Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Don’t Make These Mistakes When Writing An Appellate Brief

When drafting an appellate brief, your goal should be to produce a well-written document that maximizes the persuasive value of your arguments. In so doing, be sure to avoid the following mistakes.

1.    You fail to follow the local court rules

The local court rules typically contain requirements regarding, among other things, the cover of your brief, the word count, spacing, font size, and font type. Failing to follow the local court rules demonstrates a lack of diligence and respect for the court, and undermines the credibility of your arguments.

2.    You seek a remedy that is outside of the court’s authority

When drafting your arguments, do not seek a remedy that the court is not authorized to provide (or include information that is not included in the record below).

Consider this example. You represent a state that recently enacted a statute outlawing all abortions and the American Civil Liberties Union challenges the statute’s constitutionality. A district court holds that the statute violates the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, which held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment encompasses a right, in some instances, to terminate a pregnancy.

You decide to appeal the court’s ruling and, in your brief, you argue that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, that the appellate court should overrule Roe, and that the statute should be upheld. However, the appellate court lacks the authority to overturn precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court and, as such, your argument will be rejected.

Additionally, you should not make arguments based on facts that are not included in the record below or that were not preserved in the lower court.

3.    You overstate the relevance of precedent

Although it is vital to address favorable and unfavorable precedent in your brief, you should never overstate the relevance of favorable precedent. Specifically, do not represent that the facts of a prior case are “strikingly similar” if they are not and do not mischaracterize a prior holding to provide support for your position. The court (and your adversary) will almost certainly notice this error and your credibility, along with your client’s chances of success, will diminish substantially.

Instead, you should explain why precedent, although distinguishable, nonetheless supports the remedy you seek.

4.    You are not direct with the court

Appellate judges are extremely busy and read thousands of briefs. Thus, make sure that you present the legal issues and relevant arguments in a direct, understandable, and honest manner. Specifically, at the beginning of your brief, be sure to do the following:

  • Identify the errors in the lower court’s decision
  • State the remedy that you would like the court to provide
  • Explain why you are entitled to this remedy
  • Briefly provide the facts and relevant law that support your position

If an appellate court struggles to identify the relevant facts and arguments in your brief, the judges will not view you – or your arguments – favorably.

5.    You do not consider the relevant standard of review

Appellate courts decide cases using specific standards of review. For example, appellate courts apply the “abuse of discretion” standard when reviewing factual issues, in which the courts defer substantially to the lower court’s findings. When reviewing legal questions, however, appellate courts apply the “de novo” standard of review, in which the courts give no deference to the lower court’s findings.

Thus, your arguments should be drafted in light of the applicable standard of review, and you should explain in detail and with specificity why your arguments, under the relevant standard, support the relief you seek.

6.    You do not organize your brief effectively

Your goal should be to draft a brief that is readable, understandable, and easy to follow. A well-organized brief typically includes the following:

  • Headings and subheadings that are rarely, if ever, longer than one sentence
  • A roadmap at the beginning of the brief, in which you outline your arguments and state the order in which they will be presented
  • Paragraphs that only discuss a single point or issue and that always begin with a topic sentence

If your brief is not organized effectively, you will diminish the persuasive value of your arguments (and you will probably annoy the judges).

7.    You file an unnecessarily lengthy brief

Given that appellate judges are very busy and read thousands of briefs, you should make sure that your brief is as concise as possible. Unnecessarily lengthy briefs will likely annoy the judges, distract the judges from the substance of your arguments, and reduce the persuasive value of your brief. Thus, when drafting your brief, be sure to omit excess words, unnecessary facts, and irrelevant legal arguments.

Simply put, less is often more.

8.    You make basic writing or stylistic errors

Your brief should not contain errors that cast doubt on the quality of your writing or your competence as an attorney. For example, do not:

  • Use over-the-top language (e.g., don’t say “The court’s decision in the prior case made no sense and was utterly devoid of even the semblance of reasoned legal analysis,” or “The defendant’s arguments are ridiculous and not even worthy of a response”)
  • Use block quotes unless absolutely necessary
  • Include overly long paragraphs
  • Repeat arguments
  • Use complex or esoteric words

Ultimately, to ensure that your brief is of the highest quality – and avoids these mistakes – be sure to rewrite and edit your brief, and proofread it on paper.

February 2, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Ideas for Including “Off-Brief” Moot Court Argument Techniques in Our Writing & Teaching

Every appellate practitioner and legal skills professor wishes for the time to do one more draft or add one more really creative and engaging exercise.  As I like to tell my students, since I am not in charge of the world, I cannot offer more time.  However, we can all enhance our written advocacy and teaching by incorporating some aspects of arguing off-brief, a traditional and time-consuming exercise for oral advocacy, into our brief writing and teaching.  

In a traditional moot court competition, oral advocates must argue both “sides” of the mock litigation.  As Dean Dickerson explains, “[t]his is known as arguing ‘on brief’ and ‘off brief.’  In the first round, the student will represent one side on the issues; in the next, the student will represent the other side on the same issues.”  Darby Dickerson, In re Moot Court, 29 Stetson L. Rev. 1217, 1220-21 (2000). 

While former Judge Kozinski took issue with off-brief arguments in his oft-cited attack on moot court, In Praise of Moot Court-Not!, 97 Colum. L. Rev. 178, 185 (1997), many scholars praise off-brief arguing for law students in moot court competitions.  For example, Professor Vitiello explains:  “Students must be able to argue [both] positions because lawyers must be able to anticipate and rebut their opponents’ arguments.  A lawyer who lacks that skill cannot adequately represent her clients.”  Michael Vitiello, Teaching Effective Oral Argument Skills: Forget About the Drama Coach, 75 Miss. L.J. 869, 898-99 (2006).  Similarly, Professor Hernandez reasoned:  the “legal profession should encourage any instruction that prepares law students to avoid the temptation to become a mere hired gun in practice. By requiring competitors to argue off-brief and thereby thoroughly analyze all sides of an issue, moot court competitions provide such valuable training.”  Michael Hernandez, In Defense Of Moot Court: A Response to “In Praise of Moot Court--Not!”, 17 Rev. Litig. 69, 76-77 (1998). 

Moreover, top appellate law firms and appellate departments often hold internal moot courts before particularly important oral arguments, and require attorneys to argue both sides of the case to colleagues serving as mock judges.  While “attorneys generally cannot afford to formulate complete arguments for the other side, primarily because of constraints on time and client resources,” this is a wonderful technique when feasible.  See id. at 74.

The advantages of off-brief oral argument translate well to written work.  Although the scholarly writing in this area focuses on appellate oral advocacy, we all know written briefs carry much more weight than oral argument on appeal.  See, e.g., Ruggero J. Aldisert, Winning on Appeal: Better Briefs and Oral Argument 305 (2d ed. 2003).  A winning brief, like a good oral argument, must “anticipate points of weakness and . . . take preemptive steps to diffuse the force of opposing arguments” just as an off-brief oral argument teaches.  See generally Hernandez, 17 Rev. Litig. at 77.  

Thus, as practitioners and teachers, we can do more than simply edit for and generally teach how to incorporate counterarguments into briefs.  Instead, we should ask our students, and our brief drafters, to create as much of the argument for the other side, in writing, as budget allows. 

For example, in my upper-division legal drafting classes, I often use contract disputes for my final brief projects and ask students, as part of an ungraded assignment, to draft the contract provisions in dispute first to favor their opponent, and then as perfect clauses for their client.  Once I added this relatively quick component to the class, I saw the students’ briefs on the contract issues improve dramatically.

