Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Advice for First-Year Law Students

Law school can be a stressful experience, particularly in the first year. Indeed, during the first year, a significant amount of stress results from the uncertainty regarding law school (e.g., not knowing how to study effectively or how to prioritize tasks) and the pressure to perform well in your courses. The tips below will help to reduce the uncertainty, relieve the pressure, and ensure that your transition to and performance in law school will be successful.

1.    Learn the Rule of Law and Do Not Brief Cases

As a law student – and as a lawyer – your primary responsibility is to know the relevant rules of law governing a particular legal issue and apply those rules to the facts of your case. Thus, from day one in law school, when reading cases, you should focus primarily on extracting the relevant rule of law from each case. For example, in New York Times v. Sullivan, the relevant rule of law is that to succeed in a defamation action, a public figure must show that an alleged defamatory statement was made with actual malice, namely, with knowledge of the statement’s falsity or with reckless disregard for its truth. You need not – and should not – focus on memorizing the facts of the case or the reasoning underlying the court’s decision, or on the concurring or dissenting opinions. Simply identify the rule of law because on your exams and in law practice, your primary responsibility will be to apply that rule (and precedent) to the facts of your client’s case.

As a corollary, do not brief your assigned cases (i.e., do not summarize the facts, procedural history, legal question, reasoning, and holding, or summarize the reasoning underlying the concurring and dissenting opinions, if any). This will require you to spend countless hours on aspects of cases that will neither be tested on the final examination nor improve your ability to apply the rule of law to a hypothetical fact pattern. Thus, just extract the rule of law and move on to the next case.

2.    Use Commercial Outlines

Sometimes, particularly for first-year law students, it can be difficult to identify the rule of law in a specific case. Indeed, in your first-year courses, for each legal topic, such as personal jurisdiction, you will often read many cases that track the evolution and development of a specific legal rule. Your focus should be to identify the current and governing legal rule because that is the rule you will be required to apply to a hypothetical fact pattern on your exam. To assist you in doing so, commercial outlines, such as Emanuel Law Outlines, are an invaluable resource. These outlines provide you with the current rules of law for each subject that you are studying (e.g., criminal law, civil procedure, torts, contracts) and for every legal topic within that subject. By helping you to quickly identify the relevant rules of law, commercial outcomes allow you to begin – early in each semester – the critical task of preparing for the final exam, which you do by taking practice exams.

3.    Take Practice Exams Early and Often – Under Timed Conditions

One of the best ways to excel in law school is to take practice exams, which your professor may make available to you or which you can find on the internet. Taking practice exams enables you to gain experience in, among other things, applying the relevant rules of law to hypothetical fact patterns, addressing counterarguments, and ensuring that your writing is well organized and follows the “IRAC” or “CRAC” structure (i.e., state your conclusion first, followed by a summary of the relevant rules of law, an analysis in which you apply those rules to the facts, and a conclusion).  Taking several practice exams – under timed conditions – will prepare you effectively for the final (or midterm) examination and maximize your likelihood of obtaining an excellent grade.

4.    Purchase the LEEWS Essay Exam Writing System

Just as commercial outlines will assist you in identifying the relevant rules of law, the LEEWS Essay Exam Writing System, which can be found at https://leews.com, will help you to perform extremely well on your exams. The LEEWS system teaches you, among other things, how to organize and structure your exam answer, how to identify legal issues in hypothetical fact patterns, how to address counterarguments, and how to distinguish relevant from irrelevant facts. LEEWS has been used by thousands of law students and is among the best resources available to maximize your performance in law school.

5.    Your Research and Writing Skills Are Essential to Your Success as a Lawyer

Excellent research and writing skills – particularly persuasive writing skills – are essential to good lawyering. Thus, during your three years of law school, focus on mastering your research and writing skills, including when drafting real-world documents such as complaints, motions, and trial and appellate briefs. If you cannot write effectively and persuasively, you will struggle to succeed in the legal profession.

6.    Develop Your ‘Soft Skills’

You can be the smartest and most talented law student in your law school, but if you’re a jerk, you won’t succeed in the legal profession. Being an excellent lawyer is not simply about knowing how to write persuasively and argue effectively. Rather, excellent lawyers know, among other things, how to cooperate and collaborate well with others, listen actively, accept constructive criticism, demonstrate humility, honesty, and decency, and learn from failure. Simply put, your personality influences how others perceive you – and impacts your likelihood of succeeding in the profession. So, don’t be a jerk. Don’t have an ego. Don’t gossip. Be someone who others want to work with – and who are happy when you walk into the office every day.

7.    Take Care of Your Physical and Mental Health and Remember that Mindset is Everything

Law school is stressful, but the legal profession is infinitely more stressful. It’s particularly important during law school and in your life to take care of your physical and mental health. Regardless of your workload, take time each day or several days a week to exercise. Eat healthy food. Do things that make you happy. And make sure to address any mental health or other issues that may arise. If, for example, you are struggling with depression or anxiety, consult a psychiatrist or a psychologist. If you are struggling with a substance abuse problem, seek help. Don’t ignore it or feel shame. Taking care of your physical and mental health in law school will help you to develop the habits and coping skills necessary to succeed in the legal profession.

Most importantly, remember that mindset is everything. All of us encounter adversity and unexpected challenges in life. The key to overcoming them is you. If you have a strong mindset and an empowering thought process, you can – and will – cope effectively with adversity. And remember that your choices, not your circumstances, determine your destiny.

8.    At the End of the Day, Only Happiness Matters

Don’t let law school or the legal profession consume you. Don’t judge your worth on whether you received an A in Civil Procedure or passed the bar exam on the first try. Don’t be affected by what others say about you. Don’t associate with toxic people. Ultimately, what matters is your happiness. So, put yourself first and do what makes you happy. Pursue your passions, whether in law or elsewhere. And remember that there’s more to life than the law.

9.    Don’t Just Help Yourself – Help Others

Going to law school and becoming a lawyer provides you with a tremendous opportunity to improve the lives of other people and to fight for a fair and more just society. So, remember that your career isn’t just about your success – it’s about whether you used your talents to make a difference in the world.

March 20, 2021 in Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Revisiting – and Reconsidering – Implicit Bias

Many academic institutions, professional organizations, and private corporations have embraced implicit bias training as a method by which to combat discrimination. The concept of implicit bias states that all individuals harbor unconscious biases that lead to, among other things, discrimination and the unequal treatment of individuals based on race. Although certainly well-intentioned (eradicating discrimination is a moral imperative), empirical studies suggest that: (1) the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which is used to detect individuals’ implicit biases, is flawed; (2) there is a weak correlation between implicit biases and biased behavior; and (3) few, if any, attempts have been made to quantify the degree to which implicit bias, particularly in light of explicit biases, impacts behavior.

 1.    The Implicit Association Test is Flawed

Some scholars and commentators have relied on the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to diagnose an individual’s implicit biases. The problem is that the IAT is flawed in many respects.

To begin with, the IAT sets arbitrary cutoff scores to determine whether an individual’s responses reveal implicit biases, yet fails to provide any assessments of the differences, if any, between the many individuals who score above or below those cutoffs.[1] Additionally, IAT scores are arguably context-dependent, as the IAT produces different results for individuals when they complete the test multiple times.[2] Furthermore, the IAT fails to meaningfully distinguish between implicit and explicit bias. As one scholar explains, “the IAT provides little insight into who will discriminate against whom, and provides no more insight than explicit measures of bias.”[3] One commentator states as follows:

The IAT is impacted by explicit attitudes, not just implicit attitudes … It is impacted by people’s ability to process information quickly on a general level. It is impacted by desires to want to create a good impression. It is impacted by the mood people are in. If the measure is an amalgamation of many things (one of which is purportedly implicit bias), how can we know which of those things is responsible for a (weak) correlation with behavior?[4]

To be sure, one scholar acknowledged that “what we don’t know is whether the IAT and measures like the IAT can predict behavior over and above corresponding questionnaires of what we could call explicit measures or explicit attitudes.[5]

2.    Neither the Implicit Association Test Nor The Presence of Implicit Bias Reliably Predicts Biased Behavior

Empirical studies suggest that implicit biases do not predict biased behavior. Indeed, one researcher acknowledged that the IAT “cannot predict behavior at the level of an individual.”[6]  In fact, the evidence shows precisely the opposite:

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Harvard, and the University of Virginia examined 499 studies over 20 years involving 80,859 participants that used the IAT and other, similar measures. They discovered two things: One is that the correlation between implicit bias and discriminatory behavior appears weaker than previously thought. They also conclude that there is very little evidence that changes in implicit bias have anything to do with changes in a person’s behavior. These findings, they write, "produce a challenge for this area of research.[7]

Additionally, researchers recently “examined 63 studies that explicitly considered a link between changes in bias and changes in actions … [but] they found no evidence of a causal relationship."[8] Put simply, very few, if any, sociological or psychological studies have established with any degree of reliability that implicit bias directly or proximately caused biased, or discriminatory, behavior. As one social psychologist explains:

Almost everything about implicit bias is controversial in scientific circles. It is not clear, for instance, what most implicit bias methods actually measure; their ability to predict discrimination is modest at best; their reliability is low; early claims about their power and immutability have proven unjustified.[9]

This is not to say, of course, that implicit bias does not exist, or that it does not have a material impact on biased behavior. It is to say, however, that the IAT – and evidence supporting a connection between implicit bias and biased behavior – is, at best, premature and, at worst, untenable. As two prominent scholars explain:

[M]uch murkiness surrounds (a) the proper causal explanation for alleged IAT effects, (b) the psychological meaning of IAT scores, (c) the statistical generality and potency of alleged relations between IAT scores and actual behavior, and (d) boundary conditions on alleged IAT effects.[10]

What’s more, even where researchers have claimed to reduce implicit biases, they found no concomitant reduction in biased behavior. That fact alone should cause scholars who have championed implicit bias to think that, just maybe, they have jumped the proverbial gun.

3.    Few, If Any, Attempts Have Been Made to Quantify Implicit Bias’s Impact on Biased Behavior

Assuming arguendo that implicit bias impacts biased behavior, scholars have made little, if any, attempt to quantify implicit bias’s impact on biased behavior. For example, is implicit bias responsible for 5%, 10%, 20%, or 50% (or more) of biased behaviors? This is particularly problematic given that the presence of other factors, such as explicit biases and prejudices, directly impact biased decision-making. This flaw should not be surprising. After all, if implicit bias is the product of unconscious – and thus involuntary – actions, it would appear difficult for researchers to credibly claim that they possess the ability to reliably measure and quantify a phenomenon that resides outside of their conscious awareness. But without attempting to do so, reliance on implicit bias as a predictor of biased conduct raises more questions than answers.

The research cited above is merely a sample of the articles that have cast doubt on the nexus between implicit bias and biased behavior. To be sure, the point of this article is not to say that implicit bias bears no relationship to biased behavior. It is to say, however, that the evidence for such a relationship is inconclusive, contested, and, quite frankly unpersuasive. As such, the adoption of programs in universities and corporations that strive to educate students and employees on the allegedly negative effects of implicit bias is, at best, premature and, at worst, misguided. What’s more, relevant research has produced “little evidence that implicit bias can be changed long term, and even less evidence that such changes lead to changes in behavior.”[11]

Ultimately, eradicating discrimination, addressing inequality, and ensuring equal opportunity are moral imperatives. The question, however, is how best to do that.

 

[1] See Azar, B. (2008). IAT: Fad or Fabulous. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2008/07-08/psychometric.

[2] See id.

