedy.  The article suggested that the Court could be viewed now as having three swing Justices, depending on the issues presented – Justice Gorsuch joined the more liberal members of the Court in more closely divided cases than any of the other more conservative Justices, while Justice Roberts provided the decisive vote on the recent census case.  Additionally, the early voting trends suggest that Justice Kavanaugh is likely the current “middle” of the Court, pushing it more conservative even while he seems to be more ideologically moderate than Justice Gorsuch.

The ABA Journal took a look this week at Justice Thomas' 30 year career on the Court, emphasizing his enigmatic persona -- "supporters and detractors are still debating who he really is."  He's now the longest-serving member of the Court and the senior associate Justice.  On the bench, he's known for rarely speaking; off the bench, he's known for being quite jovial and chatty. 

 

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News:

In the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Amazon was held strictly liable for injuries caused by defective products sold by other vendors on its website.  The case was Oberdorf v. Amazon.com.  More from the CA3blog.

 

State Appellate Court Opinions and News:

The Iowa Court of Appeals this week reversed a jury's decision that had awarded an Iowa couple $3.25 million after they claimed their adoption attorney failed to file paperwork on time and lead to them losing the child they planned to adopt.  The couple cared for the boy for a few months, but were then required to return him to his biological parents after the couple's attorney did not have the biological parents sign termination of parental rights documents.  The child died from severe head injuries a month later, and the biological father was convicted of second-degree murder.  In reversing the malpractice damage award, the appellate court concluded that the couple had failed to show that the attorney engaged in illegitimate conduct especially likely to produce serious emotional harm and had not show that he had a duty to exercise care to avoid causing emotional harm.  More here.

 

Practice Tips and Pointers:

#AppellateTwitter discussion this week on Twitter addressed lawyers and social media – many good thoughts throughout the Twitter thread started by @RachelGurvich  right here.

July 5, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Saying Less: the revised Supreme Court Rules and cutting words

On July 1, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States will impose a new, shorter word limit for principal briefs.  The change affects Supreme Court Rule 33.1(g), decreasing the word limit for principal merits briefs from 15,000 to 13,000.  The change brings the Court in line with the federal Courts of Appeal.  Since December 1, 2016, the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure have allotted only 13,000 words for opening and response briefs. 

The Court rejected one of the more controversial proposed rules.  That proposal would have limited reply briefs to 4,500 words.  Even so, the Court did shorten the time for filing a reply brief.  Previously, merits replies were due (1) 30 days after the respondent filed its merits response or (2) no later than 2 p.m. on the date seven days before the case was scheduled for argument, whichever was earlier.  The amended rule keeps the 30-day window but pushes the seven-days-before-argument deadline to 10.

 So why did the Court adopt these changes?  I don't claim to know the answer, but I expect that it has something to do with the fact that most briefs are simply too long.  Anecdotally, I once heard an appellate judge comment that every appeal really has one issue, maybe two.  It's clear that some lawyers—yours truly included—forget that sometimes. 

So how can you come in under these shorter word limits?  That's simple—better writing.  Here are some things to do, and to avoid, to bring your brief under the word limit.

  • Do use fewer words, not more: Legal writers often are guilty of using phrases like "pursuant to," "prior to," or "on or about."  Don't.  Instead of these wordy phrases, try "under," "before," and "on."  This seems like a no-brainer, but I've encountered many lawyers that refuse to give these anachronisms up.  As an aside, I've also encountered several that use "pursuant to" incorrectly.  Things don't happen "pursuant to" anyone's recollection.  If you can't replace the phrase "pursuant to" with the word "under," you should re-write.
  • Do run a search for the word "of." I never noticed it, but many phrases with the word "of" can be rewritten to eliminate one, often two words.  Consider the common phrases "the issue of" or "the question of."  You're likely able to pull those out without doing violence to your brief.  Also, if you're using an "of" phrase, there's also a chance you could use a possessive.
  • Do run a search for "ly." You're hopefully not going to find very many adverbs.  But if you do, take them out unless they're necessary.  Consider spending some time with a thesaurus; if you're using a lot of adverbs, perhaps you'd be better served by using stronger verbs.
  • Do not use the words "plaintiff," "appellant," or other, similar procedural phrases to describe any party. Briefing an appeal is about telling a story.  It's your job to tell the court the whole story of the case in the limited (13,000!) words that you have.  Even though replacing your client's four-word name would save space, resist the urge.  I promise, what you're gaining in space, you're giving up in clarity.
  • Do not use precise dates, unless you absolutely need it. The Court doesn't need to know that something happened on April 21, 2019, unless multiple events happened in April 2019.  If you've got to describe a temporal relationship, try words like "later" or "before."  Otherwise, just save the words and use the month or month and year. 

These aren't all the ways to save space.  But writing shorter, more coherent briefs is a mindset.  You have to start somewhere.

April 20, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court and Its Political History.

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Over the last several weeks there have been numerous articles about the "unprecedented" politicization of the United States Supreme Court. I have also seen several opinion pieces about growing frustration with the political leanings of the judiciary, and proposals to increase the number of seats on the high court to bypass a feared conservative bloc.

I am fortunate enough to be married to a lovely lady who is, among many other things, a college history professor. While we don't talk shop too often, I am familiar enough with our history to know that none of these complaints are new. Indeed, they say that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. So let's learn a bit of history, then, and gain a bit of insight from the past.

First, dissatisfaction with the judiciary is baked into the system. Alexis de Toqueville noted that “[t]here is almost no political question in the United States that is not resolved sooner or later into a judicial question.” Yet Tocqueville considered this a good thing: lawyers by their education and nature were naturally skeptical of change and conservative in nature, and thus provided our best brake against the “revolutionary spirit and unreflective passions of democracy.” Congress and the Executive provide the passion and funding and guidance that moves the State, and the judiciary makes sure that all this passion and money doesn't ruin anything of Constitutional importance.

This inherent conflict between the Supreme Court and the other branches of government has often resulted in moves to make the Supreme Court "more like us." The Constitution does not define the number of seats on the Supreme Court. Thus, the Supreme Court started with just six seats in 1789. It did not take long for this to invite political intervention. In 1801, President Adams and his outgoing Federalist congress passed a bill to restrict the court to five seats, attempting to limit the incoming President Jefferson from meddling with things. Jefferson and his new congress changed the seats back to six by repealing the act.

This tinkering continued. At first, there was the excuse that new circuits meant there was a need for new seats. So, in 1807, when a seventh circuit was added, Jefferson and his congress added a seventh seat to the Court as well. Andrew Jackson followed suit in 1837, adding two more seats to match. When a tenth circuit was added during the Civil War, a tenth seat was added.

After the Civil War, the seats were reduced, at first back to seven, and then to nine, by President Grant and his congress. This number has remained the norm until this day.

That doesn't mean things have gone smoothly. In fact, things were worse in the 1930's than they are now, and we almost wound up with 15 judges a result.