In my first-year classes, I similarly ask students to draft arguments for their opponents.  I frequently use brief and memo problems from prior years for teaching simulations, to avoid any honor code issues from using a current, graded assignment.  Merely asking students to outline or draft bullet points articulating the best arguments for the other side of these past papers can help students see better ways to craft their own graded assignments.  Students have shared with me how much they enjoyed being “forced to see the other side” this way.  And if you are very short on time, consider holding a quick in-class or law firm lunch-time moot court, with advocates presenting the best arguments for an opposing side, even without much prep time.  This exercise can reap large benefits by forcing advocates to acknowledge an opponent’s best points and to draft briefs better refuting those arguments.

Have you used an off-brief technique to enhance your writing or teaching?  Feel free to share your ideas in the comments. 

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

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Tips to Immediately Improve Your Writing Skills

Developing excellent writing skills requires time, practice, and repetition. As Justice Antonin Scalia once stated, “there is an immense difference between writing and good writing,” and “it takes time and sweat to convert the former into the latter.”[1] Indeed, developing excellent writing skills is a lifelong process; those who write effectively enhance the persuasive value of their arguments and maximize their chances of succeeding on the merits. Below are tips that will enable attorneys to quickly and significantly improve the quality of their writing.

1.    Eliminate the B.S.

Be sure to eliminate unnecessary words. These words add no persuasive value to your argument and they will likely distract or annoy the reader. Thus, you should eliminate words such as “very,” “entirely,” “only,” “really,” and “actually.”

Also, avoid adverbs, adjectives, and over-the-top language. These words do not enhance the quality of your writing or the strength of your argument. For example, do not say “The defendant ran extremely fast in the store.” Say, “The defendant sprinted into the store.”

2.    Outline your argument

 Before drafting a brief, outline your arguments, including the relevant facts that support those arguments. Doing so will enable you to assess whether the brief is organized effectively, flows well, and includes the relevant facts and legal principles.

3.    Write shorter paragraphs and focus on only one point

When drafting a legal document, such as a memorandum or brief, you should draft short paragraphs (e.g., three to five sentences in length). Long paragraphs can distract the reader and thus fail to keep the reader engaged. Indeed, imagine if you were reading a brief and on every page, you encountered a long paragraph that occupied the entire page. Would you want to keep reading?

Additionally, only discuss one point (or element of a legal argument) in a paragraph, and always begin a paragraph with a topic sentence. Thus, do not include multiple legal arguments (or standards) in a single paragraph because it will disrupt the flow and organization of your argument.

Relatedly, avoid block quotes unless absolutely necessary. Some attorneys reserve block quotes for information that they consider exceedingly persuasive or relevant. However, some judges do not read block quotes, which means that they will skip the passages that you consider most important.

4.    Use headings and subheadings

Heading and subheadings enhance the flow and organization of your argument. For example, the four elements of negligence are: (1) duty; (2) breach of duty; (3) direct and proximate causation; and (4) damages. Thus, when drafting, for example, a memorandum, you can organize your analysis as follows:

A.    Duty

B.    Breach of Duty

C.     Causation

        1.    Direct Causation

        2.   Proximate Causation

D.    Damages

When organized in this manner, your memorandum will flow effectively and the reader will easily follow the logic and flow of your analysis.

5.    Write shorter sentences

Shorter sentences engage the reader and keep the reader’s attention. Longer sentences do the opposite. Furthermore, short and direct sentences can effectively emphasize a particularly favorable fact or legal principle. Thus, as a general rule, avoid sentences that are over twenty-five words.

6.    Vary sentence length

Varying the length of your sentences keeps the reader’s attention. If your brief consists of excessively long sentences, the reader will likely become bored. And if you include only short sentences, your writing will be choppy and lack flow. Ultimately, therefore, to ensure that your brief flows effectively (and to maximize its persuasive value), vary the length of your sentences.

7.    Use transition words to enhance the flow of your document

To ensure that your arguments flow effectively, use transition words such as “Furthermore,” “Moreover,” “Additionally,” and “Also.” Doing so enhances the flow and organization of your argument.

8.    Repeatedly re-write and edit your brief, and do so on paper, not a computer

Studies have shown that writers who edit and proofread their work on paper identify more mistakes than those who edit and proofread on a computer.

9.    Don’t change tenses

Be sure to write your sentences in the same tense. Consider the following example:

The plaintiff walked out of the door and the defendant strikes the plaintiff, causing severe injuries.

Although there may be circumstances when changing tenses is appropriate, you should, as a general rule, maintain the same tense.

10.    Be simple and straightforward

When writing any document, you must consider the audience to whom it is directed. Indeed, the tone, complexity, and style of your writing may change depending on, for example, whether it is directed to a client or court. Regardless of your audience, however, you should always strive to draft legal arguments in a simple, straightforward, and easy-to-understand manner. After all, would you want to read a brief that is riddled with ‘SAT’ or esoteric words, and Latin? Of course not.

11.    Use Grammarly or another reputable editing service

Using a reputable editing service, such as Grammarly, can ensure that you identify most, if not all, of the spelling and grammatical errors in your document.

12.    Purchase books that serve as quick and effective reference tools

Be sure to consult references that will assist you in adhering to grammar and style rules. Books such as The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, or the Texas Manual of Style, are easily accessible and effective references to ensure that your writing is free of grammatical or stylistic mistakes.

13.    Read excellent writing

One of the best ways to become an excellent writer is to read excellent writing. The website below, for example, contains briefs written by the Solicitor General of the United States: https://www.justice.gov/osg/supreme-court-briefs.

 

[1] Edward A. Adams, Scalia: Legal Writing Doesn’t Exist (Aug. 9, 2008), available at: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/scalia_legal_writing_doesnt_exist.

December 29, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Advice for New Lawyers

Graduating from law school is a significant accomplishment and you should be proud and excited to begin your legal career. Whether you are employed in a private law firm, a government position, or a clerkship, be sure to conduct yourself in a manner that will maximize your chances of achieving success in the legal profession. Below are some tips to help with the transition from law school to law practice.

1.    Understand that ‘soft skills’ are extremely important to your success

Success as an attorney doesn’t depend solely or even primarily on your ability to analyze precedent, apply the law to the facts, or draft persuasive briefs. In the legal profession, attorneys who possess ‘soft skills’ are valued highly and often achieve greater degrees of success. Thus, understand that it’s not just your legal ability that matters. Rather, you must demonstrate to colleagues, judges, and clients that you possess the requisite soft skills to succeed in the profession. These skills include:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Teamwork
  • Work ethic
  • Time-management
  • Creativity
  • Problem-solving
  • Listening skills
  • Having a positive attitude
  • Coping with stress effectively

Accordingly, focus on developing these and other soft skills because they are essential to becoming a competent and successful attorney.

2.    Don’t be a jerk – you want people to like you

In any organization, one of the most critical determinants of success is whether your colleagues and your clients like you. The following are some, but not all, of the characteristics that enhance your likeability:

  • Be humble. It doesn’t matter how highly ranked you were in law school or what law school you attended; being humble demonstrates an awareness that your colleagues are as smart or smarter than you (or at the very least, more experienced) and that you have a lot to learn as a new attorney. 
  • Be honest. If you make a mistake, own it and learn from it.
  • Be respectful. Treat everyone with respect and kindness. Don’t ever treat the staff poorly. The fact that you have a law degree doesn’t mean that you are superior to or better than those who do not. Indeed, how you treat others reveals much about your character and integrity.
  • Never gossip. Gossiping is disrespectful to others and it demonstrates that you cannot be trusted.
  • Be receptive to criticism and be willing to learn.
  • Be authentic. People don’t want to associate with individuals who are fake or shallow. Be real -- and be yourself.

Put bluntly, don’t be a jerk. In the end, it will negatively affect your career (and probably your personal life).