[3] Bartlett, T. (2017). Can We Really Measure Implicit Bias? Maybe Not. Retrieved from: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Can-We-Really-Measure-Implicit/238807.

[4] Lopez, G. (2017). For Years This Popular Test Measured Anyone’s Racial Bias. But It Might Not Work After All. Retrieved from: https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/3/7/14637626/implicit-association-test- racism.

[5] Id.

[6] Lee Jussim, Mandatory Implicit Bias Training is a Bad Idea (2017), available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rabble-rouser/201712/mandatory-implicit-bias-training-is-bad-idea.

[7] Bartlett, supra note 3, retrieved from: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Can-We-Really-Measure-Implicit/238807.

[8] Brandie Jefferson, Change the Bias, Change the Behavior? Maybe Bot (Aug. 2019), available at: https://source.wustl.edu/2019/08/change-the-bias-change-the-behavior-maybe-not/

[9] Jussim, supra note 6, available at:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rabble-rouser/201712/mandatory-implicit-bias-training-is-bad-idea.

[10] Gregory Mitchell & Philip Tetlock, Antidiscrimination Law and the Perils of Mindreading. 67 Ohio St. L. J. 1023- 1121 (2006).

[11] University of Arkansas, Research Questions Link Between Unconscious Bias and Behavior (July 2019), available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/07/190701144324.htm.

March 14, 2021 in Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Illinois Follows Nebraska’s Lead in Pairing Law Student Research Fellows and Pro Bono Attorneys

As all appellate practitioners know, legal research takes a great deal of practice.  Unfortunately, we never have quite enough time to assign extra research projects in law school, and all students can benefit from more research experience.  Meanwhile, many practitioners would be much more willing to take on pro bono clients if the practitioners did not have to devote significant time to new research for pro bono matters.  Illinois has a new program to connect law student researchers and pro bono attorneys.  

The Public Interest Law Initiative in Illinois recently launched a program to allow upper division law students to provide research assistance to attorneys offering pro bono services.  https://pili.org/news/pili-launches-illinois-pro-bono-research-alliance/.  As PILI Executive Director Michael Bergmann explained, the Pro Bono Research Alliance works “in coordination with our law school partners to help further engage law students in providing pro bono services and to remove barriers for providing pro bono legal services to those in need.”  Id.  The Research Alliance provides wonderful support for attorneys who might have “hesitated in accepting a pro bono matter that . . . would require significant research” or involves an area of law outside the attorney’s regular area of practice.  Id.  The Research Alliance program “is totally free and is meant to be a useful resource to make pro bono work easier for attorneys, while simultaneously providing law students with valuable experience.”  Id.

PILI’s program “matches student volunteers from Illinois’ law schools with attorneys from across the state.”  https://pili.org/news/pili-launches-illinois-pro-bono-research-alliance/  Research assignments can range “from those taking only a few hours, to larger projects that may last the course of a semester,” and can help with “any non-fee generating civil legal matter where legal services are being provided on a pro bono basis as defined in Illinois Supreme Court Rule 756(f)(1).”  Id.  Accordingly, private pro bono attorneys, legal aid organizations, and nonprofits can use the research assistance. 

Right now, the PILI program has slots for five students per law school (Illinois has nine law schools), but “[i]f the project garners enough interest, PILI will open the program to more law students at a later date.”  Penelope Bremmer,  PILI Launches Pro Bono Research Alliance for Law Students and Attorneys, https://www.2civility.org/pili-launches-pro-bono-research-alliance (Mar. 4, 2021).

Illinois modeled its Alliance on the similar University of Nebraska College of Law program.  See https://law.unl.edu/ProBonoResearch/.  Nebraska College of Law’s Pro Bono Research Fellows Program “is a free service for attorneys in need of research assistance on pro bono legal matters,” and “provides law students and attorneys with an opportunity to work together to provide legal assistance for someone in the community who cannot afford it. “  Id.  Nebraska Research Fellows can also help with more than research in some circumstances, always with oversight from the College of Law.  Id. 

Both programs stress the goal of encouraging “more practicing attorneys to engage in pro bono work, while simultaneously providing students with valuable experience” and “an opportunity to build their professional network[s].”   See id.  Kudos to Illinois and Nebraska for helping more underserved clients access legal services, and for engaging law students in this valuable work.

March 13, 2021 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Tips for Delivering A Persuasive Closing Statement

Closing argument is among the most critical parts of a trial, as it provides attorneys with one final opportunity to persuade the jury to rule in their favor. Below are tips to maximize the persuasive value of a closing argument.

Begin with a strong introduction. As with opening statements, the best closing statements begin with a powerful – and memorable – introduction. And the best closing statements repeat, in the introduction, the theme that was used in the opening statement, remind the jury of the strongest facts supporting a verdict for your client, and reinforce the weakest aspects of your adversary’s case.

Repeat the Rule of Three from the opening. In the closing, you should repeat the Rule of Three (i.e., the three strongest reasons supporting a verdict in your favor) that was used in the opening statement and add to the explanation of each point the evidence elicited on direct and cross-examination that supports each of the three points. Simply put, your goal should be to ensure continuity and cohesion throughout the presentation of your case. By following the same structure in your opening and closing (e.g., repeating the theme and rule of three), you simplify the argument for the jury and remind the jury of the strongest points justifying a ruling for your client.

Show emotion and passion. Never deliver your closing argument in a monotone or disinterested manner. Show appropriate emotion. Argue with passion. After all, if you aren’t passionate and emotional about your client’s case, how are you going to persuade the jury to rule in your favor?

Never read the closing. Your goal during the closing should be to relate to the jury. You want the jury to like you and trust you. Thus, speak directly to the jury in an authentic and conversational tone. If you read your closing, you create an artificial – and detrimental – distance between yourself and the jury and, in so doing, you minimize the persuasive value of your arguments. Remember that an excellent closing argument is as much about performance as it is about substance.

Address the weaknesses in your case. Before delivering your closing, put yourself in the shoes of the jurors. What questions would you have about the merits of your case? What weaknesses would you identify? When you identify such questions and weaknesses, address them in the closing. In so doing, you give yourself the opportunity to explain why these weaknesses should not affect the outcome or remedy you seek, and you establish your credibility with the jury.

Discuss the evidence in detail but do so in a manner that tells a story. The best attorneys know how to tell a compelling story at trial. They know how to capture and hold the jury’s attention. They highlight favorable facts and explain away unfavorable facts. And in the closing, the best attorneys use the testimony elicited at trial to complete their story, reinforce the theme and the Rule of Three, and make a passionate case for a ruling in their client's favor. The best attorneys also know what not to do: never merely summarize the evidence. Don’t feel the need to discuss the testimony of every witness. Instead, emphasize and highlight the evidence most favorable to your client and structure your presentation in a manner that compliments your theme (and Rule of Three), and convinces the jury to rule for your client.

Use non-verbal techniques. When delivering your closing, remember that jurors want to see you as a relatable human being who has compassion, decency, and common sense. To establish relatability, you should use strategic movements. For example, move to a different space when discussing each rule of three, even if it is merely a couple of feet. Vary your tone and voice projection. Maintain an open stance, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Use facial expressions and hand gestures to emphasize important points. Your goal is to be authentic, not rehearsed, and convincing, not contrived. And most importantly, be confident, because confidence is everything.

End powerfully. Make your last words your best and most memorable. Your objective is to make sure that the most important points supporting your case stick in the jurors’ memories. Thus, your last sentence or paragraph should impact the jurors’ emotions and sense of justice. It should state with simplicity and uncompromising conviction the reason why you should win. For example, in the O.J. Simpson trial, attorney Johnny Cochran stated, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” People still remember that line today. And for good reason.

Ultimately, attorneys should remember that a closing argument, like any other aspect of a trial, is a performance. It is not merely a presentation of the evidence and an analysis of the facts. It is a uniquely human endeavor.  Thus, your performance, including your likeability, relatability, and authenticity, will matter as much, if not more, than the evidence itself.

February 28, 2021 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Tips for Delivering A Persuasive Opening Statement

Opening statements are among the most critical aspects of a trial. Indeed, the opening statement provides attorneys with the opportunity to, among other things, make an excellent first impression with the jury, highlight the most favorable facts supporting an attorney's argument, and establish trust and credibility with the jury. Below are tips to maximize the persuasive value of an opening statement. 

Begin with a theme. First impressions are critically important, whether it is at a trial, in an interview, or during an audition. For that reason, it is vital to start strong when delivering your opening statement. A powerful beginning, among other things, gets the jury’s attention and establishes your credibility immediately. To ensure that you deliver a persuasive and powerful opening, begin with a theme. A theme is a concise, one-sentence statement that explains what the case is about and, more importantly, why the jury should rule in your favor.

Tell a story. It is critical to tell a compelling and enjoyable story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The story should include vivid details and powerful language concerning, among other things, the characters in your story (e.g., the plaintiff and defendant), and the atmosphere within which the events in question occurred. A compelling story helps to personalize your client, enables the jury to visualize (and thus relate to) the relevant events, and enhances your statement’s emotional impact.

Use the Rule of Three. The best opening statements are well-organized and cohesive. One of the best ways to ensure that your opening statement is structured effectively is to use the Rule of Three. Simply put, the Rule of Three provides the jury with three distinct reasons that support a verdict in your favor – and maximizes the persuasive value of your statement. As one commentator explains:

We humans tend to think in triplets. Three is a good number to wrap our mind around, and we see it in all kinds of instances. We tend to remember points best when given in groups of three, we scan visual elements best when they come in threes, and we like to have three options to consider. Think how often three comes up in our society: three little pigs, three strikes, three doors on ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ three competitive quotes. It’s a triordered world out there.[1]

In essence, the Rule of Three “creates simplicity, aids recall and makes your job easier.”[2]

Use demonstrative exhibits. During opening statements, demonstrative exhibits can often be a powerful tool to convey important facts and evidence to the jury in a well-structured, clear, and concise manner. Indeed, such exhibits focus the jury’s attention on the strongest facts and evidence supporting your argument, and can make your opening statement more persuasive and engaging, particularly for jurors that prefer visual images to enhance their understanding of the case.

Keep it simple and understandable. Opening statements should always be delivered using simple and easy-to-understand language. Thus, avoid fancy or esoteric words. Eliminate unnecessary legalese. And be sure to explain complex concepts in a clear and straightforward manner. Otherwise, you will likely lose the jury’s attention and fail to communicate your argument persuasively.

Be likeable, relatable, and credible. Likeability is an integral part of persuasive advocacy. Jurors (and judges) will be more inclined to rule in your favor or give you the benefit of the doubt if they like you. To enhance likeability, do not read your opening statement to the jury. Do not use notes. Instead, speak to the jurors in a conversational tone. Make eye contact and engage the jurors. Smile. Be friendly. Do not talk down to the jurors, attack your adversary, or speak in an overtly hostile manner. If the jurors like you, you will gain trust and credibility, both of which are essential to maximizing the persuasive value of your arguments.

Use non-verbal techniques. Non-verbal techniques are an essential part of effective advocacy. Such tecnhniques include, but are not limited to, avoiding speaking in a monotone and overly formalistic way. Instead, vary your tone and pace to emphasize important facts. Show authentic emotion. Use hand gestures and different facial expressions. Do not stand in one place for the entirety of your opening statement. And do not act in any manner that can be perceived as contrived and disingenuous. Effective non-verbal techniques contribute immeasurably to showing the jury that you are a genuine and relatable person -- and increase your openig statement's persuasive impact.