In the 1930's, FDR and his congress passed a number of new laws that were a part of what became known as the New Deal. The Supreme Court was the only thing stopping this change. Time and again, the Court balked at the fairly radical changes that were being implemented. Soon, ideological divisions were noted and mocked. There were four conservatives -- Justices Pierce Butler, James Clark McReynolds, George Sutherland, and Willis Van Devanter -- that the pro-New Deal press began calling "the Four Horsemen." They were opposed by the "Three Musketeers," who favored the changes: Justices Louis Brandeis, Benjamin Cardozo, and Harlan Stone. In the middle were two moderates, Justices Charles Evans Hughes and Justice Owen J. Roberts, with Roberts usually siding with the "Four Horsemen" to overturn New Deal legislation.

The "Four Horsemen" were publicly reviled. Burned in effigy in city squares, they nevertheless stuck to their opposition, often meeting together to formulate opinions and questions at oral argument. In the 1935 term alone, this voting bloc overturned the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, the Federal Farm Bankruptcy Act, the Railroad Act, the Coal Mining Act, the National Industrial Recovery Act, and a New York minimum wage law.

In 1936, FDR won reelection by a landslide and believed that this mandate gave him a chance to defeat the Four Horsemen. He announced legislation that would add (through a thinly-veiled mandatory retirement plan that required retirement at 70 or appointment of an additional judge if retirement was refused) as many as six new justices to the court, turning the conservative voting bloc into a minority. In one stroke, the president proposed to regain "control" of the court.

There was immediate backlash. The public and press were split, but most (along with many in Congress) considered the move to be an improper, and undemocratic, power grab.

Most historians seem to think that the proposal never would have passed. But events on the high court soon made the effort moot. Shortly after its announcement, in a move that the press called "the switch in time that saved the nine," Roberts sided with the Three Musketeers in a minimum wage case, and what support there was for the court-packing bill subsided. Within a year, Van Devanter and Sutherland retired and were replaced by Justices Hugo Black and Stanley Reed, both FDR appointees who proved to be strongly in support of his New Deal.

Modern opinion writers would do well to remember our past. What we are seeing is not a new politicization, but the continuation of a trend that is inherent in our system of checks and balances, and a history of attempted political tinkering that repeats itself with some frequency. There may very well be better ways of constructing the Court, and revisiting the court's role and composition periodically is a healthy thing. But overstating the current state of events, underestimating public esteem for the high court and its fragile but important position, and refusing to acknowledge history, does not help that cause.

(image source: February 1937 cartoon in opposition of FDR's court-packing plan, publication unknown)

April 16, 2019 in Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Ethics, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

When the law loses its way

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There are times when we, as advocates, must argue for a change in the law. Going into the case, we know that the law, as it exists, is against our clients. Our job in those cases is to be candid and admit this, and then argue that this law must be changed. To do so, we need to examine the history and reasoning behind the law, look for allies who might have questioned it in the past, and not feel tied to earlier justifications that may have lost their appeal over time. Our job is made easier when that work reveals that the law has become unmoored from the reasons that justified its genesis.

Civil forfeiture – the idea that the state can take any item arguably involved in the commission of a crime, regardless of the fault of the owner – is one such area of the law. The Supreme Court recently ruled that state civil forfeiture awards are subject to constitutional challenge under the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment. Timbs v. Indiana, No. 17-1091, 2019 WL 691578 (Feb. 20, 2019). But there is a bigger problem with civil forfeiture: it has lost its connection to historical justifications.

Justice Thomas raised this concern when he issued a statement on denial of certiorari in Leonard v. State of Texas, 137 S.Ct. 847 (2017) (mem.). After briefly analyzing the origins of the law, he concluded that “[w]hether this Court’s treatment of the broad modern forfeiture practice can be justified by the narrow historical one is certainly worthy of consideration in greater detail.”

A brief look at the historical foundations of modern civil forfeiture statutes reveals how badly they totter when asked to support the modern practice. For instance, the Bible is often cited as a source for the law, where, in Exodus 21:28, it is said that “if an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable.” However, even a cursory look at this passage reveals no mandate that the state gets to eat the ox. Rather, this verse stands for the principle that if an animal causes unexpected injury, only it should bear the cost and no one should profit from the resulting death. This is also in accord with the Talmudic interpretation.

Sometimes, ancient Greek law is quoted, where inanimate things that cause death were cast out beyond the borders. Other times, ancient practices with impressive sounding names like “deodand,” “wergild,” and “bane” are cited. But in each case where early examples are found, the ancient practice is distinguishable. It was only in the English common law that something similar to our current American systems was found, and then only because the state replaced the church as the beneficiary of the proceeds of sale of an item (or ship) that caused injury, largely because it could. When we adopted that common law, this practice found its way into our legal system. The fact that Great Britain later discarded the practice when it adopted wrongful death actions providing for recovery directly to the victim’s family (at the urging of railroad companies alarmed at the potential for loss) apparently went unnoticed.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, noted that, in 1881, this was already a very common and recognizable phenomena in the development of the law:

The customs, beliefs, or needs of a primitive time establish a rule or a formula. In the course of centuries the custom, belief, or necessity disappears, but the rule remains. The reason which gave rise to the rule has been forgotten, and ingenious minds set themselves to inquire how it is to be accounted for. Some ground of policy is thought of, which seems to explain it and to reconcile it with the present state of things; and then the rule adapts itself to the new reasons which have been found for it, and enters on a new career. The old form receives a new content, and in time even the form modifies itself to fit the meaning which it has received.

After analyzing this growth and the history of civil forfeiture, in particular, he had this to say:

The foregoing history, apart from the purposes for which it has been given, well illustrates the paradox of form and substance in the development of law. In form its growth is logical. The official theory is that each new decision follows syllogistically from existing precedents. But just as the clavicle in the cat only tells of the existence of some earlier creature to which a collar-bone was useful, precedents survive in the law long after the use they once served is at an end and the reason for them has been forgotten. The result of following them must often be failure and confusion from the merely logical point of view.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Common Law, chapter 1 (1881).

And yet, almost 100 years later, the Supreme Court cited the passage in Exodus, the law of deodand, and Holmes’ discussion of other historical antecedents in concluding that a civil forfeiture statute that permitted the forfeiture of a yacht without first proving the guilt of the owner was constitutional, largely because it was ancient. Calero-Toledo v. Pearson Yacht Leasing Co., 416 U.S. 663, 680–686 (1974). No mention was made of Holmes’ conclusion that this historical analysis gave no real support for modern civil forfeiture.

Not surprisingly, a long catalogue of abuses followed.

In Tenaha, Texas, while Jennifer Boatright and her children rode through town on their way to buy a used car, she has stopped by the police for driving too long in the passing lane. When the police found the cash she was carrying to buy the new car, they took it. At the station, Boatright was given the option of forfeiting the cash and being released without charge, or going to jail for suspected money laundering and child endangerment, while her children were taken by CPS. She chose to keep her children.

In Emporia, Virginia, when Victor Ramos Guzman was stopped for speeding, the officers searched his vehicle and found $28,000 in cash. The driver was a Pentecostal Church secretary from El Salvador, who explained (and later proved) that he was taking the money -  donated by parishioners - to buy a parcel of land. Although no contraband was discovered, the money was seized.