3.    Work very hard and persevere

In law practice (and in life), those who achieve high levels of success aren’t always or even often the smartest or the most talented. Rather, they work hard. They persevere. They sacrifice. They have the same work ethic and dedication regardless of whether they enjoy a particular assignment. Hard work and perseverance separates you from others and demonstrate your value as an attorney.

4.    Be confident and remember that you control how others perceive you

At the beginning of your legal career, you may feel nervous, insecure, and intimidated. These feelings are normal. It doesn’t mean, however, that you have to convey anxiety and insecurity to your colleagues and clients. You control how others perceive you and, to a degree, you control the opinions that others form of you. As such, be sure to project confidence, conscientiousness, self-awareness, and self-assurance. Your employer wants to know that you are reliable and can be trusted with difficult assignments under high-pressure circumstances. Projecting confidence is essential to gaining that trust.

5.    Continue improving your research and writing skills throughout your career

Excellent research, writing, re-writing, and editing skills are essential to achieving success in the legal profession. As such, dedicate yourself to improving these skills throughout your career. And it doesn’t matter if you obtained an ‘A’ in your legal research and writing classes in law school; becoming an excellent writer is a lifelong process and you should continually strive to improve your research and writing skills.

6.    Communicate honestly and openly with your colleagues

Effectively communicating with your colleagues and clients is essential. For example, if you receive an assignment and you aren’t sure how to complete it, don’t be afraid to ask for help, such as from a mentor that your firm assigns to you or from one of your colleagues. It is far better to ask for help than to complete a project in a substandard manner. And asking for help demonstrates humility and a willingness to learn. Likewise, never promise more than you can deliver or take on too much work. If, for example, a partner asks you to draft a brief on a very tight deadline and you are already extremely busy, be honest with the partner. It doesn’t mean that you are lazy or unwilling to take on a significant workload. It means that you recognize your limitations, which will enable the partner to find someone else who can meet the deadline and complete the brief with the requisite quality.

7.    Accept criticism and failure – and learn from those failures

Even if you graduated first in your class from law school, received a perfect grade point average, and received numerous awards, you will inevitably fail in the legal profession, particularly in your first few years. For example, a partner may be dissatisfied with the quality of your writing on an assignment. Your research memorandum may inadvertently omit a recently-decided and very relevant case. And you may lose a motion because the judge simply disagrees with your position. The point is that you will face criticism and you will experience failure. What matters is how you react to criticism and failure. The most successful attorneys view failure as an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to become better advocates. Thus, don’t be afraid to fail and never waste a failure. Learn from failure. Remember that becoming an excellent lawyer is a process and you have to embrace that process to achieve your goals. So don’t be too hard on yourself. After all, if you cannot accept criticism and learn from failure, you will never grow as a lawyer (or, most likely, as a person).

8.    Set goals and objectives for each day

Lawyers are often very busy and handle many cases simultaneously. To avoid feeling overwhelmed and to avoid mistakes (e.g., missing a deadline to file a motion), be sure, at the beginning of every day, to make a list of the most important assignments or tasks that you must complete. Although other unexpected assignments may arise during the course of a day, make sure that you complete the assignments on your list. In short, you must be organized. Prioritize your tasks and give yourself sufficient time to produce a high-quality product.

9.    Be reliable (always show up on time and always meet deadlines)

As a new attorney, you must demonstrate that you are reliable and trustworthy. Gaining trust begins by always being on time for a meeting or a deposition. If, however, you will be late in a given situation, be sure to communicate with your colleagues and have an exceedingly persuasive reason for your lateness. And never miss a deadline, such as for the completion of a memorandum or brief. When you miss deadlines, it gives the impression that you did not dedicate sufficient effort to completing the assignment in a timely manner, did not prioritize effectively, were not organized, or simply didn’t care.

10.    Pay attention to detail

Excellent lawyers pay attention to every detail, no matter how seemingly minor or inconsequential. As a new lawyer, you demonstrate your reliability and trustworthiness by paying attention to detail. For example, make sure that your brief complies with state or local court rules governing font type and size, and word count. When drafting a memorandum, be sure to include precedent that is not favorable to your position and explain why it does not affect your conclusion. When you bill time for a particular case, make sure that you specify in detail the tasks that you completed. Paying attention to detail demonstrates that you are conscientious and thorough in your work.

11.    Find a healthy balance between your professional and personal life

At the end of the day, what matters most is that you are happy. A critical aspect of being happy as a lawyer is finding a healthy balance between your work life and your personal life. If you become consumed by your work, your personal relationships will suffer. You will miss out on important events in your family. You may become burned out and no longer enjoy practicing law. Your health may suffer. For these and other reasons, you should strive to achieve a healthy balance between your professional and personal life that enables you to have healthy relationships and pursue other interests.

12.    Take care of your health and well-being – and ask for help if you need it

The practice of law can be very stressful at times. You may, for example, have to draft multiple briefs on very tight deadlines while also conducting depositions, appearing in court, and meeting with clients. To best prepare yourself to handle the stress of law practice, you should focus on being as healthy as possible. Take time to exercise. Eat healthy foods. Practice meditation or yoga (or whatever works for you). Get sufficient sleep each night because a lack of sleep will likely impact the quality of your work. And remember that coping with the stress of law practice with alcohol or other substances will cause you great harm over time, both professionally and personally. If you are struggling with alcoholism or drug abuse or suffering from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, please ask for help. Most jurisdictions have organizations that assist attorneys on a confidential basis. Additionally, you can seek psychological or psychiatric help, which can help you to develop coping mechanisms or provide you with medication in appropriate circumstances. Whatever you do, prioritize your health and happiness because both are perquisites to achieving success as a lawyer.

13.    Remember that your reputation is everything

In the legal profession, and in most professions, your reputation is everything. You should always conduct yourself in an honest and ethical manner, and demonstrate that you have integrity and strong values. Don’t ever lie. Don’t avoid problems. Don’t try to conceal facts or law from the courts that are unfavorable to your case. Don’t promise your client more than you can deliver. Don’t gossip about your colleagues. Don’t take credit for work that you didn’t do. Remember that your credibility as a lawyer is essential to maximizing the chances of success for your clients (and it shows that you are a decent human being).

14.    Be cautious about dating your colleagues       

In law practice, you’ll spend a significant amount of time with your colleagues and make meaningful friendships. But be careful about dating or getting into a relationship with one of your colleagues. If your relationship is not successful, it could lead to an awkward environment at work and distract you from your work. Of course, this is not always the case, but as a new attorney, it is advisable to keep your professional life separate from your personal life.

15.    Network and get to know your colleagues

Get to know your colleagues and the members of the bar in which you are practicing. Attend your firm’s social events and those sponsored by your bar association. Getting to know people in your profession enables you to establish connections in the profession and demonstrates your interest in becoming a valued member of the bar. But in doing so, don’t be fake or superficial. Be yourself. Be real. Be friendly. Be humble. Be respectful.

16.    Remember that it’s about how happy you are, not how much money you make

Don’t focus solely on making money. The legal profession provides you with an extraordinary opportunity to positively affect the lives of other people and your community. The best way to contribute meaningfully to the lives of others is to pursue what you are most passionate about, not what will make you the most money. Accordingly, you should evaluate whether you are happy at your firm or whether you are satisfied practicing in a particular area of the law. At the end of the day, your happiness – and health – matters more than anything else. Thus, don’t force yourself to stay in a job that you dislike or give up on dreams that you’d still like to pursue. Although change (and the resulting uncertainty) is difficult, you’ll be much happier pursuing goals that you truly desire rather than resigning yourself to a job that doesn’t satisfy you.