Confront unfavorable facts. Do not avoid facts that are unfavorable to your case. Instead, confront those facts in your opening statement and explain why such facts do not and should not affect the outcome or remedy you seek. If you fail to confront unfavorable facts, you can be certain that your adversary will, and when that happens, your credibility will be undermined substantially.

Avoid including unnecessary or irrelevant facts and explanations. Your opening statement should capture the jury’s attention from the first sentence and keep the jury’s attention until you conclude. To accomplish this, and to maximize persuasive impact, the opening statement must be interesting, engaging, and, at times, captivating. As such, avoid including unnecessary or irrelevant facts and explanations. Make sure that your statement is not too lengthy, unduly repetitive, ineffectively organized, or plain boring. Otherwise, you risk losing the jury’s attention – and your case.

End strong. The end of your opening statement is equally as important as the beginning. Your goal should be to reinforce the theme, maximize emotional impact, and highlight in a memorable way the strongest facts and evidence supporting your argument. Ask yourself, “what is the last and most important thing that I want the jurors to hear before they deliberate?” After all, a poor and unpersuasive ending can affect negatively the manner in which the jurors assess your arguments and, ultimately, diminish significantly your likelihood of success.

 

[1] Paul Luvera, “The Importance of a Trial Theme and the Rule of Three” (Jan. 16, 2011), available at: The immportance [sic] of a trial theme&the rule of three – Plaintiff Trial Lawyer Tips (internal citation omitted).

[2] Id.

February 13, 2021 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Using Zoom’s Choose-You-Own-Breakout-Room Option for Teaching Brief Writing

While some courts and law schools have returned to a form of in-person proceedings, many of us are still doing our best to represent clients or help students on Zoom.  If you are struggling with Zoom, check out Briar Goldberg’s Ted Ideas on how to raise your video skills.  Briar Goldberg, Ted Ideas:  7 Zoom mistakes you might still be making, https://ideas.ted.com/7-zoom-mistakes-you-might-still-be-making-and-how-to-raise-your-video-skills/ (Feb 9, 2021).

Additionally, if your spring involves teaching students to write trial or appellate briefs in pairs, Zoom now allows your students to select breakout rooms with their partners.  See https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/115005769646.  I was hesitant to use this feature because I know students cannot always select their own room, especially students using iPads and some Chromebooks.  See Clay Gibney, Tips for Zoom Breakout Rooms - Lessons Learned, https://www.sais.org/page/zoom_breakout_rooms  (Nov. 2020).  Like many Zoom hosts, I avoided the feature, and either spent the significant time needed to pre-assign participants to breakout rooms or let Zoom randomly assign participants to rooms.  

However, if you want students to be able to meet and confer with their brief-writing partners during class, even in a larger class, you should give the choose-your-own-breakout-room option a try.  I teach writing classes without a “Zoom TA” or IT person in the class, and yet I have sent my students to self-selected breakout rooms for partner meetings.  For the best results, assign your student pairs breakout room numbers before class and ask in advance for names of students whose devices do not show the room choices.

Assigning Pair Numbers

When I assigned my students into partner pairs, I listed each pair on an Excel sheet with numbered lines, and saved the sheet to our class Google Drive.  Before our first class using the partner meeting breakout rooms, I asked each student to double check the Excel sheet and make sure they knew their pair’s number.   

Then, to make creating the rooms quick and simple during class, I did not take the time to name the breakout rooms.  I simply asked Zoom to create the same number of self-selecting breakout rooms as my number of student pairs.  In other words, for a class of 30 students, I created 15 choose-your-own-breakout rooms numbered 1 to 15. 

Dealing with iPads, Chromebooks, and Web Zoom

Early in the semester, I had the students practice choosing their own breakout rooms during a persuasive writing exercise.  We learned that about twenty percent of my students could not select their own rooms, either because of their Chromebook or iPad devices, the way they access Zoom, or both.  See generally Gibney, Tips for Zoom Breakout Rooms, https://www.sais.org/page/zoom_breakout_rooms, at 2 (explaining students using the Web version of Zoom cannot select their own rooms). 

When I let the students know they would need their pair numbers for our next class, I also asked them to notify me before class if their device did not allow them to choose their own breakout rooms.  Therefore, I had a handy list and was able to quickly send these students to the proper rooms by manually assigning them. 

Several students told me after class that they really enjoyed the time in partner breakout rooms.  As much as we wish we could teach partner pairs to write briefs together in person, Zoom’s self-selecting breakout rooms at least allow us the chance to let the students meet together during class.

Happy Zooming!

February 13, 2021 in Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 23, 2021

A New Example of a Persuasive Introduction and Statement of Facts

Many 1L legal writing professors begin the second semester using their favorite examples of persuasive writing.  In addition to exercises on CRAC for crafting persuasive Argument sections, I use samples to show my students two key persuasive techniques:  (1) catching a reader’s interest with a “hook” in the Introduction; and (2) using persuasive subheadings and fact presentations in the Statement of Facts.  I have several great samples, including the well-known example from skater Tonya Harding’s International Olympic Committee filing.  Harding’s lawyers introduced her request to be allowed to skate in the Olympics in three compelling words:  “Tonya Harding skates.”   

Of course, I am always looking for new samples.  Many thanks to Professor Sarah Ricks, Distinguished Clinical Professor of Law at Rutgers Law School, for recently suggesting Legal Writing Institute List-Serv members read the beautifully-written Statement of Facts in an Opposition filed on behalf of Amazon Web Services in the Parler matter.  In the Opposition to Parler’s Motion for a TRO, counsel for AWS, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, uses plain language to engage the reader in the first line, and follows the Introduction with a truly persuasive Statement of Facts.  See AWS Opp. to Parler's TRO Request.  The Introduction and Statement of Facts from this January 12, 2021 filing are excellent examples of persuasive writing, albeit based on extremely troubling fact allegations.

Just as we instruct our students to do, the AWS Opposition begins its Introduction with short persuasive sentences catching the reader’s interest and summarizing AWS’s arguments in a straightforward matter:

This case is not about suppressing speech or stifling viewpoints.  It is not about a conspiracy to restrain trade.  Instead, this case is about Parler’s demonstrated unwillingness and inability to remove from the servers of Amazon Web Services (AWS) content that threatens the public safety, such as by inciting and planning the rape, torture, and assassination of named public officials and private citizens. 

Id. at 2.  The Introduction then presents AWS’s claims without hyperbole, and distills the heart of AWS’s argument to one sentence, arguing Parler attempts to compel “AWS to host content that plans, encourages, and incites violence.”  Id.

The Opposition continues with a Statement of Facts deftly using subheadings to summarize the facts and its overall argument.  As we know, judges are incredibly busy, and advocates should use persuasive subheadings in Statements of Facts as a way to help busy judges understand the key facts from reading the Table of Contents or from skimming the brief.  See generally https://legalblogwatch.typepad.com/legal_blog_watch/2012/02/federal-judges-want-you-to-spare-them-the-rhetoric-and-get-to-the-point.html (noting a Bankruptcy Court judge’s complaint judges “don’t have time for rhetoric” as they are “really, really busy”).  The AWS Opposition Statement of Facts uses four brief subheadings to paint an overall picture of Parler as unwilling to limit disturbing content in violation of its contract with AWS:

  1. Parler Conducts the “Absolute Minimum” of Content Moderation.
  2. Parler Enters an Agreement with AWS for Web Hosting Services.
  3. Parler Repeatedly Violates the Agreement.
  4. AWS Exercises Its Right to Suspend Parler’s Account.

AWS Opp. to Parler's TRO Request at 2-5. 

Finally, the Statement of Facts employs bullet points and quotes from the record to show Parler’s alleged abuses with precision.  It takes only a few minutes to read the Statement of Facts, but AWS’s summary of the underlying matter stays with the reader.  While some of the impact is no doubt based on the quoted Parler posts inciting sedition, rape, and murder, the calm, plain English structure and direct word choice also convey credibility and tell a compelling story.  For example, under the subheading about content moderation, the Statement of Facts explains, “Parler prides itself on its hands-off approach to moderating user content,” followed by six supporting quotes from Parler executives.  The quotes include sentences like, “’what we’ve decided to do is, let’s just not do any curation, no fact checking, let people do that on their own.’”  Id. at 2-3.  This method paints a clear picture of AWS’s fact contentions and persuades the reader AWS has accurately and carefully given us the whole story.

As appellate practitioners and writing teachers, we all benefit from reading each others’ work.  I appreciate the suggestion from Prof. Ricks that we read the Statement of Facts in the AWS Opposition to Parler’s Request for a TRO, and I hope you also enjoy the brief’s persuasive writing. 

January 23, 2021 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 2, 2021

More Support for Oxford, or Serial, Commas

Many of my younger students come from collegiate writing programs which do not use Oxford commas.  These students sometimes need convincing they should add what seems like an “extra” comma between the last two items in a series of three or more.  This comma, known as a serial or Oxford comma, can change meaning.  Therefore, I include the comma on my grading rubric and try to make my lessons about the comma connect to real-world examples as much as possible.

The dairy delivery drivers who won overtime pay because of a missing Oxford comma provide a great example of the comma’s utility.  See https://www.cnn.com/2017/03/15/health/oxford-comma-maine-court-case-trnd/index.html.  Many of us are familiar with the dairy drivers’ case, and their 2018 $5,000,000 settlement.  The dairy's delivery contract clause on overtime wages did not include a serial comma, and thus did not limit the drivers' eligibility for some overtime pay.  Along with a few fun, albeit morbid, memes about eating children and other relatives—"Let’s eat children” vs. “Let’s eat, children,” for example—I use the dairy case to help show the need for precision and punctuation.  (For more laughs, really, I highly recommend one of my family’s favorite books:  Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots and Leaves:  The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (2003), https://www.lynnetruss.com/books/eats-shoots-leaves/.)

Recently, Kelly Gurnett, an admitted “diehard Oxford comma loyalist,” updated her piece on the dairy drivers.  Kelly Gurnett, A Win for the Oxford Comma: This Lawsuit Shows Why It’s So Important (updated Nov. 2, 2020), https://thewritelife.com/is-the-oxford-comma-necessary/.  As Gurnett explains, “For anyone who’s ever wondered what all the fuss is about over Oxford commas, the circuit judge’s [dairy drivers’ pay] opinion says it all: ‘For want of a comma, we have this case.’”  Id. 

While modern courts sometimes say they want to use more holistic and less formal language, we still must be precise and clear in contracts and legal writing.  As Gurnett concludes:  “if there’s one thing writers can agree on, it’s the importance of clarity. In some cases, an extra comma matters.”  Id.

Last week, Pocket republished Chris Stokel-Walker’s article on serial commas.  Chris Stokel-Walker, The Commas That Cost Companies Millions (July 22, 2018), https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-commas-that-cost-companies-millions?utm_source=pocket-newtab.  In the BBC Worklife piece, Stokel-Walker discusses the dairy drivers and other historic Oxford comma litigation, and notes the often-debated meaning of commas in insurance policies.  As Stokel-Walker says, “for some, contentious commas can be a path to the poor house.”  Id.  He provides great examples to remind us about the need for precision.

First, Stokel-Walker cites the United States Tariff Act.  As originally drafted in 1870, the Tariff Act exempted “fruit plants, tropical and semi-tropical for the purpose of propagation or cultivation,” from import tariffs.  However, “for an unknown reason, when revised two years later, a stray comma sneaked in between ‘fruit’ and ‘plants,’” and “[s]uddenly all tropical and semi-tropical fruits could be imported without any charge.”  Id.  Congress ultimately revised the language, but the US lost $2,000,000 in tariffs (now about $40,000,000) in the meantime.  Id.