In Philadelphia, a couple's home was seized after their son was arrested for making a $40 drug deal inside.

More recently, Tyson Timbs was arrested in Indiana for selling less than $400 worth of heroin. Although the maximum fine for his offense was $10,000, the police opted to seize his $42,000 Land Rover, bought with insurance proceeds from his father's death. This was the case that eventually rose to the Supreme Court.

These and other cases are often referred to as examples of “policing for profit.” The catalog of abuses is impressive, and the effect is disproportionately felt by the poor, who often cannot afford to challenge the seizures. These statutes are far removed from the original idea that no one should profit when an animal or inanimate object causes a death. And yet there are still efforts to justify these actions by referencing their ancient antecedents.

Civil forfeiture statutes are an important tool for law enforcement departments faced with sophisticated drug operations transporting drugs and laundered cash across the country. Reform efforts requiring guilt on the part of the owner and limitations on police department spending have helped rein them in. But they must also be tempered by constitutional concerns, no matter what ancient civilizations may have to say (or not say) on the subject.

Holmes’ reasoned that “[t]he history of what the law has been is necessary to the knowledge of what the law is.” This history is also important to understanding what the law should be. The historical supports given for civil forfeiture statutes do not bear the weight of many modern civil forfeiture schemes. It should not have taken us this long to figure that out, given an honest review of their history.

(Image credits: "Trial of a sow and pigs at Lavegny" from Chambers Book of Days (1864). According to the book, “Among trials of individual animals for special acts of turpitude, one of the most amusing was that of a sow and her six young ones, at Lavegny, in 1457, on a charge of their having murdered and partly eaten a child. … The sow was found guilty and condemned to death; but the pigs were acquitted on account of their youth, the bad example of their mother, and the absence of direct proof as to their having been concerned in the eating of the child.”)

March 5, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, Rhetoric, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Moot Court Season

Moot Court season is upon us.  Law students from around the country are headed off to compete in a mock appellate arguments on a wide range of topics.  This past weekend students competed at the Jeffrey G. Miller National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition (more commonly known as Pace).  Students also competed at the San Francisco and Portland regionals for the National Appellate Advocacy Competition put on by the ABA.  (Congrats to the teams from my school that both made it to the round of 5 at the San Francisco regional). 

This coming weekend Boston and Philadelphia host their NAAC regional competitions. And, my school hosts the National Native American Law Student Association Moot Court Competition.  We are looking forward to hosting 40+ teams from across the country to argue a difficult, but fascinating, Indian Law problem.

The University of Houston has already started tabulating the top moot court programs for its rankings.  This year the current top 5 is Texas heavy:

  1. Baylor
  2. Loyola University
  3. South Texas
  4. University of Georgia
  5. University of Houston

I really love moot court.  I love coaching, I love judging, and I love seeing students develop over the course of the weeks that they work on the problem.  Moot court has many benefits for students.  While it certainly teaches them teamwork, it also teaches them to be problem solvers and work independently.  For most moot court competitions, students cannot receive any outside help on their briefs.  For some competitions, they can't even receive substantive help during their oral advocacy practices. Moot court also teaches time management.  Some of the major competitions, like the NAAC and the NNALSA, require students to brief over the winter holidays. Finally, moot court helps students learn to become excellent public speakers.  I have heard that the number one fear that people have is public speaking. As a person who formerly hated public speaking, I know that the only thing that has helped me improve is practice, practice, practice.  Moot court does that for law students.

Moot court has benefits for the local legal community too.  Volunteering to judge provides you with more than a few free CLE credits, it allows you to think about and discuss an interesting area of law.  Moot court problems are often centered around an interesting and unsettled area of the law--the kind of question your least favorite professor might put on a law school exam.  It can be fun to get back into law school mode and ponder these questions (especially when you are asking the questions, rather than the other way around).  I also think that moot court gives us hope for the next generation of lawyers.  They can, and will, do great things.  That is exciting.

But, despite the excitement, moot court isn't perfect.  It isn't perfect because we all know that the briefs are way more important than the arguments in real life.  It also isn't perfect because, just like in real life, gender stereotypes can rear their ugly heads.  I was reminded of that this week when I saw an article on Law.com announcing that the first female appellate law clerk had passed away at the age of 94. Carmel Ebb, who graduated first in her class at Columbia Law in 1945, is believed by most to be the first woman to clerk for a federal appellate court judge.  She clerked for Judge Jerome Frank on the Second Circuit.  She interviewed for a Supreme Court Clerkship but, according to her obituary, “Her hopes were dashed when the justice concluded their conversation by saying he had no doubt she would be a fine clerk, but that his wife would never allow him to work in such close proximity to a woman.” Ms. Ebb went on to have a successful career, including making partner at a New York firm.

So how do gender stereotypes play a role in moot court?  Next post I will look at an article on this topic.

 

February 25, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument, Tribal Law and Appeals | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Appellate Advocacy 101: On the Basis of Sex

Last night, I watched On the Basis of Sex with first-year law students.  Munching on popcorn and candy, the students learned about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and her first gender-discrimination case, Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 469 F.2d 466 (10th Cir. 1972).  Moritz challenged section 214(a) of the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. § 214(a) (1954), because it precluded him, as an unmarried man, from claiming a caregiver deduction despite caring for his elderly mother.

On the Basis of Sex provides 1Ls with an excellent introduction to appellate advocacy.  The movie begins with Ginsberg’s first day of law school, then chronicles her writing her first brief and delivering her first oral argument.  After the movie, I discussed with the first-year students how the movie compares with what they will do when they receive their first appellate problem in a few weeks.  Below are some of the lessons learned.

Appellate Practice Is a Lot of Work

Most of the movie occurs outside the courtroom.  Students saw Ginsberg meet with Moritz to discuss taking an appeal.  They saw her strategize with other attorneys about arguments.  She works with her husband, a tax attorney, and her staff and students at Rutgers Law School.  She researches, writes, and rewrites the appellant’s brief.  When appellee’s brief arrives with an appendix of over six hundred federal laws that distinguish between men and women, Ginsberg and her team look up and discuss each one.  She takes a settlement offer to her client.  Before oral argument, Ginsberg practices before a moot court and then before a mirror.  Ginsberg works hard.  The process takes a long time. 

Oral Argument Is a Little Scary

The climax of the movie is during the final minutes when the parties argue before the Tenth Circuit.  Students noted how different oral argument looks from the trials they had seen on TV.  There is no jury.  A lone attorney stands before a panel of three judges.  They remarked how Ginsberg was nervous and awkward at first.  The judges directed the course of the argument.  They interrupted with questions. 

The students began to imagine what it will be like when they argue in April.  We discussed how preparation goes a long way toward easing nerves.  I shared that they will have the opportunity to practice before moot courts organized by our Moot Court Honor Society.  I encouraged them to practice in front of a mirror like Ginsberg.  I shared that it is normal to be nervous, especially for your first argument.   