17.    Focus on what you can control and don’t waste your time lamenting the past or worrying about the future

The best attorneys learn from their mistakes but do not lament about the past. They do not spend time worrying about the future. Instead, they live in the present and focus on what they can control. You should do the same because it empowers you to devote your attention to excelling at your current responsibilities. After all, if you cannot change the past or predict the future, why should you devote any attention to either? Doing so only compromises your ability to succeed in the present.

Ultimately, listen to your inner voice and do what makes you happy. Life is short, so live it the way you truly desire.

 

 

December 21, 2019 in Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Persuasion Is in the Eye of the Beholder: The Value of Giving the Audience What It Wants, Not just What You Think It Needs

Being a persuasive advocate depends on many things, including the strength and appeal of the message, the delivery, and the audience. This post focuses on the value of considering audience preferences to increase persuasiveness. People are persuaded the most by what they value or what resonates with them. We know from systems like Emergenetics1 and Myers Briggs2 that people have preferences in what types of information they value in decision making. To generalize, some people focus on data to drive their decisions, so an argument that would most resonate with such a person would be an argument that is grounded in data. Others value the impact that a decision might make on a group of people, so an argument that explains the impact of a decision on that group would be best. Others value process and consistency, and still others focus on the big picture, such as moving the law forward for the most people. While the advocate will not have a psychological profile on each judge or audience member in advance of an argument, the advocate would be wise to learn about and recognize the different personality types and ensure that arguments are given that provide a little bit of everything to appeal to the various preferences identified. Moreover, as the advocate learns what motivates the decision maker, the advocate should adjust arguments accordingly.

When an advocate appears before a judge frequently, the advocate may learn what the judge tends to value. Just as important, if not more, the advocate must use listening skills to learn what a judge or judges value during an argument. Listening to questions coming from a judge or other decision maker, the advocate can identify and then address the judge’s concerns. When a judge asks a question, the judge is identifying to the advocate his or her concerns or the concerns of other audience members. Too many times, advocates prepare and deliver arguments without adjusting to address these concerns, missing the opportunity to provide the information that will most resonate with the judge. Agility by the advocate can pay dividends in persuasiveness.

For example, some of the most agile advocates are teenagers who become expert at reading their parents’ unspoken reactions and adjusting their arguments to address their parents’ concerns. The teenager wants to attend a party on a Friday night and begins the argument to the parent by explaining that the parent should allow the teenager to attend the party because everyone will be there. The parent reacts negatively to this argument. The savvy teenager then pivots to an argument based on how attending the party will give the teenager an opportunity to get to know some of the parent’s friends’ children. If this argument works, the teenager closes. If this argument does not work the teenager shifts to an argument based on how attending the party will put the teenager in a better position to get elected to a school position the teenager knows the parent would like the teenager to hold. This dance continues until either the teenager persuades the parent or the parent ends the conversation. The teenager is not likely trained in advocacy; the teenager instinctively realizes that he must appeal to what the parent values to get his way.

In the same way, the advocate needs to listen and be attentive to judges’ concerns and cues. After all, the advocate wants to provide the information the judge needs to find for the advocate’s position. Research shows that decision makers are most persuaded when “requests are congruent with our values, self-image, and future goals. In other words, people are easily persuaded of that which they wanted to do in the first place.”3 

Therefore, to increase persuasiveness, advocates need to speak to the judge in the language that will most resonate with that judge. Advocates can benefit from studying the personality systems referenced herein, which provide information on how best to give each judge or audience member what he needs to make decisions.

1See Emergenetics International, www.emergenetics.com.
2See The Myers & Briggs Foundation, https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/home.htm?bhcp=1.
3Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Persuasion Depends on the Audience, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2015/06/persuasion-depends-mostly-on-the-audience (June 2, 2015).

December 18, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Law School, Moot Court, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 9, 2019

Gen Z Advocates

Does generational theory have any relevance in Appellate Advocacy? Yes, particularly in its teaching. Dr. Corey Seemiller, an expert in generational theory, recently gave her insights on Gen Z, the cohort born between 1996 and 2010, and how they approach advocacy at the Reimagining Advocacy Conference at Stetson University College of Law. The oldest members of Gen Z are now 24, so many current law students are in this group. Dr. Seemiller's keynote kicked off a weekend-long discussion of how to harness the strengths of Gen Z and bolster some of the weaknesses. Whether you work at a law school with these students right now or are a practicing attorney who will soon have Gen Z colleagues, it’s helpful to learn about some of their strengths and challenges as a group. Dr. Seemiller’s presentation gave the conferenceattendees a shared vocabulary. As a caveat, anytime one deals with generational theory, one deals in broad categories, but individuals and personalities vary. Still, I see applications for how I teach students to work as a team, read materials, approach an audience, and prepare for an oral argument.

So what characterizes Gen Z? Among other things, they are curious, honest, kind, and fair. They are diverse. They have experienced a significant amount of vicarious trauma and do not remember a world before Columbine and 9/11. They are motivated by relationships and by what they believe in. They are constantly connected and often addicted to technology; according to Dr. Seemiller they have an average of 8.7 social media accounts. Gen Z students say that they prefer face-to-face communication, but smart phones have been a part of their world since childhood or birth. They may need coaching in how to have live conversations.

Now that Gen Z has officially arrived at law school, and as we try to train them in appellate advocacy, there is a gap between the advocacy methods they have used and appellate advocacy. Over the last few years they may have engaged in twitter wars, used hashtag activism, and witnessed cancel culture. Appellate advocacy in some ways is the polar opposite of hashtag activism and slogans. Professor Mary Beth Beasley identified mastery as the key to appellate advocacy. Mastery takes focus. When we overburden our short term memories with a constant stream of information (like from a smartphone), we diminish our long term memory capacity. Both long term memory and the ability to build connections between a mass of materials are necessary to effectively advocate at the appellate level. Of course, these skills are important to all of us, but Gen Z has never known a time with out smart phones constantly pulling their attention. Many of these students have not learned to read deeply and sustain prolonged focus. We need to find ways to help them pursue and recognized mastery.

We can also try to harness Gen Zs strengths. Hashtag activism requires the ability to boil things down and be concise, which are helpful skills when thinking about theme. These students care deeply about the causes that are important to them. While they may not be patient in the skills development process, once they see the value in a project, they will buy in.

Gen Z is not alone in being constantly connected to technology; most of us are. So as we prepare to teach the next generation of students how to advocate, we need to consider the way that the audience is changing, too, even though there are not yet Gen Z appellate judges. Ultimately, the boiled down, concise persuasion styles Gen Z gravitates to may be helpful to any audience with a shortened attention span. Fortunately, it’s also good writing. But we need to teach students to achieve mastery, think deeply, and make meaningful connections before they start condensing.

December 9, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Law School, Legal Writing, Moot Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Implicit Bias: Does It Have Any Relationship to Biased Behavior?

In recent years, social scientists have demonstrated that all individuals likely harbor implicit, or unconscious, biases. Additionally, based on empirical research, some scholars contend that laws or policies that disparately impact marginalized groups result, at least in part, from implicit biases. Other studies suggest that certain behaviors, such as statements reflecting subtle prejudice against marginalized groups (e.g., microaggressions) result from implicit biases. As a result, many organizations in the public and private sector have instituted training programs that focus on implicit bias, its allegedly deleterious effects, and the methods by which to alleviate such bias in, for example, the hiring and promotion of employees or admission of applicants to universities throughout the United States. And researchers at Harvard University have developed the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which purportedly measures the degree to which an individual harbors implicit biases in a variety of contexts, including those affecting traditionally marginalized groups.

Certainly, striving to eradicate biases that produce discriminatory or disparate impacts on individuals or groups is a moral and legal imperative; discrimination in any form is intolerable and contravenes the guarantee that citizens of all backgrounds enjoy liberty, equality, and due process of law.