Unlike my memes showing the errors in comma-less clauses about eating children or cooking grandpa, in the most extreme example Stokel-Walker cites, debate over comma placement was at the heart of a real-life death-penalty trial.  Id.  In 1916, the British government hanged Roger Casement, an Irish nationalist, under the 1351 Treason Act.  Casement “incited Irish prisoners of war being held in Germany to band together to fight against the British.”  Id.  As Stokel-Walker explains, the case revolved around “the wording of the 14th Century Treason Act and the use of a comma: with it, Casement’s actions in Germany were illegal,” but if the court would read the act without the possibly-mistaken comma, Casement would be free.  Id.  Casement’s argument at trial was that “'crimes should not depend on the significance’” of commas, and if guilt for a hanging offense really depended on a comma, then the court should read the statute for the accused, and not the Crown.  Id.  Unfortunately for Casement, the court applied the comma and ordered him executed.

Whether we use the dairy drivers, memes, or Roger Casement’s matter, those of us teaching and mentoring new legal writers should do our best to convince them the Oxford comma is not “extra,” and can dramatically change meaning.

Happy new year!

January 2, 2021 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Power of The Rule of Three

Law professors, lawyers, and judges have spent countless hours, whether in law review articles, textbooks, at conferences, or in continuing legal education sessions, providing advice regarding legal writing skills, legal analysis, brief-writing, and persuasive advocacy.

Yet, despite this helpful and practical guidance, law students often struggle to develop effective persuasive writing skills. Law graduates – and seasoned lawyers – frequently face criticism of their writing skills, and judges often lament the less-than-persuasive nature of many pleadings, motions, and briefs. And for good reason. Many trial and appellate briefs, for example, lack a cohesive structure, fail to tell a compelling story, lack precision and concision, violate grammatical rules, contain unnecessary repetition and information, and simply fail to convince the reader to rule in favor of the drafter’s argument.

Having said that, for law students and lawyers who seek to immediately and significantly improve the persuasive value of their briefs, there is one strategy that you should adopt from this day forward: The Rule of Three.

The Rule of Three is simple yet incredibly effective. In the Introduction (or Summary of Argument) section of your brief – and throughout your brief -- identify three specific reasons (and only three reasons) supporting the relief or outcome you seek. And state these reasons with specificity, clarity, and conciseness using First…Second…Third…

Here is an example:

***

Defendant – a well-known tabloid that lacks journalistic integrity – defamed the plaintiff when defendant published an article – to an audience of over one million readers – stating that the plaintiff “was a pathetic attorney who didn’t know the law, preyed on the vulnerabilities of unsuspecting clients, stole their money, engaged in unlawful hiring practices, and repeatedly made inappropriate advances to several clients.”

The defendant’s comments were defamatory for three reasons.  First, the defamatory statements are false. Second, the defamatory statements damaged severely the plaintiff’s reputation and standing in the legal community. Third, the defamatory statements caused the plaintiff to suffer substantial, ongoing, and irreversible, harm.

***

After stating the three reasons supporting the remedy you seek, you should dedicate the next three paragraphs (in the Introduction or Summary of Argument) to relying on the relevant facts or evidence that support each reason. Thus, for example, you should draft one paragraph explaining why the statements were false. Then, you should draft a second paragraph explaining why the statements damaged the plaintiff’s reputation and standing in the legal community. Thereafter, you should draft a paragraph explaining why the plaintiff suffered reputational and economic harm. After that, draft a one-sentence conclusion stating “For these reasons, the defendant’s article was defamatory and thus entitles the plaintiff to damages.” Done.

Also, make sure that your point headings track the three reasons you identify at the outset of your brief. Doing so ensures that your brief will be cohesive, well-organized, and easy to read.

Why is the Rule of Three so effective?

1.    The Rule of Three simplifies your arguments

Judges are very busy. They want to know – quickly – what you want and why you should get it. Briefs that confuse judges or make judges struggle to discern your legal arguments damage your credibility and reduce the persuasive value of your brief.

The Rule of Three avoids this problem. It makes it easy for judges to identify your arguments and evaluate the evidence in support of those arguments. As such, the judge will like you for making his or her job easier. The judge will view you as a credible attorney and give you the benefit of the doubt throughout the litigation. And, ultimately, your client will thank you when you win the case.

2.    The Rule of Three organizes your arguments

The worst briefs are often those that go on…and on…and on…

The worst briefs read like a rambling manifesto that contains a barrage of loosely related thoughts that are jammed into long paragraphs with no separation of the concepts, arguments, or allegations. In short, it is chaos. It is easier to navigate one’s way out of a forest or maze than it is to navigate the arguments that such briefs present.  

The Rule of Three eliminates this problem. It’s quite simple. Say, “First…” and state your argument. Say, “Second…” and state your argument. Say, “Third…” and state your argument. Then, in the next three paragraphs, explain each argument in a separate paragraph – and include each argument as a point heading. Doing so ensures that your arguments will be organized and presented clearly, understandably, and effectively.   

3.    The Rule of Three appeals to the audience’s cognition and psychology

Let’s face it: listening is hard. Paying attention for a prolonged period is difficult. Remembering what we have heard is often challenging. So how do you draft a brief or make an oral argument that will maintain the audience’s attention and convince the audience to adopt your position?

Studies in social and cognitive psychology demonstrate that people respond positively and attentively to arguments that are delivered in sets of three.

The rule of three is ubiquitous. Humans are both neurologically and culturally adapted to the number three and its combination of brevity and rhythm. We know from studies in neuroscience that our brains seek out patterns and finds the structure of three to be a complete set; it feels whole. Three is the least number of items in a series that make a pattern, and once you start looking for this pattern, you’ll see that it’s everywhere.  In mathematics it’s a rule that allows you to solve problems based on proportions. In science there are three states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. The Latin maxim omne trium perfectum (everything that comes in threes is perfection) echoes Aristotle and his Ars Rhetorica. There Aristotle posits that the most persuasive rhetorical appeals must rely on ethos, pathos, and logos. Extrapolate from that, and even simple storytelling and narratives have a simple structure of a beginning, a middle and an end.[1]

Simply put, the Rule of Three embeds a cohesive structure into your arguments that enhance their readability, appeal, and persuasive value.

Ultimately, the Rule of Three reflects the principle that legal communication (and communication generally) is less complex than you think. It’s about common sense. Use the Rule of Three in your briefs and oral arguments. It’s that simple – and very effective.

Below are a few videos regarding the Rule of Three.

(1) The Rule of Three: a top speechwriter explains... - YouTube

The Rule of Three - A Law of Effective Communication - YouTube

(1) Steve Jobs: 3 Lessons From The Keynote Master - YouTube

 

[1] Brad Holst, Want Your Presentation to Be Memorable? Follow the Rule of Three, available at: Want Your Presentation to Be Memorable? Follow the Rule of Three (mandel.com)

December 26, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court, Oral Argument, Rhetoric | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Tips for Zoom Court & Moot Court: Follow In-Person Best Practices Even More Closely

Tired of online court, school, happy hour, family holidays, and more?  Me too.  However, we also know some form of virtual court is here to stay, and based on the number of great pointers judges from across the county have shared with us this month, we can all still improve. 

Moreover, in reflecting on the tips I’ve seen lately, I was struck by how many of these pointers apply to any argument, in-person or virtual, and how they track what we have long told law students in moot court.  As we evolve from a largely in-person court system, where we had some telephonic and online conferences, to our future, which could involve many more electronic appearances, we should not lose sight of those moot court pointers from law school. And for those of us teaching oral advocacy, we should remember to share best practices for preparation and professionalism which will serve our students in any argument, online or in-person.

Recently, Judge Pierre Bergeron shared helpful tips on preparing for oral argument.  You can see his blog here:  Judge Pierre Bergeron's Tips.  He advises counsel to practice, with a moot court if possible, know the record and case law, provide a roadmap of argument points at the beginning, and be especially cognizant of the need to pause periodically “in an effort to invite questions.”  Id.  These tips apply equally to in-person arguments. 

Similarly, Madison Alder’s piece for Bloomberg Law, Wear Pants, Sequester Pets: Five Tips From Judges for Zoom Court, has excellent advice from judges for online arguments and court appearances in general.  See Madison Alder, Wear Pants, Sequester Pets (Bloomberg Dec. 8, 2020).  As Alder notes, the “virtual venues have worked so well,” some “courts plan on using them long after the virus is gone.”  Id.  Therefore, all lawyers who appear in court need to be as proficient in online argument as they hopefully are for in-person proceedings.

Online court platforms vary (federal courts often do not use Zoom, for example), just like courthouses, and “’Lawyers should prepare themselves for venues they’re not familiar with,’” said Chief Judge William Johnson of the District New Mexico.  See id.  Thus, “preparing a presentation ahead of time is still crucial.”  Id.  Just as in traditional courthouses, counsel should practice standing at a podium or sitting and looking directly at a webcam.  See id.  I advise my students to distill their oral argument notes to just one piece of paper, supported by one binder of organized cases and record pages to take to the podium, and that format works well online, where paper shuffling can be magnified on Zoom. 

Somehow, despite myriad reminders to dress professionally, we still hear frequent complaints from the bench about attorney attire.  Alder recommends:  “Dressing properly means wearing professional attire from head to toe, not just head to waist.”  Id.  “’You never know when you’ll need to stand up in a pinch, which can make for an embarrassing moment if you’re wearing shorts,’ Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke said.”  Id.  The key:  “’Besides the same make-sure-you’re-communicating-well lessons that apply in a courtroom—is remembering that this is a courtroom and a formal proceeding. Zoom can make people less formal,’” Southern District of Texas Chief Judge Lee Rosenthal said.  Id.

We teach law school moot court advocates not to read from notes, allowing them to “read the bench” and make eye contact with judges.  This lesson matters even more for online arguments, where the format makes true eye contact impossible.  To be as present as possible, online lawyers (and students) should “make sure they do things like keeping the dogs in the other room, closing the window if the lawnmower is going, and making sure their children aren’t there,” said Chief Judge Rosenthal.  Id.  

Finally, we all need to be more attentive to virtual context clues in online arguments.  “The virtual platform makes it more important for lawyers to pay attention to the tone of a judge’s voice, Jed Rakoff, a senior judge in the Southern District of New York, said.”  Id.  Tuning in to a judge’s tone is important for lawyers “’because that’s the main remaining clue as to whether they’re scoring or not,’” Rakoff said.  Id.  As Eastern District of California Chief Judge Kimberly Mueller explained, “It’s as important as ever to pay attention to the judge’s signals, so if you are talking too long, be ready to wind up.’”  Id.  And, using Judge Bergeron’s point on pausing to allow questions, online advocates should watch for judges’ body language showing they are about to unmute or ask a question. 

In my house, with two adults working full-time online and a high school student taking online classes while managing a Zoom social and extracurricular schedule, we are weary of an online-only world.  I know many law students and lawyers feel the same way.  But at least we can find a silver lining (in addition to the great commute) from the online court experience, as the skills we must hone for the best online arguments will make us better advocates in-person too.  

Be well!

December 13, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Curious Case of Chief Justice John Roberts

Chief Justice John Roberts’s influence on the United Supreme Court’s jurisprudence has been substantial. Importantly, however, Chief Justice Roberts’s judicial philosophy and approach to constitutional interpretation have raised more questions than answers.