One Case Can Be Two Different Stories

The underlying dispute in Moritz involved the denial of a tax deduction because the taxpayer did not meet the qualifications in the tax code.  The law was clear.  Mr. Moritz did not qualify for the caregiver deduction because he was an unmarried man.  Had he been a woman, divorced, or a widower, he would have been eligible for the deduction. 

The students observed how the lawyers (arguing for the IRS) and Ginsberg (arguing for Mr. Moritz) told two different stories based on the same case.  The IRS portrayed Mr. Moritz as a tax cheat.  Ginsberg held him up as a loving and devoted son.  The IRS, armed with one hundred years of precedent, argued that the Tenth Circuit should protect society by maintaining the status quo on gender.  Ginsberg advocated for new law because precedent had failed to keep up with society’s evolving views on gender.

During oral argument, the IRS argued that “radical social change” is something to be feared and must be stopped.  Ginsberg picked up on this point during her rebuttal.  She argued that “radical social change” had already happened and the Tenth Circuit should bring the law into alignment with that change.  Students were struck by this exchange.  Each side used the same words to make two very different points.

At the end of the evening, students left our gathering excited, inspired, and a little nervous.  I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to introduce them to appellate advocacy in such a fun way.  Ginsberg remarks at one point during the film that by teaching law students she hoped to inspire the next generation of lawyers.  Through this movie, Justice Ginsberg is still doing just that.

February 12, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Film, Law School, Legal Writing, Moot Court, Oral Argument, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 11, 2019

2019 Justice Donald L. Corbin Appellate Symposium

If you are interested in appellate law and can make it to Fayetteville, Arkansas, on March 28-29, I highly recommend that you attend the 2019 Justice Donald L. Corbin Appellate Symposium.  I spoke at the inaugural symposium last year, and it was one of the appellate conferences that I have attended.

The line-up of speakers is amazing, including:

  • Howard Bashman
  • Judge Duane Benton (8th Cir.)
  • Judge Mary Beck Briscoe (10th Cir.)
  • Judge Ralph Erickson (8th Cir.)
  • Judge James E. Graves, Jr. (5th Cir.)
  • Kannon Shanmugam
  • Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith (8th Cir.)
  • Judge Jane B. Stranch (6th Cir.)

The line-up also includes several state court judges and other attorneys, including my friends:

  • Lee Rudofsky (former Arkansas Solicitor General, now at Walmart)
  • Prof. Abigail Perdue from Wake Forest Law
  • And our own Joe Regalia

Honestly, if there wasn't a little boy turning 1 that week at our house, I would seriously be considering a trip to Arkansas that week.  I hope that Joe will write a post or two on the Symposium.

If you would like to register, you can follow this link.

February 11, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, February 8, 2019

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup February 8, 2019

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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 Dan Real a quick email atDReal@Creighton.edu or a message on Twitter (@Daniel_L_Real).  You can also send emails to Danny Leavitt at Danny@tsalerno-law.com or a message on twitter @Danny_C_Leavitt

 

Supreme Court Opinions and News:

The Supreme Court voted this week by a 5-4 margin to a Louisiana abortion law from going into effect pending appeal.  The law would have required abortion providers in Louisiana to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.  Justice Kavanaugh filed a dissent.  The Court's vote likely signals that the Court will hear the case during its next term.

Justice Ginsburg made her first public appearance since her recent hospitalization for cancer surgery, appearing Monday night at an event at the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.

      

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News:

Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Ho authored a dissent this week in which he concluded that Title VII prohibitions on sex discrimination do not extend to prohibit discrimination against LGBT workers.

 

State Appellate Court Opinions and News:

In Texas, the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court called this week for the state to do away with its system of electing judges by political party when he gave an annual speech to the state's legislature.

 

Practice Pointers:

The ABA's Council of Appellate Lawyers publication Appellate Issues is out with its January issue.  The issue features articles about the programming during the 2018 Appellate Judges Education Institute Summit from last November.

On #AppellateTwitter this week, Ross Guberman noted an interesting split between appellate attorneys writing "this appeal presents the issue whether a court . . ." vs. ". . . the issue of whether a court . . ."
     

February 8, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, February 4, 2019

Tools for Scoping out the Court

When you are writing an appellate brief or preparing for an oral argument, it is important to keep your audience in mind--the judges (and, let's be real, their clerks).  You don't write to impress your client, your boss, our your mom--you write to impress the judges and to get them to decide the case in favor of your client (which will, of course, impress your client, your boss, and your mom).  Part of writing for judges means knowing what they want.  So, how do you figure that out?  Well, for starters, you know that they want shorter briefs.  In surveying judges for the third edition of Winning on Appeal, we found that judges overwhelmingly think that briefs are too long.  It is the single issue that all judges seemed to agree on.  Apart from that, it can be helpful to research the judge or judges that you are appearing before to get an idea of what that judge wants.  

How do you research them?  Apart from talking to others that have appeared before the same court and judges, there are now some really great computer based tools to help.  Today I would like to talk about two such sources.

The first source is Context from Lexis Advance. You can read the Lexis marketing materials on it here.  For those of you who are real research nerds (like me), you might better know Context as Ravel's Judge Analytics.  Lexis acquired Ravel a year or two ago, and they are continuing to integrate all the cool Ravel computer stuff into Lexis.  What can Context tell you about a judge?  Well, a lot.  In addition to a short bio, you can find that judge's opinions by areas of the law.  You can see how the judge rules on particular types of motions (trial judges), and you can see what opinions that judge frequently cites to (and what judges).  For example, I searched for the late  Justice Scalia.  I found that his most cited case was Chevron. Context even shows me the parts of the opinion that he most frequently cited to. His most cited judge was Justice Byron White, followed by Justice Rehnquist and then himself.

Westlaw Next or Edge or whatever we call it now just rolled out a similar product--Litigation Analytics.  You can read the Westlaw marketing materials here.  Their product seems to have more options (you can search law firms too).  I searched for Justice Scalia on Litigation Analytics to see how the results differed.  Litigation Analytics has a nice, comprehensive biography of Justice Scalia's career.  According to Litigation Analytics, Justice Scalia cited to himself most often, followed by Justices Kennedy and O'Connor.  His most often cited case was Payne v. Tennessee.  I am not sure what accounts for the differences between the two services, but it might that one includes Justice Scalia's D.C. Circuit service and the other doesn't.

I think that both resources provide valuable insight into anyone writing an appellate brief (or preparing for oral argument).  Both services include local judges--I looked up by name a local Pima County Superior Court judge and he was there. 

But, apart from their usefulness to appellate attorneys, the services provide another valuable role.  They are excellent for law students who might be interested in interning or clerking for a judge.  You could get a wealth of knowledge about a particular individual before you step into that interview.  I plan on encouraging my students to consult one or the other as they work on their clerkship applications.

February 4, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 25, 2019

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup January 25, 2019

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 Dan Real a quick email atDReal@Creighton.edu or a message on Twitter (@Daniel_L_Real).  You can also send emails to Danny Leavitt at Danny@tsalerno-law.com or a message on twitter @Danny_C_Leavitt

Supreme Court News and Opinions:

The Supreme Court is out of session for a few weeks, now that the January sitting is over, although this week saw the issuance of some orders and decisions from last week's conference.