But does implicit bias actually – and directly – correlate with biased behavior?

Recent research in the social sciences suggests that the answer to this question remains elusive and that the effect of implicit bias on biased behavior may not be as significant as previously believed.

To begin with, there is a general consensus among scholars that implicit bias exists. Put simply, all individuals, regardless of background, arguably harbor implicit biases or prejudices. Importantly, however, the distinction between implicit and explicit bias is difficult to ascertain and operationalize. In other words, how can researchers claim with any degree of confidence that discriminatory behaviors or policies that, for example, disparately impact marginalized groups are the product of implicit rather than explicit bias? Currently, there exists no reliable and objective criteria to make this distinction.

Furthermore, if, as some researchers contend, implicit bias resides outside of consciousness, it would seem difficult, if not impossible, to remedy the effects of such bias. After all, if we cannot be aware of these biases, how can we regulate their manifestation in particular contexts? Also, how can researchers reliably claim that implicit bias predicts biased behavior if not a single person, including researchers, can be aware of its presence and influence? This is not to say, of course, that individuals are unable to develop an increased awareness of the explicit biases that they harbor and take steps to minimize the effect of such biases on their behaviors. It is to say, though, that the relationship between implicit bias and biased behavior remains uncertain, and that there is no method by which to quantify the effect of implicit bias on biased behavior given the presence of other relevant factors (e.g., explicit bias).

Moreover, recent research suggests that the correlation between implicit bias and biased behavior is dubious:

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.[1]

These findings, the researchers state, “produce a challenge for this area of research.”[2]

Additionally, the IAT, which is a popular assessment of implicit bias, has faced significant criticism concerning its methodology and practical value. For example, 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.[3] Also, scores on the IAT are arguably context-dependent and thus produce different results for individuals who take the test multiple times.[4] Consequently, although results on the IAT are “not as malleable as mood,” they are “not as reliable as a personality trait.”[5] Likewise, it is difficult to assess whether the IAT is measuring unconscious attitudes of mere associations that result from environmental influences.[6]

In fact, researchers have conceded that the IAT is flawed, stating that, although the IAT “can predict things in the aggregate … it cannot predict behavior at the level of an individual.”[7] In fact, one of the IAT’s creators acknowledged that the IAT is only effective “for predicting individual behavior in the aggregate, and the correlations are small.”[8] Perhaps most surprisingly, one researcher explained 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.”[9] As a 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.[10]

Of course, this does not mean that implicit bias bears no relationship to biased behavior. It simply means that more research is necessary to determine whether, and to what extent, implicit bias predicts biased behavior. After all, given that eradicating all forms of discrimination is a moral imperative, researchers and policymakers should ensure that society is using the most effective measures to do so. This includes assessing whether implicit bias is a credible predictor of biased behavior.

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

[2] Id.

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

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] German Lopez, For Years, This Popular Test Measured Anyone’s Racial Bias. But It Might Not Work After All. (March 7, 2017), available at: https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/3/7/14637626/implicit-association-test-racism; see also Heather MacDonald, The False Science of Implicit Bias, (Oct. 9, 2017), available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-false-science-of-implicit-bias-1507590908.

[8] Id.

[9] Id. (emphasis added).

[10] Lee Jussim, Mandatory Implicit Bias Training Is a Bad Idea (Dec. 2, 2017), available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rabble-rouser/201712/mandatory-implicit-bias-training-is-bad-idea.

December 7, 2019 in Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Valuing Precedent

Advocates must be keenly aware of which authorities bind the courts to which they are arguing and which authorities will be persuasive to the courts.[1]  When the authorities are prior decisions, advocates should also recognize that courts are often interested in hearing how other courts have interpreted and applied the law in similar circumstances.  As Professors MacCormick and Summers have explained, “Applying lessons of the past to solve problems of the present or the future is a basic part of human reason.”[2]  In many of our day-to-day decisions, we try to act consistently with our prior behavior—to be predictable.  Acting in this manner seems fair to everyone and keeps people we deal with content.  When we act differently, we call it a surprise, which can be a good thing or a bad thing.

 Courts use prior decisions or precedents in much the same way, as models for later decisions.  Courts are motivated to correctly and consistently interpret the law and provide some certainty and stability for those parties operating in a jurisdiction.[3]  Courts in the United States, including Louisiana (which is a civil law or mixed jurisdiction), as well as courts in jurisdictions around the world, frequently consider prior decisions when interpreting the law, whether they state that they are relying on these decisions or not.  Commentators have characterized this reliance on the work and reasoning of earlier judges as a way for courts to “share power across time,” thus democratizing the judiciary and allowing current judges to be assisted by their predecessors.[4]  Reliance on precedent helps to ensure stability in the law so that it will not change based on the whim of one or a handful of judges. 

Courts around the world consider precedent in varying degrees.  We can characterize their reliance on prior decisions or precedent using three basic points on a spectrum: on one end of the spectrum, strict stare decisis; on the other end of the spectrum, jurisprudence constante; and in the middle, a blended version of these two which seems to describe what goes on “in fact” in the United States federal system, in state courts in the United States, including Louisiana, and in many parts of the world.

Strict stare decisis refers to a system of valuing prior decisions as “the law,” binding later courts that face similar issues.  Judicial systems that employ strict stare decisis require subordinate courts to follow the decisions of higher courts within a judicial system; sometimes the requirement is to follow the decisions of the higher courts to which the subordinate courts’ decisions are appealable.[5]  In some jurisdictions, courts are expected to follow their own decisions as well, with some latitude given.  One decision alone is said to make law that must be followed in subsequent cases.[6]

On the other end of the spectrum is a system in which courts may loosely consider prior decisions, but the decisions do not make law.  A doctrine such as jurisprudence constante directs courts to consider a long line of consistent interpretations of the law as persuasive and entitled to great weight.  These decisions do not bind the court to a particular interpretation of the law, nor do they make law.  In fact, in some jurisdictions employing a version of jurisprudence constante, courts are forbidden from citing to a prior decision as the basis for a current decision.[7]

The middle of the spectrum sees a combination of characteristics from those noted above, and it seems to exemplify the model used “in fact” in many jurisdictions worldwide, including the model used in United States jurisdictions.

Moving from the strict stare decisis side of the spectrum, we see examples of courts that render decisions that have the force and effect of law, but that also accept the obligation to review past decisions to ensure that prior interpretations of the law are correct.  For example, the United States Supreme Court and other federal and state courts in the United States have valued precedent but have often employed a flexible model of stare decisis.[8]  The doctrine of stare decisis, as well as the hierarchical structures of the court systems, typically require the subordinate courts in those jurisdictions to be bound by the decisions of the courts to which the lower courts’ decisions are appealable and require courts to be bound by their own prior decisions.[9]  Despite the apparent rigidity of this doctrine, the United States Supreme Court has the express power to overrule its own decisions, as do most of the state supreme courts.  Precedent is valued and respected, but American courts recognize that blind adherence to precedent that is not workable, antiquated, or poorly reasoned is a mistake.[10]  The United States Supreme Court described this flexibility and the value of precedent in the United States as follows:

Stare decisis is the preferred course, because it promotes the evenhanded, predictable and consistent development of legal principles, fosters reliance on judicial decision, and contributes to the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial process.  Adhering to precedent is usually the wise policy, because in most matters it is more important that the applicable rule of law be settled than it be settled right.  Nevertheless, when governing decisions are unworkable or are badly reasoned, this Court has never felt constrained to follow precedent.  Stare decisis is not an inexorable command; rather it is a principle of policy and not a mechanical formula of adherence to the latest decision.[11]