By way of background, when former President George W. Bush nominated John Roberts to the Supreme Court, most commentators speculated that Roberts would be a reliably conservative justice and embrace an originalist approach to constitutional interpretation. Indeed, during his confirmation hearings, Roberts emphasized the limited role of the judiciary, analogized judges to “umpires,” and rejected any suggestion that judges decide cases based on policy predilections.  As Roberts stated during his confirmation hearing:

A justice is not like a law professor, who might say, ‘This is my theory... and this is what I'm going to be faithful to and consistent with,’ and in twenty years will look back and say, ‘I had a consistent theory of the First Amendment as applied to a particular area.’ Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.[1]

Based on these and other statements, legal scholars understandably expected that Chief Justice Roberts would decide cases based on the Constitution’s text and the original meaning underlying its provisions,  and thus reach decisions that would favor conservative policy positions.

They were wrong.

Chief Justice Roberts’s jurisprudence has produced more confusion than clarity regarding his judicial philosophy and his approach to constitutional interpretation.  To begin with, in National Federation of Independent Investors v. Sebelius, Chief Justice Roberts surprised many legal commentators when he relied upon Congress’s power to tax and spend to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.[2] In so doing, Chief Justice Roberts held that the Court should defer to the coordinate branches when a statute can reasonably be interpreted to pass constitutional muster.[3] Importantly, however, in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts authored the majority opinion in which the Court invalidated Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 even though the United States Senate had voted 98-0 to re-authorize the Act.[4] And in McCutcheon v. FEC, Chief Justice Roberts authored the majority opinion in which the Court invalidated limits on contributions that individuals can make to candidates for federal office.[5] The decisions beg the question of why deference to the coordinate branches is acceptable in some cases but not others.

In the Supreme Court’s recent terms, some of Chief Justice Roberts’s decisions have engendered confusion regarding his judicial philosophy and approach to constitutional interpretation. For example, in June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo, Chief Justice Roberts concurred in a 5-4 decision that invalidated a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to obtain hospital admitting privileges. In so doing, Chief Justice Roberts relied on principles of stare decisis to hold that the Court’s prior decision in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstadt, which invalidated a nearly identical statute in Texas, controlled the outcome.[6] Chief Justice Roberts’s decision was surprising in many respects. Specifically,  Chief Justice Roberts dissented from the Court’s decision in Whole Women’s Health and had previously stated in a brief drafted on behalf of the Department of Justice that Roe v. Wade – the foundation of the Court’s abortion jurisprudence – was “wrongly decided” because it had no “support in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution.”[7] Moreover, Chief Justice Roberts’s reliance on stare decisis in June Medical Services was troubling because in other cases, most recently in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council, Roberts rejected stare decisis as a basis upon which to uphold precedent that he believed was wrongly decided.[8]  Perhaps more surprisingly in Bostock v. Clayton County, Chief Justice Roberts joined a six-member majority that construed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which when enacted prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, to encompass a prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.[9] Although many would agree that the Court reached a favorable outcome, the legal basis for that outcome was questionable. And in joining the majority, Chief Justice Roberts appeared less like an umpire and more like a cleanup hitter.

Of course, there are ways in which to construe Roberts’s decisions as entirely consistent with his judicial philosophy of being an “umpire,” as these cases involved entirely different facts and legal issues. Moreover, most, if not all, judges would eschew labels such as ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal,’ and assert that their decisions are predicated upon a faithful interpretation of the relevant constitutional or statutory text and a respect for precedent. Additionally, most, if not all, judges would state that it is improper to focus exclusively or even substantially on the outcomes that judges reach because doing so politicizes the judiciary and ignores the process by which judges decide cases.

All of this may be true. Notwithstanding, Chief Justice Roberts’s jurisprudence – at least in some cases – arguably deviates from his judicial philosophy, particularly his statement that the Court’s role is tantamount to an “umpire,” and his approach to constitutional interpretation, which prioritizes the text and history over contemporary societal attitudes. As Chief Justice Roberts stated in Obergefell v. Hodges:

[A] much different view of the Court’s role is possible.  That view is more modest and restrained. It is more skeptical that the legal abilities of judges also reflect insight into moral and philosophical issues. It is more sensitive to the fact that judges are unelected and unaccountable, and that the legitimacy of their power depends on confining it to the exercise of legal judgment. It is more attuned to the lessons of history, and what it has meant for the country and Court when Justices have exceeded their proper bounds. And it is less pretentious than to suppose that while people around the world have viewed an institution in a particular way for thousands of years, the present generation and the present Court are the ones chosen to burst the bonds of that history and tradition.[10]

Moreover, Chief Justice Roberts’s approach to deference and stare decisis has been inconsistent and unpredictable, thus casting doubt upon whether Chief Justice Roberts’s reliance on either doctrine was merely a vehicle by which to reach an outcome that had less to do with legal interpretation and more to do with political calculations.

So what is going on here?

The most likely explanation is that Chief Justice Roberts is striving to maintain the Court’s institutional legitimacy and credibility with the public. In so doing, Roberts may be particularly focused on avoiding decisions that are perceived as politically motivated or far removed from the mainstream of contemporary political attitudes. Although this approach is certainly understandable, it can have unintended consequences that cause the very problem that Chief Justice Roberts seeks to avoid. For example, if institutional legitimacy and the desire to be perceived as apolitical influences the Court’s decisions, those decisions will, by their very nature, be political because they will be guided by inherently political rather than legal considerations (e.g., the text of a statute or constitutional provision, and precedent). The unintended consequence is that the Court will become inextricably intertwined with, rather than removed from, politics, and further divorced from, rather than reliant upon, legal doctrine as the basis for judicial decision-making. Perhaps most importantly, the determination of precisely what decisions will maintain the Court’s legitimacy is invariably subjective, which risks rendering decisions that, in the name of legitimacy are, as a matter of constitutional law, illegitimate.

Ultimately, this is not to suggest that Chief Justice Roberts is deserving of criticism or has acted with anything but the utmost integrity when deciding cases. Indeed, before joining the Court, Chief Justice Roberts was one of the most influential, respected, and brilliant advocates in the United States, and by all accounts, is an extraordinary colleague and person.  

It is to suggest, however, that Chief Justice Roberts’s view of judges as “umpires” was probably correct and should remain as the judiciary’s guiding principle. After all, “[n]obody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.”[11]

 

[1] Chief Justice Roberts Opening Statement, Nomination Process, available at: https://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/chief-justice-roberts-statement-nomination-process.

[2]  567 U.S. 519 (2012).

[3]  See id.

[4]  570 U.S. 529 (2013).

[5] 572 U.S. 185 (2014).

[6] 136 S. Ct. 2292 (2016).

[7]  Dylan Scott, John Roberts is the Supreme Court’s new swing vote. Is he going to overturn Roe v. Wade? (July 9, 2018), available at: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/7/9/17541954/roe-v-wade-supreme-court-john-roberts

[8] 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2017).

[9] 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020).

[10] 576 U.S. 644 (2015) (Roberts, C.J., dissenting).

[11] Chief Justice Roberts's Opening Statement, Nomination Process, available at: https://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/chief-justice-roberts-statement-nomination-process.

August 9, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Developments in the Law School Advocacy Community

This has, out of necessity, been a busy summer for the law school advocacy community. Some exciting and important developments this week:

Guidance for Conducting Moot Court Competitions in 2020–21: Throughout this summer, a group of advocacy professors and coaches coordinated by Rob Galloway, the Associate Director of Appellate Advocacy at South Texas College of Law Houston, has met weekly to discuss issues related to running moot court competitions and programs in the COVID era. This week, the group published a comprehensive set of recommendations for administering moot court competitions in 2020–21. The document is signed by 78 advocacy teachers, many of whom also administer interscholastic and intramural competitions. It offers insights complied by three working groups on handling competitions in These Challenging Times. Like the best-practices guidance for courts published recently by the American Association of Appellate Lawyers, the document stresses that competition organizers should strive to bring as much normal as possible into the new normal: make COVID-era competitions as much like what we're used to as we can. But, as those of us who've administered virtual arguments and competitions have discovered, doing this well requires thoughtful adaptation. The document give soup-to-nuts advice on how to adapt competition rules and procedures without digging unduly deeply into the technological weeds. If you or someone you care about runs a moot court competition, I respectfully urge you to read it and to follow up with our group if there's anything we can do to help.

The National Online Moot Court Competition: The pandemic has prompted a consortium of law schools—inspired in part by pioneering efforts in the trial-advocacy community—to create a new moot court tournament. Registration is open now. The registration form is accessible here; the rules here; the proposed competition timeline here. It is especially cool that this competition is built from the ground up as a virtual competition. Schools that register will receive a technology package designed to make sure that all teams compete on a level virtual playing field. The competition's rules and design thoughtfully incorporate the practices I discuss above. This is not surprising; the representatives of the schools sponsoring the tournament were active in producing the guidance. And, more generally, the tournament looks to incorporate general best practices for moot court: advocates will argue in four preliminary rounds and will be guaranteed a large, well-qualified pool of brief scorers and oral argument judges.

The new leaders of the National Association of Legal Advocacy Educators: I posted three weeks ago about the election of officers for this new organization. It is done. The group's prospective members have voted on an excellent slate of candidates. As was inevitable, they have chosen a great board that brings together advocacy professors and coaches with deep and wide-ranging experience:

 

July 29, 2020 in Law School, Moot Court, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Using Peer Review for LRW Teaching and in Appellate Practice Too:  Peerceptiv and Eli Review

Tired of seeing yet another post on how to ______ [fill in the blank:  teach, write, argue, live] in our new virtual reality?  Exhausted from never leaving your home and Zooming all day?  Me too. 

In fact, I was reluctant to write one more blog on online writing tools.  However, my efforts to add new virtual tools to my teaching arsenal introduced me to two peer review software systems I believe can help us in the classroom:  Peerceptiv, https://peerceptiv.com/, and Eli Review, https://elireview.com/.  These peer review programs make anonymous online feedback easy, and encourage the writers to learn by editing others.  They also reminded me how much any law practice can increase attorney writing skills by using peer review.  See, e.g., Kwangsu Cho and Charles MacArthur, Learning by Reviewing, 103 J. of Ed. Psych. 73, 84 (Feb. 2011)   https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ933615

As an of counsel appellate lawyer at a large law firm, I often had the chance to be an “intermediate editor” who reviewed junior lawyers’ briefs before sending them on to the partners.  While I had been using informal peer review in my adjunct teaching for a few years at that point, I did not truly see how much editing others’ work makes us better writers until I experienced the phenomenon in practice.  When I noticed I was making the same annoying mistakes I’d been correcting as an editor, I knew my work for the junior associates was making me a far better writer.  Eli Review has a nice blog post on this “giver’s gain.”  https://elireview.com/2017/03/28/givers-gain/

My positive reviewing experience prompted me to add more ungraded peer review in my teaching and made me an advocate for the review process with clients and supervisors.  Like in-house moot court, the practice of adding an intermediate editor is not possible in every situation.  However, if you practice in a large firm or agency, consider adding a layer of review by mid-level writers to young attorneys’ work.  This review can actually save fees, by shortening partner review time, and can help create better briefs across the board.  And if you are in a smaller practice or have no budget for formal peer review, think about the techniques you like in your opponents’ papers, and incorporate those into your own writing.

In the digital classroom, we can use technology to enhance the peer review process.  Many thanks to Prof. Tracy Norton of the Touro Law Center for introducing me to Peerceptiv and for being incredibly generous with her time by running a Peerceptiv demo for the LRW community.  Similarly, I send thanks to Prof. Brian Larson of the Texas A&M University School of Law, who introduced me to Eli Review and also spent an incredible amount of time helping the LRW community with an Eli Review demo.  Neither Prof. Norton or Prof. Larson have any connection to these products, and I also have no affiliation with these companies and am just sharing their information to help others.