The Washington Post reported earlier this week about how the Court has maintained a relatively "low-key term," delaying taking up a variety of divisive issues such as immigration, abortion, and sexual orientation and gender identity, while also signaling some interest in other controversial topics like transgender service in the military and the Second Amendment.  CNN had a similar story.

Earlier this week, over the objection of the four more liberal members of the Court, the Justices allowed the Trump Administration's ban on transgender members serving in the military to go into effect while the issue is litigated in lower courts.  MSNBC had a report.  CNN also reported, noting the impact the Court might have upon the 2020 Presidential election.

On Tuesday, the Court granted cert in a case involving a challenge to New York City's limits on transporting personal firearms, bringing an opportunity for the Court to provide clarity on its Second Amendment jurisprudence.  With the shifting makeup of the Court now leaning more conservative, there is speculation that the Court will create a test for handgun restrictions that invalidates many local laws.  The case is New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York. More about the case and what the eventual ruling  might  mean for the Second Amendment and gun regulations from the Atlantic and National Review.

Federal Appellate Court News and Opinions:

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a decision in a case that provided some discussion of interest to appellate advocates concerning the procedural distinction between an appeal from a decision granting summary  judgment and a decision denying a motion for reconsideration and the respective standards of review.  The case is SPV-LS, LLC v. Transamerica Life Insurance Company.  Thanks to reader Ben Rand of Harris Beach for the tip about this opinion.  According to Rand (quoting one of the firm's attorneys): "The court focused procedurally on the appellant's efforts to conflate [the decision granting summary judgment and the decision denying reconsideration and the respective standards of review], and the Eighth Circuit carefully distinguished between the separate and distinct standards of review. If there were doubts in the Eighth Circuit regarding these concepts and related standards of review, the Eighth Circuit laid them to rest in this decision."

State Appellate Court News and Opinions:

The Arizona Supreme Court was scheduled this week to hear arguments in a case concerning how far business owners can go in refusing to serve customers because of their sexual orientation.  The case presents the question of whether the owners of a business can refuse to use their talents to design custom wedding invitations and other materials if the couple is of the same gender or whether they are required to serve the couple under a city of Phoenix ordinance barring places of public accommodation from sexual orientation discrimination.  More from Tucson.com. 

Practice Pointers:

Law.com had an article this week feature #AppellateTwitter's Neal Katyal and discussing how he handles juggling multiple and back-to-back appellate arguments.

Appellate Twitter's Matthew Stiegler had a blog post this week providing advice to lawyers preparing for their first-ever oral argument.

Appellate Job Postings:

The Constitutional Accountability Center has a posting for an Appellate Counsel position.

The California Office of the Attorney General has a posting for a Solicitor General position.

January 25, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, January 11

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 Dan Real a quick email atDReal@Creighton.edu or a message on Twitter (@Daniel_L_Real).  You can also send emails to Danny Leavitt at Danny@tsalerno-law.com or a message on twitter @Danny_C_Leavitt

The Supreme Court heard arguments this week in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt.  The case, in which microchip inventor and multimillionaire Gilbert Hyatt alleged that a California tax board investigator had harassed him by peering through his windows and examining his trash, has been before the Court before. In 2003, the Court denied immunity to California’s Franchise Tax Board.  In 2016, the case was before the Court again, and at that time the Court split 4-4 on the question of whether to overrule Nevada v. Hall, a precedent that allows one state (and its agencies) to be sued in another state’s courts.  After a remand on damages, the case is now back, and with a full number of Justices, the Court will this time answer the question of whether to continue the precedent of Nevada v. Hall or overrule it.  Aside from the specific issue of states being sued in other states' courts, the case also holds implications for how the current makeup of the Court views precedent and the advisability of overruling it.

Read More:

This week’s SCOTUS101 podcast featured discussion about Justice Ginsburg’s absence from oral argument, Justice Kavanaugh’s first opinion, and an interview with #AppellateTwitter’s Sean Marotta.

Listen:

This week’s practice pointers come courtesy of the 2018 edition of the Georgia Bar Journal, in which #AppellateTwitter’s Chief Judge Dillard of the Georgia Court of Appeals was interviewed.  Tessa talked about it at length in her post on this blog earlier this week.

Read More:

January 11, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 2, 2018

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, November 2

 

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 Dan a quick email atDReal@Creighton.edu or a message on Twitter (@Daniel_L_Real).

 

Supreme Court Opinions and News:

The Supreme Court has proposed a number of revisions to the Court’s Rules and has invited public comment.  Among the highlights are proposals to lower the maximum word count on merit briefs and tighten filing deadlines.  See more HERE.  

This week the Court denied entry to court to a tribal leader wearing a headdress, making headlines.   Read the story HERE.  The tribal leader, Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman JoDe Goudy, was attempting to enter court to hear arguments involving a treaty between his tribe and the federal government, and he insisted on wearing his tribal regalia.  Representatives of the Court indicated that Goudy had been notified ahead of time that head coverings are only permitted in the courtroom for religious or medical reasons.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s announcement that she is withdrawing from public life in the wake of early onset dementia continues to ripple through the legal community; her impact on the American legal landscape really can’t be overstated.  The Washington Post had this opinion piece.  

 

State Appellate Court Opinions and News:

On Thursday this week, the Nebraska Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case involving the Keystone XL Pipeline.  A link to video stream is available HERE

State courts involved in impeachment battles may mark a worrying new trend to challenge judicial independence and legitimacy:  Story HERE.

November 2, 2018 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Making a Murderer, Indian Law, and Habeas Corpus

Recently, habeas corpus has been on my mind.  It is partly because I have started watching season 2 of Making a Murderer.  To me, the most interesting part of the second season is the saga of Brendan Dassey's habeas petition, which is based in part on the involuntariness of his confession.  I found the circumstances around Brendan's confession quite troubling.  Several months ago I spoke at an appellate conference that also featured Steven Drizin, one of Brendan's post-conviction attorneys.  Steven's presentation on false confessions was fascinating.

In season 2 of Making a Murderer, Steven and his colleague Laura Nirider do an excellent job explaining the habeas process in layman's terms.   Because Brendan's conviction was in Wisconsin state court, he cannot prevail on habeas unless he can show that the state court conviction,

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.
 
28 U.S.C. § 2254.
 
If Brendan had been convicted in federal court, he would have to show "that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack . . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 2255.  
 
While it is hard to win on any type of habeas petition, the state standard is extra deferential to the underlying conviction.  As Steven explains in season 2, the state standard was modified in 1996 in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing with the passage of the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.
 