American courts have a record of following precedent, but they also have a record of revisiting decisions and the reasoning behind those decisions to ensure that the Constitution or other laws are being properly interpreted and applied.  United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts noted that were it not the Court’s practice to revisit precedent when some special justification warrants further review, certain outdated practices and laws might still exist in the United States, such as segregation and government wiretapping without the need for a warrant.[12]  He explained, “[S]tare decisis is not an end in itself.  It is instead ‘the means by which we ensure that the law will not merely change erratically, but will develop in a principled and intelligible fashion.’”[13]

Moving from the other end of the spectrum, where courts do not make law and are not bound by prior decisions, we see courts consider prior decisions when interpreting and applying codified law.  In France, Italy, and Spain, as is the case in many other traditional civil law and mixed jurisdictions, prior decisions, especially by reviewing courts, often are very influential and persuasive to subordinate courts, even though they cannot alone provide the authority for a court’s decision.[14]  Similarly, Louisiana courts value prior decisions, even though the Louisiana legislature does not recognize judicial decisions as a source of law.[15]  The Louisiana Supreme Court has on occasion directed other Louisiana courts to follow its decisions, and the majority of those courts indicate that they consider themselves bound by Louisiana Supreme Court decisions.  These decisions are not a source of law, yet as has been recognized in many different jurisdictions, courts are interested to know how other courts have interpreted the law in the past.  Add to that the court’s awareness that its decisions will be reviewed by certain higher courts, and logic directs courts, and likewise litigants appearing before them, to consider what has been held in the past in similar circumstances.[16] 

 

[1] The author has published articles on the value of precedent and a book chapter that addresses the topic.  This post draws directly from those publications.  See Louisiana Legal Research (Carolina Academic Press 2009, 2d ed. 2013, 3d ed. 2017); Mary Garvey Algero, Considering Precedent in Louisiana: Balancing the Value of Predictable and Certain Interpretation with the Tradition of Flexibility and Adaptability, 57 Loy. L. Rev. 113 (2012), also available in The European Journal of Comparative Law & Governance (Feb. 2014); Mary Garvey Algero, The Sources of Law and the Value of Precedent: A Comparative and Empirical Study of a Civil Law State in a Common Law Nation, 65 La. L. Rev. 775 (2005).

     [2]. Interpreting Precedents: A Comparative Study 1 (D. Neil MacCormick & Robert S. Summers eds., 1997).

     [3]. Id. at 2; see also Interpreting Statutes: A Comparative Study 487 (D. Neil MacCormick & Robert S. Summers eds., 1991) (concluding that, together with any applicable statutes, “precedents are the most frequently used materials in judicial opinions,” regardless of whether precedents are considered to have the force of law or not); see also Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm’n, 130 S. Ct. 876, 911-12 (2010) (explaining that precedents are to be respected); Borel v. Young, 2007-0419 (La. 11/27/07); 989 So. 2d 42, 65 (emphasizing the value of precedent to maintain certainty and stability in the law); Francesco G. Mazzotta, Precedents in Italian Law, 9 Mich. St. U.-DCL J. Int’l L. 121, 153 (noting that precedents are the most important “justificatory material used in judicial opinions”).

     [4]. Deborah G. Hankinson, Stable, Predictable, and Faithful to Precedent: The Value of Precedent in Uncertain Times

http://www.tex-app.org/articles/HankinsonPrecedent2007.pdf, at 1, 4 (2007) (citing Hon. D. Arthur Kelsey, The Architecture of Judicial Power: Appellate Review and Stare Decisis, Judges’ Journal, at 9-10 (Spring 2006)).

     [5]. See, e.g., Hohn v. United States, 524 U.S. 236, 251 (1998) (explaining that “[s]tare decisis is the ‘preferred course because it promotes the evenhanded, predictable, and consistent development of legal principles, fosters reliance on judicial decisions, and contributes to the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial process.’”) (quoting Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 827 (1991)); Mountain View Coach Lines, Inc. v. Storms, 476 N.Y.S.2d 918 (N.Y. App. Di v. 1984) (trial courts in New York are formally bound to follow decisions rendered by New York appellate courts).  See also James L. Dennis, Interpretation and Application of the Civil Code and the Evaluation of Judicial Precedent, 54 La. L. Rev. 1, 4-5 (1993); Alvin B. Rubin, Hazards of a Civilian Venturer in Federal Court: Travel and Travail on the Erie Railroad, 48 La. L. Rev. 1369, 1371 (1988).

     [6]. Rubin, supra note 5, at 1371.

     [7]. See Michel Troper & Christophe Grzegorczyk, Precedent in France, in Interpreting Precedents: A Comparative Study 115 (D. Neil MacCormick & Robert S. Summers, eds., 1997) (“There is no formal bindingness of previous judicial decisions in France. One might even argue that there is an opposite rule: that it is forbidden to follow a precedent only because it is a precedent.”); id. at 111-12 (quoting F. Zenati, La Jurisprudence, Paris: Dalloz 102 (1991)) (“[T]he very idea that a judge could search for the base of his decision in a prior judgment is literally unthinkable in a legal system based on statutory Law.’”); Catherine Valcke, Quebec Civil Law and Canadian Federalism, 21 Yale J. Int’l L. 67, 84 (1996) (“A lower court in France has no formal duty to follow a higher tribunal’s decisions, and the highest court, the Cour de cassation, enjoys full power to renounce its own decisions.”).  But see Alain Lacabarats, The State of Case Law in France, 51 Loy. L. Rev. 79, 83 (recognizing that even though the decisions of the courts are not binding on other courts, “in practice, courts have a natural tendency to conform spontaneously to the case law of the Cour de cassation, to guarantee citizens a uniform application of the law.”). See also Michele Taruffo & Massimo La Torre, Precedent in Italy, in Interpreting Precedents: A Comparative Study 141, 154 (D. Neil MacCormick & Robert S. Summers eds., 1997) (discussing Italy), and Alfonso Ruiz Miguel & Francisco J. Laporta, Precedent in Spain, in Interpreting Precedents: A Comparative Study 259, 260, 269 (D. Neil MacCormick & Robert S. Summers eds., 1997).

 

     [8]. Mortimer N.S. Sellers, The Doctrine of Precedent in the United States of America, 54 Am. J. Comp. L. 67, 71, 74, 86-88 (2006).

     [9]. See, e.g., Hohn v. United States, 524 U.S. 236, 251 (1998).  The Court in Hohn further explained that its decisions “remain binding precedent until we see fit to reconsider them, regardless of whether subsequent cases have raised doubts about their continuing vitality.” Id. at 252-53.  See also Gavin v. Chernoff, 546 F.2d 457, 458-59 (1st Cir. 1976) (invoking stare decisis to follow an earlier opinion when “appellants essential arguments remain much the same as those considered and previously rejected, and there were no compelling new reasons and no change in circumstances justifying reconsideration of the previous decision”). 

   [10]. Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm’n, 130 S. Ct 876, 911-12 (2010).

   [11]. Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 827-28 (1991).

   [12]. Citizens United, 130 S. Ct. at 920 (Roberts, C.J., concurring).

   [13]. Id. (quoting Vasquez v. Hillery, 474 U.S. 254, 265 (1986)).

   [14]. Lacabarats, supra note 7, at 83-86 (discussing the value in fact of French decisions); Mazzotta, supra note 3, at 137, 141, 153 (discussing the value in fact of Italian decisions); Miguel & Laporta, supra note 7, at 274-75, 288 (discussing the value in fact of Spanish decisions).

[15] La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 1 (providing that the sources of law are legislation and custom).

[16] I have referred to this behavior as “systemic respect for jurisprudence.”  Algero, The Sources of Law and the Value of Precedent, supra note 1, at 781.