From Profs. Norton and Larson, I learned both programs ask students to submit a writing assignment online and then provide feedback on other students’ writing for the same assignment.  Students follow a set rubric in their reviews, and instructors can include the quality of the reviews students provide as part of their writing grades.  The whole process can be anonymous.  Professors using these programs raved about the technical support and positive student feedback from both.  Peerceptiv costs students slightly less than Eli Review, and both can be “textbooks” for your classes at less than $30 a year. 

The genius in each product is the science and math behind the assessment scores and review prompts.  Each product truly helps students grow as writers by combining the established science on peer review and some neat online features.  The math and engineering majors in my home called the programs “elegant.”

For example, Peerceptiv has the peers give a grade of 1-7 on the assignment and complete a four-part review.  Then, each student grades the reviews he or she received on a 1-7 scale.  Peerceptiv then assigns an overall rating for the assignment of 1-7 based on a combination of the student’s writing score and reviewing score.  The professor can set the percentages each score is worth, and the prof can also give reviews him/herself and assign a higher level of credit in the grade to his/her review.  Peerceptiv docs points when a review or assignment is late.  See https://www.peerceptiv.com/why-peerceptiv-overview/#curriculum.

If the Peerceptiv number system seems too much like the dreaded undergraduate “peer grading” to you, consider Eli Review.  Instead of assigning a number ranking to a student's writing and reviews, Eli Review asks students to pull the most helpful comments out of their peers’ reviews and make an express revision plan saying how they will incorporate the comments.  Eli Review does ask students to rate the quality of the reviews on a 1-5 star basis, with only truly exceptional reviews earning five stars.  See https://elireview.com/learn/how/.  This level of assessment forces the writer to give better reviews and thereby learn more about writing, but can help avoid concerns about someone other than a professor grading work. 

This fall, I will use Eli Review for short writing like simple case illustrations, and then will progress to peer-reviewed trial brief argument sections in the spring.  I plan to use Eli Review only for anonymous, ungraded work.  My goal is to give students the “aha” moment I had when reviewing briefs as an intermediate editor, and to help them gain the skill of self-diagnosing writing problems. 

Thanks for reading another note on online writing tools.  I wish you all good health, and a safe  trip outside sometime soon too. 

July 25, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Guest Post--Caution Ahead: Breakout Groups Can Fail

We are thrilled to welcome Professor Susan Smith Bakhshian of Loyola Law School Los Angeles as our guest author.  Susan has taught LRW and doctrinal law for many years at Loyola, where she is a Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Bar Programs. She is the co-author of Clearing the Last Hurdle: Mapping Success on the California Bar Exam.  This summer, she taught entirely online using Brightspace and Zoom.  You can reach Susan at susan.bakhshian@lls.edu. 

 

Caution Ahead:  Breakout Groups Can Fail

Breakout rooms are great. But. Wait for it. They can fail.  Break out rooms are terrific for everything from a way to let students chat and get to know each other, to in class exercises and writing assignments. And the experience is usually great.

Breakout rooms are not a substitute for physical classrooms, but they can give students a few minutes to socialize, provide variety in instruction, and accomplish learning objectives. 

So when do breakout rooms go wrong? Groups can go wrong a variety of ways. While the tech can fail, which is a new problem, the other failures are nothing new. A student may decline to participate fully. Group dynamics can unravel. Disputes can arise.

Before

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Groups need clear instructions to stay on track. Using a slide in class or posting a handout before class goes a long way to making sure students understand that breakout groups are real assignments and not a class break. By posting slides before class, shy or anxious students are able to preview the group assignment and more fully participate in class.

During

Pop in.  Video conference software simulates walking around the room. Once students realize the professor might drop in the group, they stay on track. This feature is especially helpful when I see that the random assignment has created a group of several weaker students or one with too many natural leaders.  I usually go to those groups first. Even if all of the groups are doing fine without any help, I also just like to say “hello.”

After

Require a deliverable. If the groups know going into the exercise that a written product is due or that anyone in the group may be called on, they will stay on task better.  Formal and informal deliverables both work well. Ask for each group to craft an email to the professor, require a post, or ask the group to return to the full class ready to answer a question or present their best ideas.

For those who have not tried a breakout room, an easy, but effective assignment is to have the groups make a list of best (and worst) practices for online learning. They have great tips for each other ranging from natural lighting solutions to how to use the “hide my video” feature to get more comfortable being on video. This assignment works as an ice-breaker in an early class or anytime you want to cover professionalism. As attorneys, they will need to be proficient at using video conferencing software, even after a return to more live interaction. A quick mention that job interviews may be online gets everyone in the group more interested in discussing best practices.

Bottom line, breakout groups are flexible and effective in online teaching.

July 11, 2020 in Books, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The National Association of Legal Advocacy Educators

For the past couple of years, members of the law school advocacy community have worked to create an organization that represents the interests of legal advocacy educators. It's almost here. We have a name: the National Association of Legal Advocacy Educators. We have bylaws. And soon, we'll have officers.

Hence this post. To move things forward, the organization will launch elections this week for its inaugural executive board and regional representatives. Anyone who is interested in and eligible to become a member of NALAE may vote. And membership is open to anyone who is currently an advocacy teacher at the law school level. As the bylaws state, that definition is broad: "an 'advocacy teacher' is any person who is engaged in teaching trial advocacy, appellate advocacy, alternative dispute resolution, client counseling, or any other skills related to litigation and trials, at the law school level. This definition includes tenurial, tenure-track, non-tenurial, and adjunct professors as well as those who coach law school teams that compete in these fields."

If you're currently an advocacy teacher at the law school level and you'd like to vote, please register via this link as soon as you can. When you access the registration form, you can check out answers to frequently asked questions about the organization and elections. NALAE's Election Committee will host an online candidates' forum tomorrow (Thursday, July 9) at 7:00 pm, and we'll send a link to Zoom event to all registered voters. 

I am excited to see this organization come together, particularly now. This summer, the national communities of appellate advocacy, trial advocacy, and dispute resolution teachers, coaches, and competition organizers have worked hard to respond to the challenges our students face in learning and competing virtually. We're seeing what's possible when we collaborate. NALAE will help our communities realize a broad, deep range of possibilities. The organization's goals:

a. To encourage the expansion and improvement of and diversity in student-focused law school advocacy skills education;

b. To support innovation through communication and dissemination of information among law school advocacy programs;

c. To improve the quality of competition experiences to best teach skills and professionalism;

d. To work cooperatively with other organizations interested in advocacy skills education, the improvement of legal education, and the improvement of client representation;

e. To promote conferences and other educational activities designed to facilitate the other purposes of the organization;

f. To further the interests of all law school advocacy skills teachers; and

g. To promote access to justice, including the right to jury trials, fair and equitable dispute resolution, and the rule of law.

July 8, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Law School, Moot Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 7, 2020

A Few Thoughts on Achieving Equality in the Wake of George Floyd’s Tragic Death

The death of George Floyd was tragic and appalling. The video that showed Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes was disturbing. Sadly, many unarmed African-Americans have been fatally shot by law enforcement, and although most officers have been acquitted of criminal conduct based on these events, they have been tragic and involved the questionable, if not unnecessary, use of force.

This is not to say that the majority of law enforcement officers are bad people. Most strive to – and do – protect their communities. But the events this past week have rightfully renewed a call to address problems in the law enforcement community and issues related to inequality. Below are a few thoughts regarding how to address the broader issue of inequality and achieve a society where equal opportunity exists for all citizens.

I.    Focus on Institutional Corruption, not merely Institutional, or Systemic, Racism

There can be no doubt that racism and discrimination exist throughout the United States. Indeed, the legacy of, among other things, slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow have caused incalculable social and economic harm to African-Americans that continue to this day. As such, achieving equality and eradicating discrimination in all of its forms is a moral and categorical imperative.

To do so, however, it is not sufficient to rely upon an overly general assertion that the United States is currently an institutionally or systemically racist society.[1] Although institutional racism certainly existed for much of this country’s history, it does not exist to nearly the same degree in contemporary society. For example, federal and state laws outlaw discrimination. Public universities have prioritized diversifying their student bodies and faculty. Private employers have made laudable efforts to diversify their workforces. Affirmative action programs have increased access to education for traditionally disadvantaged groups. This is merely a representative sample of the efforts reflecting a commitment to equality of opportunity and evincing a condemnation of practices that, by design or in effect, discriminate against particular groups.

Of course, although institutional racism is no longer ubiquitous, there can be no doubt that some institutions remain racist or, at the very least, retain policies that disparately impact traditionally marginalized groups. Accordingly, the best path to achieving equality would be to identify, at the county, state, and federal level, the specific institutions that remain institutionally or systemically racist – and to develop workable policy prescriptions to remedy the infirmities in these institutions. Put differently, it does little, if any, good to recite the proposition to institutional or systemic racism exists because these terms are overly broad and thus make it difficult to develop workable and sustainable remedies for specific problems.

Additionally, scholars and policymakers place insufficient emphasis on institutional corruption. This concept, which was developed by Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig, states as follows:

Institutional corruption is manifest when there is a systemic and strategic influence which is legal, or even currently ethical, that undermines the institution’s effectiveness by diverting it from its purpose or weakening its ability to achieve its purpose, including, to the extent relevant to its purpose, weakening either the public’s trust in that institution or the institution’s inherent trustworthiness.[2]

Simply put, institutional corruption does not involve violations of the law. Rather, it refers to the degradation of an institution’s underlying values, and how the institution’s actions, although not illegal, undermine the public trust.

The United States Department of Justice’s investigation into the tragic death of Michael Brown – and the Ferguson Police Department – is instructive. The Department cleared Officer Darren Wilson of wrongdoing but, in so doing, found that the Ferguson Police Department was institutionally corrupt.[3] That is, although the Ferguson Police Department did not engage in illegal activity per se, its policies and practices disproportionately and unfairly impacted African-American residents, thus highlighting the need for principled reforms.

II.    Focus on Crime Prevention by Addressing the Underlying Causes of Criminality

There can be no doubt that reforms to policing practices (and legal doctrines, such as qualified immunity) are necessary in some jurisdictions to ensure that police brutality ends and that the lives of African-American suspects (and all suspects) are not needlessly lost. This may include eliminating specific physical restraints, making changes to police training methods, and revisiting the qualified immunity doctrine.

But such reforms are not enough.

Legislators and policymakers must address a critical issue that has nothing to do with law enforcement – the underlying causes of criminality in the African-American community (and all communities, for that matter) – and strive to reduce criminal behavior.

Regarding this issue, the landmark report of former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan is also instructive, albeit controversial.[4] In that report, Senator Moynihan found that, by the mid-1960s, nearly half of African-American families were in the middle class. In subsequent years, however, that progress stalled. Senator Moynihan posited that the decline of the nuclear family and the increase in single-parent families contributed to this problem as part of a “tangle of pathology,” which included “delinquency, joblessness, school failure, crime, and fatherlessness.”[5] These factors, Moynihan concluded, created a “self-perpetuating cycle of deprivation, hardship, and inequality.”[6] Decades after its publication, the Urban Institute revisited Senator Moynihan’s report and concluded that African-Americans “still suffer from the intersecting disadvantages that Moynihan called a ‘tangle of pathologies,’ with each negative factor reinforcing the others.”[7] Specifically, the Urban Institute noted that children “born into single-mother families [approximately 72% of African-American children] are far more likely to be poor and persistently poor than children born into two-parent families,” and that “[h]igh-poverty neighborhoods suffer from high rates of crime and violence, poor schools, and weak connections to the labor market.”[8] Consequently, these factors may be responsible, in part, for criminality and inequality of opportunity.