So, what does this have to do with Indian law?  My appellate advocacy students are currently working on their briefs for my class.  Their problem involves a habeas petition from a Tribal court.  Under 25 U.S.C. § 1303, "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall be available to any person, in a court of the United States, to test the legality of his detention by order of an Indian tribe."  That is it.  This provision was passed in 1968, and it hasn't been modified since.  As Prof. Jordan Gloss notes in the American Indian Law Review, this hasn't been a big issue historically because federal courts have not had to handle a lot of habeas petitions from Tribal courts. This is due, in part, to the limited sentencing capacity that Tribal courts had.  However, in 2013, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which, in part, gave Tribes that opted-in to the Act limited jurisdiction over certain non-Indians who committed acts of dating or domestic violence against Tribal members. See 25 U.S.C. § 1304.  Additionally, the 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act gives tribes additional sentencing power.  Combined, these two acts mean that federal courts will have to handle more habeas petitions from Tribal courts, potentially including Tribal convictions of non-Indians.
 
I agree with Prof. Gloss that Congress is going to need to step in to clarify what the habeas standard will be for Tribal convictions.  If it doesn't, I am sure that the courts will.

October 29, 2018 in Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Thinking Thursdays: Understanding the Value of Voices Briefs in Appellate Practice

Margaret Hannon, guest blogger, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School

***

Supreme Court decisions on deeply personal constitutional issues affect far more than the parties themselves. For example, consider the far-reaching effects of the Court’s decision on marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, or on reproductive rights in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Voices briefs—a form of amicus brief—give non-parties an opportunity to be heard by telling the stories of individuals who are strangers to the case but “whose lives will be profoundly shaped by the Court’s decisions.”

Amicus filings have increased by “an astounding 800%” in the last fifty years. And the filing of voices briefs has also dramatically increased, especially over the last three years. In Professor Linda Edwards’s article, Telling Stories in the Supreme Court: Voices Briefs and the Role of Democracy in Constitutional Deliberation, she considers the legitimacy and value of voices briefs and concludes that “there is little to lose and much to gain when amicus filers tell their stories.”

To date, voices briefs have been used almost exclusively in abortion rights and marriage equality cases. In these cases, “(1) the outcome will have a direct personal impact on the intimate lives of those affected; and (2) the storytellers’ experience is likely outside the Justices’ experience.” Professor Edwards imagines other types of cases with similar characteristics in which advocates might use nonparty stories to help the Court understand the experiences of others. For example, voices briefs could be useful in cases involving immigration, capital defendants, convicted felons, police shootings, and issues of race, class, or power disparity.

Professor Edwards explains that voices briefs serve at least three important roles. First, they allow nonparties who will be intimately affected by the Court’s decision an opportunity to be heard. Second, even if voices briefs don’t succeed in changing the outcome of the case, they may succeed in encouraging the Court to write an opinion that both recognizes and respects opposing views. And, third, voices briefs may encourage the Court to write opinions that model “better public discourse in today’s polarized public square.” As a result, the Court’s opinions may “provide a modicum of healing because readers who lose at least will feel heard, and readers who win may come away with a greater understanding of those on the other side of the issue.”

Professor Edwards analyzes the persuasive potential of voices briefs using cognitive science research focusing on “schemas.” Schemas are “preexisting cognitive patterns providing interpretive frameworks through which we perceive and judge the world.” The perceptions that result from these schemas seem to be natural and objectively true,” as “[t]he schema both highlights information that seems consistent with the schema, and hides inconsistent information.” So, the question is not whether Justices “see the situation through a lens, but which lens focuses [their] view.” And because schemas are unconscious, Justices may “remain unconsciously captive to a set of unexamined assumptions based on preexisting narrative schema.”

Voices briefs seek to challenge the Justices’ preexisting cultural narratives by highlighting voices and stories that don’t fit neatly into their schemas. In our increasingly polarized country, the human tendency to “associate primarily with and listen primarily to those we perceive to be like us” has become amplified. Justices are not immune from this tendency. Indeed, as Professor Edwards notes, Justices have always relied on extra-judicial factual sources and their own preexisting cultural knowledge and personal experiences to inform their decision-making.

Voices briefs thus serve an important role—they help counteract the Justices’ preexisting cultural narratives by exposing them to diverse perspectives that “help to fill the inevitable gap between a Justice’s personal experience and the realities of other lives and perspectives.” Studies have shown that anecdotal messages like the ones communicated in voices briefs may actually be more effective at countering negative preexisting bias than the logical arguments in merits briefs. Professor Edwards concludes that, instead of adding bias to a neutral process, “voices briefs may be the only way to counter the preexisting values bias that accompanies human deliberation.”

Professor Edwards discusses concerns about reliability, relevance, and the risk that non-party stories will be used impermissibly as adjudicative facts, rather than as permissible legislative facts. Professor Edwards concludes that “preserving a role for voices briefs is preferable to limiting their use in ways that ignore modern cognitive science and ancient rhetorical principles, that silence the voices of the governed, or that secretly smuggle in the adoption of a limiting jurisprudential view.”

I encourage appellate practitioners to read Professor Edwards’s article and to think about ways in which you might incorporate voices briefs into your appellate practice when faced with deeply personal constitutional issues that may be out of the realm of the Justices’ own personal experiences.

Special thanks to Alison Doyle for her help with this blog post.

October 25, 2018 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Rhetoric, Sports, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Seventh Circuit Benchslap II: Word Count Edition

So this one was more of a Judge-Easterbrook-wastes-no-teachable-moment moment than a true bench slap of the sort that Tessa discussed this week. But still.

Appellate practitioners in my region know well that the Seventh Circuit is a stickler on all-things-brief. It's not so much that its rules are demanding; Circuit Rule 32, for example, actually imposes looser formatting and word-count rules than the FRAP defaults. But the circuit strictly enforces its rules. And it is quite opinionated about things that keep one's brief from being a miserable slog to read. Like clean, modern typography. Section XIII of its Practitioner's Handbook for Appeals (pdf) offers an excellent set of suggestions for making briefs more readable. The Handbook reflects a lot of knowledge and thought about the art and process of generating printed words on a page.1 Much of that material in the Handbook probably is the handiwork of Judge Frank Easterbrook. As one can see from section III of this piece, Judge Easterbrook (1) has thought a lot about how to generate attractive written work product and (2) knows his stuff about the technical ins and out of producing it.

Which brings up to today's bench-slap-that-was-really-a-gentle-by-Easterbrookian-standards-bench-lesson. As Brad Heath of USA Today tweeted earlier today, Judge Easterbrook issued an opinion this morning that gave a pro-se litigant—and all of us, really—a lesson about the quirks of Microsoft Word and, like, words. As in word counts. And that lesson might help some of us avoid getting benchslapped for real. 

The word-count issue came to Judge Easterbrook in his role as motions judge. An appellee sought permission to file a brief containing more words than permitted by circuit rules. Their justification: their pro-se opponent represented that his brief contained less than 14,000 words, but it actually blasted past the limit by more than 2,500 words. So Judge Easterbrook struck the appellant's brief, ordered him to file a shorter one, and directed him to explain why he should not be sanctioned for falsely representing that his initial brief complied with the word limit. Here's how the appellant responded:

Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 6.41.52 PM

Seems reasonable, right? Who among us has not looked at the "Properties" panel to get our Word count?