November 27, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, November 11, 2019

Advocating For Veterans

Today is Veterans Day, and a couple of times this weekend I was reminded of the sacrificial service by veterans to our country. First, I spent the weekend in beautiful Gulfport, Florida learning from and connecting with practitioners, judges, and professors at the Reimagining Advocacy Conference hosted by Stetson University. The Keynote Speaker Friday night was Stacey-Rae Simcox, Professor of Law and Director of Stetson University College of Law’s Veterans Law Institute and Veterans Advocacy Clinic. Professor Simcox, a veteran herself, spoke movingly about her work with veterans in Stetson’s Veterans Advocacy Clinic and the need for attorneys to represent veterans in their benefit appeals. Second, I stayed in the Madeira Beach Courtyard Marriott, and Saturday morning as the sun rose, the VFW next door piped patriotic music into the parking lot. As I sat on the balcony listening to the Marines’ Hymn, I decided to dedicate today’s posts to veterans, the legal advocacy challenges they face, and the ways that attorneys can help.

Professor Simcox’s remarks focused on the intersection of Veterans Law and Advocacy. In keeping with the conference theme of Reimagining Advocacy, Professor Simcox stated that the future of advocacy for veterans was collaboration. Professor Simcox helped establish a medical-legal partnership between Stetson University College of Law and the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine. Partnerships like these help to treat the whole person.

Additionally, Professor Simcox is president and one of the founding members of the National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium. This consortium allows clinics to share resources and referrals to support each other and offer broader service to veterans around the nation. According to a press release: “NLSVCC members work together on advocacy efforts, including joint amicus briefs to encourage systemic change benefitting veterans; host national conferences to train others how to provide pro bono legal services to veterans; and share best practices among members and community partners such as the VA [and] the ABA.”

As to the specifics of representing veterans in appeals, Professor Simcox pointed out that veterans are only allowed to hire an attorney once their benefit application is denied. Denial of benefit appeals beyond the VA have only been allowed for about 30 years, so it’s still a relatively new practice area. There is a steep learning curve for practitioners looking to represent veterans before the VA. See this ABA Article on Attorneys Representing Veterans. But there is absolutely a need. According to Professor Simcox, 22% of veterans are still pro se in their appeals to the VA.


If you would like to get more involved in helping veterans with their legal needs, the ABA Veterans Legal Service Initiative has compiled resources and volunteer opportunities here. The ABA also has resources for veterans and their families and caregivers on that same page. You can also donate to support the National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium here. A list of all of the law schools with Veterans Clinics can be found here. If your alma mater has a Veterans Law Clinic, why not designate a gift to that clinic the next time you are contacted for a donation? For those who teach in law schools with veterans clinics, encourage your students to take those clinics.

Finally on this Veterans Day, I want to thank the many veterans I know and respect for their service, including my many veteran students and former students. Also, Professor Ann Ching, one of my former colleagues at Pepperdine and who now teaches at Arizona State University, expanded my awareness of this area of law with her work as pro bono counsel for veterans before the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. As a former JAG officer, Professor Ching serves as an incredible mentor to veteran students in addition to her advocacy for veterans.

While only some of us can take on a veteran appeal, we all can honor veterans’ service and find ways to make sure that our country fulfills the promises we have made to them.

November 11, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

From Novices to Master Legal Writers

Much has been written about how people learn, including studies showing that people move from being novices to masters, passing through various stages along the way.[1]  When learning new skills, novices act with a “rigid adherence to taught rules or plans” and use “little discretionary judgment.”[2]  As they move toward expert and mastery status, they no longer need to strictly rely on “rules, guidelines or maxims.”[3] They have a “vision of what is possible,” they have an “intuitive grasp of situations based on deep, tacit understanding,” and they can improvise.[4] 

Moving from novice to master in any field at any skill typically requires a person to learn fundamentals before learning to manipulate or vary the fundamentals to become more effective at the skill.  For example, when students are taught to form letters at an early age, they are taught to draw the lines of the letters in a particular direction and to match model letters exactly.  Only after mastering the fundamentals of drawing letters do students begin to vary the precise models by adding personal touches that they think look better or flow better, yet still communicate the letters clearly.  Similarly, athletes first learn the fundamental skills of their sports and practice those fundamental skills extensively.  As these athletes practice and learn more about their sports and move toward mastery, they begin to improvise to perform the skills in unique ways that elevate the athletes’ performances to expert or master levels.  Varying the technique of performing a skill by someone who has mastered the skill is accepted and even admired when the person is performing at a top level.  If athletes are not performing effectively, though, coaches often insist that the athletes return to fundamentals to improve their games. 

Like students first learning to draw letters and athletes first learning the skills of their sports, law students and new lawyers must begin with fundamentals and work through the stages, from novice to master, when engaged in legal argument and writing.  Professors and lawyers working with these novices must exercise patience as they wait for these law students and lawyers to develop.  A common refrain from lawyers working with novice legal writers is that these novice writers do not write persuasively enough.  Perhaps this is because they are novices who have not mastered legal argument and writing sufficiently to improvise—to vary from the “taught plans or rules” and use their discretion.  They do not yet have a deep, tacit understanding of how far they can push their arguments beyond the existing law and how strongly they can tell the court how it should find or hold.  They are new to legal discourse; they do not know how bold or creative they can be.  They are like the children learning to draw letters who try to precisely follow the models of letters and do not dare to add an unnecessary flourish or variation.  They have not yet reached mastery. 

Frustrated by the work of novices, professors, lawyers, and judges sometimes criticize these writers for following formulas and not taking more license with their writing.  Novices even worry that their “formulaic” writing may be a problem.[5]  Legal writers are taught to use formulas, such as IRAC and CREAC,[6] to ensure that they provide the information necessary for a solid legal argument and analysis.  These formulas are used because they track a logical way to present information needed for legal arguments.[7]  Judges are looking for arguments that are supported by rules, explanations of those rules, and application to the facts involved in a case.   As these writers practice and learn more about writing legal arguments persuasively, they will become more adept at varying structures of their arguments.  They will learn when to depart from rigid adherence to taught rules when doing so will make their writing more persuasive.    

A suggestion for these novices and their professors and mentors is that the novices write a draft using IRAC or CREAC to ensure that they have included the necessary information.  Once a draft exists, the writer should then revise and edit the work to turn it from an accurate statement of the law and reasoning to a persuasive piece of advocacy.  This may involve deliberately altering the formulas employed.  For example, precedent case discussions might follow a rule as part of a rule explanation when the precedent case discussion is necessary to explain and interpret the rule.  On another point of law or argument, the precedent case discussion might follow the application of the rule to the case at issue.  Deciding to make this move says to the court that this is the rule, this is how the court should apply it to the facts, and the precedent case corroborates the argument being espoused.  This way guarantees that the court will not become distracted by a precedent case discussion when it comes before the argument involving the case at issue.  It also risks that the court might have wanted a fuller exposition of the law before the argument.  As the writer gains expertise and begins to master persuasive legal writing skills, he or she will become better at determining the best way to proceed in writing an argument, confidently moving away from rigidly following taught rules or plans when appropriate.   

Instructing the novice on the necessary parts of an argument and how to order the parts of an argument is valuable, as is emphasizing to the novice the importance of revising and editing.  Even though the novice will adhere to a formula initially, the novice will only improve as a writer if he or she is willing to experiment with revising to make arguments more compelling.   Novice writers tend to underestimate the value and necessity of revising and editing.  The best writers know that rarely if ever is the first draft the best draft.  Once a writer writes the parts necessary to make an argument, that writer should move the parts around, manipulate the language, and present the arguments in the best format to make the case to the court. 

So, to professors and supervising lawyers, expect to instruct students and new lawyers on how to make their writing more persuasive.  Expect to revise and edit their writing to show them exactly how to do this effectively.  Model the behavior you want to see in these novices.  And, with time, the arguments and the writing will be more persuasive as the writers move toward mastery.      