But the Moynihan Report’s findings do not tell the whole, or even most important part, of the story. Perhaps the most deleterious effect of the systemic discrimination that continued until the mid-twentieth Century was the disparity in the quality of education at the grade and high school levels. To make matters worse, in San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez, the United States Supreme Court held that the funding of public schools based on property tax revenue did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.[9] The practical effect was far-reaching and long-lasting: children from wealthy neighborhoods received a better education than children from poor neighborhoods. That, in a nutshell, made equality of opportunity illusory for poor children of all races. As the Urban Institute noted, “[y]oung people from high-poverty neighborhoods are less successful in school than their counterparts from more affluent communities: they earn lower grades, are more likely to drop out, and are less likely to go on to college.”[10]

Make no mistake: racism is and continues to be part of the problem. Indeed, the Urban Institute noted that “race remains a factor in determining economic opportunities and outcomes,” and that “aggressive enforcement of antidiscrimination statutes as well as affirmative action policies are required to ensure equal opportunity.”[11] Police brutality, of course, is also a problem, and the recent protests are a testament to citizens’ rightful anger, at such brutality although those citizens who engaged in violence and other criminal activity should not be considered protesters in any sense whatsoever.

But the path to equality requires policymakers and scholars to do far more than focus on law enforcement. For the promise of equality to become a reality for all citizens, researchers and scholars must develop policies that address community and family issues, and that remedy the disparities in education at the grade and high school levels.

III.       Reform Federal and State Sentencing Guidelines – and Reentry Programs

At the federal and state level, sentencing guidelines often authorize the imposition of unnecessarily long and unprincipled sentences. Additionally, during incarceration, the criminal justice system often provides inadequate support and treatment for mentally ill inmates. And upon release, these individuals, many of whom are members of traditionally disadvantaged groups, have deteriorated substantially and lack the social and economic support to successfully reintegrate into society. Not surprisingly, they frequently engage in criminal conduct and return to prison, where the cycle continues.

Thus, reforming sentencing law to enhance rehabilitation-based programs for inmates – and prioritize support for inmates upon release – is critical to reducing crime.

IV.    The Millennial Sequence

The path to the middle class – and away from criminality – is attainable for citizens of all backgrounds. Specifically, the American Enterprise Institute has found that, among millennials, “getting at least a high school degree, working full-time, and marrying before having any children,” facilitates upward mobility into the middle class:

[The] divergent paths toward adulthood are associated with markedly different economic fortunes among Millennials. Young adults who put marriage first are more likely to find themselves in the middle or upper third of the income distribution, compared to their peers who have not formed a family and especially compared to their peers who have children before marrying … This pattern holds true for racial and ethnic minorities, as well as young adults from lower-income families. For instance, 76% of African American and 81% of Hispanic young adults who married first are in the middle or upper third of the income distribution, as are 87% of whites.[12]

In fact, this sequence is almost certain to reduce, if not eliminate, the likelihood that an individual will live in poverty:

97% of Millennials who follow what has been called the “success sequence”—that is, who get at least a high school degree, work, and then marry before having any children, in that order—are not poor by the time they reach their prime young adult years (ages 28-34). The “success sequence,” so named by Brookings Institution scholars Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, has been described as the path into adulthood that is most likely to lead towards economic success and away from poverty.[13]

The problem, however, is that “young adults aged 28 to 34 from lower-income families are about half as likely to have completed the success sequence, or be on track with the sequence, compared to their peers from upper-income families.”[14]

                                                                                                                            ***

This short article cannot capture in sufficient detail the many issues relevant to inequality. Ultimately, however, and perhaps most importantly, the solution to this problem requires citizens of all races and backgrounds to come together in a spirit of reconciliation, with a commitment to eradicating racism and discrimination, and with an openness to diverse perspectives. It does no good to maintain an almost-exclusive focus on, for example, white privilege (the extent of which cannot be quantified and differs based on intersectional factors), and implicit bias (which evidence suggests does not correlate with biased behavior). These arguments rightfully identify problems impacting inequality, but without more, they have no practical impact on improving the day-to-day lives of African-Americans. If anything, now is the time to come together and recognize that what we have in common far outweighs that which we do not, and to collectively devote our efforts to achieving equality – and equal protection of the law – for all citizens. After all, what happened to George Floyd, and many others, should never happen again. The United States Constitution guarantees equality for all citizens and whenever the effects of inequality manifest – as they did in Minneapolis – the Founders’ vision for a more perfect union vanishes.

 

[1] Institutional racism is generally defined as state-sponsored policies that discriminate against or disproportionately impact traditionally marginalized groups.

[2] Edmond J. Safra, Institutional Corruption, available at: https://ethics.harvard.edu/lab

[3] See United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department (March 4, 2015), available at: https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/03/04/ferguson_police_department_report.pdf

[4] Kay S. Hymowitz, The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies, (2005), available at: https://www.city-journal.org/html/black-family-40-years-lies-12872.html

[5] Id.

[6] Gregory Arcs, The Moynihan Report Revisited (June 2013), available at: https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/23696/412839-The-Moynihan-Report-Revisited.PDF

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] 411 U.S. 1 (1973).

[10] Arcs, supra note 6, available at: available at: https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/23696/412839-The-Moynihan-Report-Revisited.PDF\

[11] Id.

[12] W. Bradford Wilcox, The Millennial Success Sequence: Marriage, Kids, and the ‘Success Sequence’ Among Young Adults (June 2017), available at: https://www.aei.org/research-products/working-paper/millennials-and-the-success-sequence-how-do-education-work-and-marriage-affect-poverty-and-financial-success-among-millennials/

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

June 7, 2020 in Appellate Justice, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Writing Process – Drafting, Rewriting, and Revising

Drafting an appellate brief (or any brief) is often a challenging and time-consuming endeavor. Among the best ways to ensure that a brief is of the highest quality is to adhere to the three stages of the writing process.

Specifically, the writing process consists of: (1) the drafting stage; (2) the rewriting stage; and (3) the revision stage. The tips below will help law students and attorneys through each stage of the writing process and, ultimately, maximize the quality of briefs and other legal documents.

I.    The Drafting Stage

The purpose of the drafting stage is to put your story, ideas, and arguments on paper. As such, you should write freely and creatively. Do not attempt to produce a perfect or even well-written document. And never attempt to write and edit simultaneously because it will stifle your creativity, divert your attention from the substantive arguments that you want to include in your brief, and slow the writing process.

In so doing, understand that although the first draft may, among other things, lack flow and effective organization, contain grammar and style errors, be redundant, or contain poorly phrased sentences and paragraphs, these problems will be fixed during the rewriting and revision stages.

After you have completed the first draft, take a few hours or a day (if time permits) to reflect on what you have written, and ask another person to read your first draft. You will likely generate new ideas regarding, for example, how to present or refine particular arguments, what facts and arguments to include, and how to organize the brief. Indeed, these and other issues will be the focus of the rewriting stage. As author David Sedaris said, “[y]ou need to do the best that you can do, and then you need to take the best that you can do, and you need to rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it.”

II.    The Rewriting Stage

The purpose of the rewriting stage is to refine your first draft. During this stage, attorneys should focus on improving the structural and substantive aspects of a brief. This should include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following:

  • Ensuring that the brief is organized effectively, which will likely require reordering specific paragraphs or sections of a brief;
  • Improving the flow of your brief, which includes making sure that you transition seamlessly when presenting various facts and arguments and use subheadings where necessary to improve the flow and clarity of your arguments;
  • Eliminating unnecessary repetition;
  • Eliminating irrelevant facts;
  • Considering whether you have omitted important facts or legal arguments. For example, you may have failed to address a relevant counterargument, distinguish an unfavorable case, or include a favorable fact; and
  • Making sure that your paragraphs begin with a clear topic sentence that focuses on a specific issue and end with sentences that transition effectively to the next paragraph and section.

Importantly, lawyers (and writers generally) often perform several rewrites. And during the rewriting stage, you should print out and read aloud your brief because it will ensure that you discover errors or areas for improvement that you may not have otherwise noticed.        

III.       The Revision Stage

During the revision stage, you should concentrate on the smaller but equally important details of your brief. Put simply, the revision stage is where you perform a line and copy edit of your brief. This should include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following:

  • Making paragraphs and sentences shorter;
  • Varying sentence length;
  • Eliminating complex or esoteric words, adverbs, and unnecessary adjectives;
  • Ensuring that your brief contains no grammatical, stylistic, or spelling errors;
  • Including transition words to ensure flow and clarity;
  • Eliminating words that convey ambiguous or unintended meanings;
  • Reducing the number of quotes;
  • Deleting repetitive sentences;
  • Eliminating cliché phrases and colloquial language;
  • Ensuring that your brief is written in the active voice (for the most part);
  • Using the CTRL+F feature to search for overused and unnecessary words; and
  • Submitting your document to an online editing service, such as Grammarly.

Additionally, you should perform multiple revisions to ensure that you identify all errors and maximize the persuasive value of your brief.

Finally, you should never combine any of these stages. For example, if you combine the rewriting and revising stages, you will almost certainly fail to identify both large and small-scale problems with your brief and compromise your brief’s persuasive value. Lawyers who adhere to the three stages of the writing process will – and do – produce briefs of the highest quality.

May 31, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 27, 2020

My Final Thoughts on Moot Court in the Age of Coronavirus

Nearly a lifetime ago (ok, it was just a month ago), I posted tips on how to conduct a virtual moot court competition. Since that post we have had some other great posts on remote oral argument and presentation, including these tips from Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. 

We held the final round of our moot court competition on April 16.  Based on that experience, and a few other things I learned along the way, I thought I would offer my final thoughts and tips on virtual moot court competitions, in case we are all doing this again in the fall.

(1) Stagger start times.  For our competition, we typically had two separate panels of three judges.  Each panel heard two arguments--one starting at 5:30 pm and one starting at 6:30 pm.  In my earlier suggestions, I recommended having separate Zoom links for each argument even if the panel was the same.  That definitely worked well.  But, if I could do it over, I would have had one panel start either 15 minutes earlier or 15 minutes later than the other panel.  Why?  Well, I "zoomed" into the first argument for each panel, just to make sure that the judges were present and that there weren't any questions.  I ended up having one Zoom open on my laptop and one open on my tablet.  This was a lot to manage, especially if there were issues that needed to be resolved.  A 15 minute staggered start time would have alleviated some of my stress.

(2) Have back-ups.  I wish that I had designated a back-up bailiff and judge for each round.  We only had one judge who wasn't able to make it, but we did have bailiff sound/video issues.  I was able to get those issues resolved with minimal delay, but having a designated back-up would have been even easier.

(3) Develop an online scoring survey. We ask our judges to fill out a fairly detailed score sheet.  I take the scores and enter them into a complicated spreadsheet that incorporates the judges' scores and the student's brief score.  When we have an in-person competition, I can look at the score sheets right away and identify anything that isn't filled out correctly.  For an online competition, I had to wait to receive the score sheets. Then, if there were any problems, I had to get in touch with the judges.  This wasn't an issue with the early rounds, but by the eliminate rounds, I needed to notify the students advancing quite promptly.  If we do this again, I will work with our IT department to develop some sort of online tool that the judges fill out instead.  This would hopefully help me get the scores sooner, and also ensure that the score sheets are completely filled out.