Turns out that we're doing Word wrong. Judge Easterbrook exposes the error of our ways:

Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 6.46.28 PM

So word to the wise: don't use the "Properties" panel to certify your word count. Especially if your brief has footnotes.

Things ended reasonably well for our Word-challenged pro-se appellant. There was no bench slap; just an order to go forth and be Word savvy and word-count compliant:

Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 6.48.50 PM

So, at certification time, remember: Word Count panel. Accept no substitutes.


1. For more, read Matthew Butterick's Typography for Lawyers and Ruth-Ann Robbins's classic "Painting with Print: Incorporating Concepts of Typographic and Layout Design into the Text of Legal Writing Documents." 

October 24, 2018 in Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Thinking Thursdays: Using Screenwriting Techniques to Tell More Compelling Stories

Margaret Hannon, guest blogger, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School

***

Storytelling is an integral part of a lawyer’s work, particularly for appellate lawyers. One critical aspect of effective storytelling is structure—and when it comes to structuring an effective story, lawyers can learn a little something from screenwriters.

In Teresa Bruce’s forthcoming article in the Journal of Legal Writing Institute, The Architecture of Drama: How Lawyers Can Use Screenwriting Techniques to Tell More Compelling Stories, Professor Bruce proposes that “lawyers build their stories in the same way Hollywood writers do.” Just as screenwriters follow a formula, lawyers should do the same: as IRAC is to argument sections, SCOR is to fact sections.

Professor Bruce’s article builds on existing storytelling literature, which approaches narrative theory from several different perspectives. The structural perspective uses a pragmatic or pedagogical approach, arguing that “[a] large part of telling an effective story is the order in which the reader presents information.”[i] Scholars in this area argue that an effective story structure helps judges and juries understand and remember information, and the story that flows most logically will be the story that seems most probable. As a result, good story structure can increase a client’s chance of winning.

Professor Bruce’s article takes the structural approach to narrative theory a step further by introducing the SCOR structure. Many lawyers will be familiar with the writing stages identified by Professor Betty Flowers: Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge. The Architect stage is where writers focus on “large, organizational, paragraph-level thinking.” The SCOR template gives writers a “flexible, generally applicable template they can use each time they tackle a new case.” This enables “lawyers to skip the Architecture stage entirely when writing a facts section (as IRAC enables them to do when writing an argument section).” Ultimately, Professor Bruce’s hope is that using SCOR will make it easier for lawyers to write their clients’ stories more coherently, which will result in clearer, more compelling, and more convincing stories.

So, what is SCOR? To explain SCOR, Professor Bruce begins with the classic three-act story structure, “the basis of Western storytelling.” Act I, the Setup, establishes the protagonist’s “status quo.” Act II, the Confrontation, breaks the status quo and takes the protagonist on a journey to a point of climax. Act III, the Resolution, introduces the protagonist’s “new normal” and resolves any unanswered questions. Taking this basic story structure a step further, advanced story structure builds additional milestones into each act to create an overarching “story arc” that provides “rising tension throughout the first and second acts and falling tension during the third.” Professor Bruce illustrates both the basic and advanced story structure through a classic movie, The Wizard of Oz.

Professor Bruce then translates this traditional formula into legal writing: Setup, Confrontation, Outcome, Resolution, or SCOR. As in advanced screenwriting, within each act, additional milestones help to give the story added structure and keep audience members engaged.

First, the Setup, Act I, humanizes the client by establishing the client’s life and status quo before the “bad event” of the litigation. Second, the Confrontation, Act II, is the “meat” of the story—it introduces the client’s antagonist and sets out the pivotal (i.e. outcome-determinative) facts. While the opposing party will often be the antagonist, for some clients, the antagonist will be subtler. For example, for less-sympathetic clients, the antagonist might be “mental-health problems, addiction, childhood trauma, or poverty.”

The third and fourth components of the story are the Outcome and the Resolution, Act III. The Outcome is “the end of the protagonist’s quest,” while the Resolution is “where the audience gets closure.” This is the most difficult section for legal writers because a “lawyer cannot simply resolve her client’s story . . . the way a screenwriter can.” Instead, the lawyer may invite closure by inviting “the judge or the jury to resolve the storyline in a way that favors the client.”

To illustrate how this structure works and why it is effective, Professor Bruce uses the statement of facts in the Petition for Certiorari in Miranda v. Arizona. This statement of facts helps illustrate the SCOR structure, but also shows how the structure “can work even for a largely unsympathetic defendant, one who has been convicted of a violent crime.” In addition, Professor Bruce points out that other landmark briefs use a similar story structure.

I encourage practitioners, legal writing professors, and law students to read Professor Bruce’s article. In the article, she provides a more in-depth discussion of advanced storytelling structure, including the milestones within each act. SCOR provides a practical, accessible, and memorable way to help lawyers incorporate storytelling into their legal writing. And if lawyers can make their clients’ stories more accessible to their audiences, those stories will hopefully also be clearer, more compelling, and more convincing.

Special thanks to Alison Doyle for her help with this blog post.

[i] Brian J. Foley & Ruth Anne Robbins, Fiction 101: A Primer for Lawyers on How to Use Fiction Writing Techniques to Write Persuasive Fact Sections, 32 Rutgers L.J. 459, 475 (2001).

September 27, 2018 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Film, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, Television, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 24, 2018

Advocacy Before the Eleventh Circuit: A Clerk’s Perspective

Today we are featuring a guest post from Kevin Golembiewski.  Kevin Golembiewski and his colleague, Jessica Arden Ettinger, recently posted a law review article, Advocacy Before the Eleventh Circuit: A Clerk’s Perspective, on the Social Science Research Network.  This post previews the article.

From 2015 to 2017 I served as a law clerk to the Honorable Charles R. Wilson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  For those two years I was part of something much bigger than myself.  The Eleventh Circuit is not simply a collection of appellate judges—like every appellate court, it’s an institution, with its own unique history, practices, and traditions. 

Attorneys who practice before the Eleventh Circuit should keep this in mind.  Effective advocacy requires recognizing and taking into account the court’s distinct characteristics and institutional features.  For example, the court affords Federal Appendix decisions limited weight, so attorneys should avoid relying on them.  Also, as one of the nation’s busiest circuit courts, the court assigns most appeals to a non-argument calendar, so attorneys should approach briefing as if it’s their only opportunity to persuade the court.

To help attorneys navigate the Eleventh Circuit’s unique institutional features, a former co-clerk, Jessica Arden Ettinger, and I recently wrote an article providing advice that is tailored to the court.  In the article, Advocacy Before the Eleventh Circuit: A Clerk’s Perspective, Jessica and I offer our views, as former clerks, on how to draft a compelling brief and present a persuasive oral argument to the court.

We begin the article by examining the Eleventh Circuit’s history, caseload, and decision-making process.  In 1981, Congress split the old Fifth Circuit, creating the current Fifth Circuit and the Eleventh Circuit.  It assigned twelve judgeships to the Eleventh Circuit.  Although the court’s caseload has drastically increased since 1981, it still has just twelve judgeships.  Even so, the court resolves appeals expeditiously.  The median time between a notice of appeal and a decision in the Eleventh Circuit is just 8.6 months, compared to 9.9 months in the Fifth Circuit and 14.7 months in the Ninth Circuit (the Fifth and the Ninth Circuits are the only two circuit courts with larger caseloads than the Eleventh Circuit).  The court achieves this quick turnaround time by utilizing a Staff Attorney’s Office, maintaining a non-argument calendar, and inviting judges from other courts to sit on oral argument panels.  In the article, Jessica and I discuss how these case-management techniques shape the court’s review process.

After introducing the Eleventh Circuit, Jessica and I offer advice on drafting appellant briefs, appellee briefs, and reply briefs.  In addition to providing advice specific to each type of brief, we offer advice applicable to all of them.  In our view, the first step in drafting any Eleventh Circuit brief is to understand the court’s norms and expectations.  There are two norms that the court prioritizes: collegiality and candor.  The court expects collegiality among its judges, district court judges, and members of the bar.  Disparaging the district court, an adversary, or a prior panel’s decision will undermine a brief’s credibility.  The court also expects candor.  It has thousands of cases to resolve each year—briefs must get to the point and be frank about the appeal’s issues, facts, and applicable law.  Grand assertions about an appeal’s legal significance and attempts to spin the facts and the law will backfire.  As former Chief Judge of the Eleventh Circuit Joel Dubina once said, “A lawyer should not embellish and exaggerate in the Eleventh Circuit.”

Jessica and I conclude the article by offering tips on presenting oral argument to the court.  The court takes a pragmatic approach to oral argument, hearing argument only when it will help the panel decide the appeal.  This pragmatic approach informs our advice.

Clerking on the Eleventh Circuit was one of the best experiences that I’ve had as a lawyer.  It is an institution that I will always revere.  I hope Jessica and my article serves as a useful guide for those who have the privilege to practice before the court.

September 24, 2018 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Oral Argument & Betterment

Over the last few weeks, I've worked with a young lawyer as he prepared for his first appellate oral argument in an important federal case. And I experienced what is, at this point in my career as a teacher of advocacy skills, the familiar thrill of watching a good lawyer quickly get better. I hope the oral arguments in the case lead to better results than we'd see in whatever outcome and reasoning the panel would have reached based on the briefing alone. But I know this: preparing for and presenting the argument has made my colleague better.

In the last two posts on this blog, Tessa and Dan discuss recent pieces in the New York Law Journal and the National Law Journal on the steep quantitative decline of oral argument in the federal circuit courts. This decline is, perhaps, inevitable in an era of expanding dockets and technological advances that make briefs relatively cheap to generate and consume (I said relatively; don't @ me). But my reflex is to bemoan the lack of betterment that must accompany this decline. I'm not talking so much about the betterment of case outcomes or of society more generally. The hit to that species of betterment is, no doubt, real and worthy of discussion. And it has been discussed, well and often, on this blog and elsewhere. See, for example, pieces by Jennifer and Tessa discussing a report from the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers on why the decline matters; see also this piece by David Cleveland and Steven Wisotsky. But the benefits of oral argument in bettering outcomes and society are marginal and difficult to quantify; perhaps they're mostly not worth the cost. I don't know.

I'm concerned about the betterment of lawyers. It's not just that, as oral argument rates decline, fewer emerging lawyers will develop experience in the art of oral advocacy. After all, if the need for oral argument artisans declines, then bemoaning the loss of opportunities to practice the craft would be like getting upset over the scantiness of job listings for haberdashers. 

It's that doing oral argument makes one a better lawyer. Preparing for oral argument makes one a better lawyer. Deeply. Quickly.

If one prepares properly, appellate oral argument is a nearly perfect pedagogical tool. One basically can't prepare for and present an oral argument without working through virtually all of the techniques recommended by learning scientists (summarized nicely in the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning). Oral argument is an intricate, dynamic exercise in retrieval practice; as such, it leverages the testing effect. It demands elaboration: advocates must explain complex subjects clearly and vividly, show connections, relate the abstract to the concrete, and so on. It requires one to construct and use a network of mental models. As advocates move though disparate bits of the argument, they interleave material. Particularly because advocates naturally spend much of their time at the podium getting tested, through interrogation, about the most challenging aspects of their theory of the case, oral argument produces desirable difficulty. Judges' reactions provide real-time feedback. Post-moot periods promote reflection, a key component of sophisticated learning and skill development. The dynamic of oral argument lends itself to spaced practice. And anyone who has had to perform in oral argument learns quickly that our usual, misguided ways of "learning" material -- reading and cramming, with little retrieval or performative practice -- don't help much. Prepared oral advocates learn, deeply, then teach, and learn more deeply for having taught. The expertise sticks.

Let's say I'm right that doing and preparing for oral argument is an especially powerful way for lawyers to develop expertise and skill. And let's say that oral argument skeptics and realists are correct that oral arguments only rarely affect outcomes in cases and most often aren't worth the cost. Maybe we can agree on this: let's push more oral arguments down to junior attorneys. That'll drop the costs. Maximize the benefit. Make a lot of forward-thinking courts happy. 

June 6, 2018 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 4, 2018

Oral Argument News

Over the past two weeks there have been a few prominent stories on oral arguments.  These stories were featured in the Weekly Roundup, but I wanted to elaborate on them a bit more.

The first story concerns the D.C. Circuit's decision to live-stream the audio of oral arguments.  Danny noted the D.C. Circuit's announcement in the May 25 Weekly Roundup. In short, the D.C. Circuit has provided recordings of oral arguments since September 2013.  However, now they will live-stream arguments (barring any sort of "classified or sealed matters.").  This is great news!  Honestly, the federal courts are way behind on live-streaming.  Nearly two years ago I blogged on state efforts to live-stream arguments.  Many states live-stream more than just audio--they include video as well.  As a teacher of appellate advocacy, having my students watch oral arguments is a great teaching tool.  Those arguments don't always have to be live, but it does add a nice element.  For practitioners, the ability to listen or watch an argument from the office, rather than heading down to the courthouse, saves those precious billable hours.  Kudos to Chief Judge Garland for making this happen!

The second story, which Dan mentioned in the June 1 Weekly Roundup, is a story from the National Law Journal on the decline of oral arguments in the circuits.  While I wasn't able to pull up the NLJ article, on May 31 the New York Law Journal posted an article on the same subject.  According to the article:

The most recent year statistics available from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts—the 12-month period ending Sep., 30, 2017—had just 6,913 arguments out of the 34,561 appeals decided on the merits. That 20 percent is a far cry from the 27.3 percent of all cases a decade ago (8,662 arguments heard), and an even more steep decline from the 40.1 percent of cases (10,357 arguments heard) just 20 years ago—when oral argument data became available from the Administrative Office.

The article does a nice job of highlighting the arguments for and against oral argument.  In a nutshell--oral argument is expensive, time consuming, and not always helpful.  On the other, oral argument is an important bench/bar relationship and can help clarify judicial misperceptions in a case.  

It will be fascinating to see if argument numbers continue to decline. 

June 4, 2018 in Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)