In addition to these general points, here are a few points from the final round:

(1) Use and circulate a background.  The version of Zoom on my home laptop allows me to use a background without a green screen.  I wish that I had circulated a background to the students and judges to use to make it a little more uniform.

(2) Figure out an online timer.  I didn't use an online timer. Rather, my plan was to hold up time cards.  I regret that choice.  The time cards didn't show up with the background, so I ended up holding up fingers instead.  I wish that I had tested the time cards to know that they wouldn't work. Then I would have definitely figured out how to put a small clock on the screen.

(3) Expect the unexpected (or be sure to lock your office door).  Our final round started at 5:30 pm on April 16. I had told my spouse in the weeks leading up to the final argument that he would be on toddler duty all night long.  I ordered dinner to be delivered, and reiterated to him right before the round began that I was unavailable. Well, as luck would have it, at about 5:50 pm my very tall, just turned 2 year old discovered how to open doors.  And, as I am sure that you have guessed, the first door that he opened was the one right into my office as the Respondent was arguing. My microphone was muted, and the background kept him mostly hidden, but he was still a bit visible (as was my husband who, with a look of horror on his face, tried to quickly remove him from the scene).  In hindsight, it was pretty humorous.  I wasn't able to keep a poker face on while it happened, which I felt bad about.  Now I know to lock my office door if I don't want to be disturbed.

April 27, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Law School, Moot Court, Oral Argument, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Writing a Statement of Facts

In law school, students study legal doctrine in many areas of the law and spend a substantial amount of time reading case law, writing memorandums and briefs, and engaging in real-world simulations.

Of course, while the law is relevant to the disposition of any case, it does not often determine the outcome of a particular case. For example, statutes or constitutional provisions may be ambiguous and precedent may not adequately address the relevant legal question. Rather, the most important aspect of a case is the facts. The facts often determine how the law is applied and present equitable considerations that counsel in favor of a particular outcome. 

Thus, when drafting a trial brief, appellate brief, or pretrial motion, the statement of facts is critical and, arguably, the most important part of your brief. Below are several tips that will help to maximize the persuasive value of your statement of facts.

1.    Tell a story

In your statement of facts, do not simply list the facts or describe the facts in a bland or boring manner. Instead, tell a story – and make it interesting. Doing so will capture the reader’s attention and engage the reader in your story. Consider the following examples:

When the plaintiff was terminated, the defendant (the plaintiff’s employer) completely disregarded the relevant terms of the plaintiff’s employment. Furthermore, the defendant made disparaging and insulting remarks to the plaintiff that caused the plaintiff to suffer substantial distress, and that demonstrated the wrongfulness of the termination,

***

When terminating the plaintiff, the defendant unapologetically stated, “I don’t care what the contract says because I can do what I want and you could never afford a lawyer.” Additionally, the defendant repeatedly berated the plaintiff, calling her “pathetic, a loser, and an embarrassment to the company.” The plaintiff left the defendant’s office in tears, and as she existed, the defendant yelled, “get the f*** out.”

The second example is far more effective. Through the use of specific facts, it shows, rather than tells, the court why you should win.

Of course, when drafting the statement of facts, you should avoid unnecessary adjectives and over-the-top language. 

Finally, remember that you do not have to state the facts in chronological order. Although this may be appropriate in some cases, you can – and should – be creative in your organization. For example, if your case involves the breach of a contract, you may want to begin by describing the events constituting the breach and detailing the damages that your client suffered. Simply put, just as some movies begin with the ending, some briefs can too if doing so enhances the persuasive value of your argument.

2.    Don’t be argumentative

One of the worst things that you can do in a statement of facts is to argue. First, your facts should be drafted in a manner that makes you appear objective. Doing so will engender credibility with the court. Second, arguing in the facts may lead a court to believe that you are presenting an incomplete or biased version of the facts. Third, and perhaps most importantly, when you argue, you are telling, rather than showing, the court why you should win. No one likes to be told what to do.

3.    You can – and should – still advocate

Although you should not argue, you should still advocate. For example, you should emphasize favorable facts over non-favorable facts. You should organize the statement of facts in a manner that highlights the most favorable facts and de-emphasizes unfavorable facts. In so doing, you will be advocating without arguing, and persuading without misleading.

4.    Acknowledge unfavorable facts

Be sure to acknowledge unfavorable facts. In so doing, you should rely on other facts to show why the unfavorable facts should not affect the outcome you seek. If you conceal or misrepresent unfavorable facts, your adversary will highlight this error and your credibility with the court will diminish substantially.

5.    Eliminate irrelevant facts

You should never include irrelevant facts in your brief. Doing so will undermine the persuasive value of your statement of facts and distract the reader. Consider the following example:

The plaintiff is a private figure and employed as a cashier at Whole Foods Supermarket. On January 11, 2012, while the plaintiff was in the midst of her shift and serving customers, the defendant (the store manager) loudly stated that the plaintiff was a “liar, a whore, a criminal, and a disgusting human being.” As a result of these statements, several customers ridiculed the plaintiff and the plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress.    

                                                                                                  ***                                                                                                                                               

The plaintiff is a private figure who was born in Austin, Texas. A talented musician and artist, the plaintiff attended the University of Texas for two years before deciding to pursue a career as an actor. The plaintiff enrolled at the Texas Academy of the Arts and completed a twelve-week intensive dramatic acting program. Soon thereafter, the plaintiff auditioned for many roles, including on the well-known soap opera General Hospital and the primetime television show Breaking Bad. During this time, the plaintiff obtained a job at Whole Foods Supermarket to make ends met while auditioning. The plaintiff enjoyed good relationships with her colleagues. Unfortunately, two months after being employed, and during her afternoon shift, the defendant (the store manager) loudly stated that the plaintiff was a “liar, a whore, a criminal, and a disgusting human being.” As a result of these statements, several customers ridiculed the plaintiff and the plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress.

The first example is far more effective than the second. The second example contains facts that are entirely irrelevant to the legal issues (who cares about the plaintiff’s acting career?), and these facts distract the court from the facts that support the relief plaintiff seeks.

6.    Describe the record accurately

Always describe the record accurately. If you misrepresent facts in the record, you will immediately – and perhaps irreparably – damage your credibility with the court.

7.    You can include law in the facts if it's appropriate

When writing the statement of facts, you can, in appropriate circumstances, include relevant case law or statutory language if doing so would assist the court in resolving the legal issue. For example, assume that your client was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, and upon arrest, law enforcement, in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Riley v. California, searched your client’s cell phone without a warrant. In your statement of facts, you could – and should – say the following:

On February 20, law enforcement officers stopped the defendant while he was driving home. During the stop, the officers detected the smell of alcohol and subsequently administered a breathalyzer test. The defendant’s blood-alcohol level was .09, in violation of the legal limit of .08, and the defendant was placed under arrest. While under arrest, and over the defendant’s objection, law enforcement conducted a warrantless search of the defendant’s cellular telephone. This search was unlawful because, in Riley v. California, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held that warrantless searches of cellular telephones incident to arrest violate the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, all evidence seized from the defendant’s cellular telephone should be suppressed.

As you can see from the above example, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Riley is relevant to the legal question and demonstrates that the search was unlawful. Thus, in a situation like this, including the relevant case law will enhance the persuasive value of your argument and demonstrate beyond doubt that the court should grant the relief you seek.

8.    It's not just what you say, but how you say it 

Be sure to draft a well-written, well-organized, and concise statement of facts. For example:

  • Avoid long sentences (over twenty-five words)
  • Avoid complex or esoteric words (and Latin)
  • Use transition words to ensure flow and clarity
  • Avoid unnecessary repetition
  • Avoid long paragraphs (paragraphs should be approximately three to five sentences)
  • Eliminate unnecessary adjectives and minimize the use of adverbs
  • Avoid nominalizations
  • Never insult the lower court or your adversary
  • Ensure that your brief is free of spelling errors and grammatically correct
  • Know when to break the rules to maximize persuasion      

Ultimately, the statement of facts is your best opportunity to explain why you should win. Following the above tips will ensure that you avoid the common errors that courts frown upon and that undermine the persuasive value of your brief.

April 19, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Tips for Giving An Effective and Persuasive Online Oral Argument

Given the unprecedented and challenging times that have arisen due to the coronavirus, many courts (and law schools) are now conducting oral arguments online (e.g., via Zoom). For many lawyers and most law students, this is likely the first time in which they have been required to deliver oral arguments online.

Below are several tips (some rather obvious) to help lawyers and law students deliver effective and persuasive online oral arguments.

1.    Make sure that you are positioned correctly

When giving an oral argument – or any presentation – online, be sure to observe the following guidelines.

First, whether you are seated or standing, make sure that the camera on your computer is at eye level. Second, you should position yourself so that you are approximately at arm’s length from the camera. Third, to ensure that you are making eye contact with the judge (or professor) always look straight into the camera and avoid looking at the screen. Fourth, make sure that your volume is at the appropriate level so that you can be heard clearly.

2.    Choose a professional background

Be sure to position your desk and computer in an area that includes a professional background and that omits any distracting images. Additionally, eliminate all excess noise.

Also, make sure that the lighting is properly set. For example, if there is too much light in the background, it can cast a glare on the screen and distract the person to whom you are speaking. Finally, be sure to dress professionally.

3.    Avoid Unnecessary Physical Gestures

When presenting your argument, avoid unnecessary movements (e.g., hand gestures), particularly those that will take you out of the camera’s range. Unnecessary movements will distract your audience and detract attention from the substance of your argument.

4.    Get to the point quickly – the judge (or professor, or anyone) may get more easily distracted in an online format

In an online oral argument, there is an increased possibility that a judge (or professor, or anyone) may get distracted more easily, particularly if the environment within which a judge or professor is hearing the argument is less than ideal (e.g., in a home where other family members are present in the immediate vicinity). As such, you should prepare a short, one-page outline that contains the strongest legal and factual arguments supporting the remedy you seek and state them at the beginning of your argument. Indeed, the most persuasive oral arguments include a powerful beginning where an attorney: (1) states clearly the outcome and remedy that the attorney seeks; and (2) explains why the law and facts support that outcome. In doing so, be sure to omit extraneous or irrelevant facts and legal authority. 

5.    Follow all of the rules regarding oral argument as if you were giving the argument in person

You should approach online and in-person oral arguments in the same way. For example:

  • Have a powerful introduction and roadmap
  • State clearly the outcome you seek and begin with the most favorable law and facts that support this outcome
  • Address weaknesses in your case (e.g., unfavorable law and facts) and explain why they do not affect the outcome you seek
  • Answer the judge’s questions directly
  • Be prepared to adjust your argument strategy depending on the questions and concerns expressed by the judge (or judges)
  • Always be honest – never mislead the court or attempt to hide unfavorable law or facts
  • Don’t be a jerk – never attack your adversary and never use over-the-top words or unnecessary adjectives

6.    Be prepared for technical issues

Technical issues sometimes arise when using online platforms such as Zoom or Skype. For example, when I was interviewed via Skype for a faculty position several years ago, my screen suddenly went black and I could not see the faculty members who were interviewing me (although they could still see me). If any technical issues arise, be sure to maintain your composure and go with it. Indeed, in the interview where my screen went black, I still got the job.

7.    Remember that this is new for everyone

Don’t be intimidated or overly concerned about performing an effective online oral argument. This is a new experience for many judges and law professors. At the end of the day, just be yourself – speak conversationally and remember that the skills needed to deliver excellent in-person oral arguments are largely the same as those needed to deliver excellent online oral arguments. And appreciate that, in delivering an online oral argument, you are learning a new skill that may prove valuable in the future.

April 12, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Law School, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)