 

[1] See, e.g., Stuart E. Dreyfus, The Five Stage Model of Adult Skill Acquisition (June 1, 2004), https://www.bumc.bu.edu/facdev-medicine/files/2012/03/Dreyfus-skill-level.pdf.

[2] Raman K. Attri, 7 Models from Research Demystify Stages in Novice to Expert Transition (Nov. 18, 2017), https://www.speedtoproficiency.com/blog/stages-in-novice-to-expert-transition/.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Mary Beth Beazley, A Practical Guide to Appellate Advocacy 97 (5th ed. 2019).

[6] IRAC: Issue, Rule, Analysis, Application, or Argument, and Conclusion.  CREAC: Conclusion, Rule, Explanation, Analysis, Application, or Argument, and Conclusion.

[7] See Beazley, supra note 5.

November 6, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court, Rhetoric | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, November 2, 2019

AI and Free Legal Research, Annotated

   Fall is in the air (well, maybe not here in Los Angeles), and that means we are in the part of the 1L year when many law students across the country are doing their first in-depth legal research.  Thus, we are also at the time when many writing professors, like me, are looking for a great list of new, preferably free, AI research tools.  Our students see plenty of services affiliated with the legacy databases, but too many do not learn much about the world beyond Lexis and Westlaw, except possibly GoogleScholar.  As new lawyers, especially if they start in small or solo practices, they will need access to free tools. 

   Similarly, appellate practitioners with firm or agency affiliations might have access to Casetext, which will scan briefs and suggest missing case authority, Ravel (now part of Lexis), which uses AI to create “case law maps,” Fastcase, and more.   Some solo practitioners, however, cannot afford even the lower-priced Casetext, and need free AI assistance.  See generally Tom Goldstein, SCOTUSblog is partnering with Casetext, SCOTUSblog (Feb. 28, 2019, 12:00 PM), partnering-with-casetext (noting benefits and low cost of Casetext).

   There are many excellent lists and comparisons of fee-based (and even some free) AI programs for law firms, far beyond the early comparisons of document scanners for discovery.  See, e.g., Jan Bissett and Margi Heinen, EVOLVING RESEARCH:  Habits, Skills, and Technology, 98 Mich. Bar. J. 41 (May 2019); https://www.lawsitesblog.com.  For free AI services, however, some excellent explanations are in the amicus briefs in Georgia v. Public.Resource.org, Inc., 906 F.3d 1229 (11th Cir. 2018), cert. granted, __ U.S. __, 139 S. Ct. 2746 (June 24, 2019). 

   In Georgia v. Public.Resource.org, the Eleventh Circuit ruled the state-created annotations to Georgia’s statutes are not protected by copyright law, and reversed summary judgment for the State on its copyright claims against a public interest provider of free legal content, Public.Resource.org.  According to the Eleventh Circuit, the annotations to the Code were “created by Georgia’s legislators in the exercise of their legislative authority,” and therefore “the people are the ultimate authors of the annotations.”  Id. at 1233; see Jan Wolfe, U.S. High Court to Rule on Scope of Copyright for Legal Codes, June 24, 2019, Wolfe.  The United States Supreme Court will hear argument in Georgia v. Public.Resource.org in December, and could rule that no state can copyright annotated statutes, opening the door for more AI content creators to provide annotated statutes online. 

   Many of the amicus briefs in support of Respondent Public.Resource.org explain the need for free access to statutes and other legal documents among law students, scholars, solo attorneys, and visually impaired counsel.  See https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/georgia-v-public-resource-org-inc/.  A great many of the amici are, themselves, providers of free AI research, and their briefs give the excellent lists of resources I mentioned. 

   For example, in their brief supporting a grant of certiorari, Next-Generation Legal Research Platforms and Databases describe themselves as:  “[N]onprofit and for-profit creators and developers of next-generation legal research platforms that provide innovative tools and services for the legal community and the public. These tools serve the public interest by dramatically transforming the ways in which the public, courts, law firms, and lawyers access, understand, and utilize the law.”  Next-Gen. Lgl. Res. Platforms, ACB.  In addition to the for-profit AI services like Ravel and Casetext, the brief’s amici include these three providers:

(1)  “Amicus Judicata ‘maps the legal genome’ and provides research and analytic tools to turn unstructured case law into structured and easily digestible data. Judicata’s color-mapping research tool fundamentally transforms how people interact with the law: it increases reading comprehension and speed, illuminates the connections among cases, and makes the law more accessible to both lawyers and nonlawyers.”  Judicata has free and subscription-based services.

(2) “Amicus Free Law Project is a nonprofit organization seeking to create a more just legal system. To accomplish that goal, Free Law Project provides free, public, and permanent access to primary legal materials on the Internet for educational, charitable, and scientific purposes. Its work empowers citizens to understand the laws that govern them by creating an open ecosystem for legal materials and research. Free Law Project also supports academic research by developing, implementing, and providing public access to technologies useful for research.”

(3) “Amicus OpenGov Foundation produces cutting-edge civic software used by elected officials and citizens in governments across the United States. The Foundation seeks to ensure that laws are current, accessible, and adaptable. Everything the Foundation creates is free and open source, allowing the public to use, contribute to, and benefit from its work. Its software, coalition-building activities, and events are designed to change the culture of government and boost collaboration between governments and communities.”

   I plan to share these three resources with my students, and to encourage them to watch Georgia v. Public.Resource.org and stay abreast of other developing AI platforms.  I hope these sources are helpful to you as well.  Happy research, everyone!

November 2, 2019 in Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, United States Supreme Court, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Kind of Anxiety Every Client’s Lawyer Should Experience

Advice about appellate advocacy is abundant. How to begin; how to structure an argument; how to respond to questions; how much deference to show to the judge(s); whether to reserve time for rebuttal—these are all things the advocate should consider when preparing for oral argument. The best advocate should also experience a bit of anxiety. Not crippling anxiety; just enough anxiety to get adrenaline flowing; just enough anxiety to evidence that the advocate appreciates the gravity of the task and the client’s cause. “Situational anxiety, if it’s proportionate to the circumstances in which it arises, can have quite a positive impact.”1 

Situational anxiety associated with public speaking is common. In fact, public speaking is ranked highly among things and situations people fear the most, along with snakes and spiders.2 Most law schools require law students to perform some public speaking, from responding in class as part of a Socratic dialogue to delivering a trial level or an appellate level oral argument as part of a moot court exercise. Some law students walk away from these experiences believing that public speaking is not for them because they are anxious about making oral presentations. Others learn to thrive from the rush they feel when under the pressure of public speaking. Law professors and lawyers who mentor students and new lawyers should help students and new lawyers recognize that not only is this situational anxiety good for them, it is also good for their clients. And, it is not unusual. If law students and lawyers could recognize that some level of anxiety is healthy because it shows that the speaker cares about and recognizes the gravity of the task, perhaps some of these students and lawyers would reconsider their perceived aversion to public speaking.

As I prepared for one of my first oral arguments, a mentor advised me that some level of anxiety before an oral argument is healthy. Anxiety borne from a desire to represent your client and your client’s position to the best of your ability, combined with preparation, is good. I would even argue that it is necessary. I have told students that the client who has a lawyer who is not nervous about delivering an argument needs a new lawyer. I think I may have read that somewhere many years ago. Arguably, if the lawyer has no anxiety about delivering the oral argument, then perhaps the lawyer does not care enough and will not be energized enough to deliver a passionate argument. People do not get nervous or worry much about things for which they do not care.

Science supports this theory. Dr. Loren Soeiro explains:  “Anxiety helps us detect and attend to potential threats so that we can avoid danger. In the short term, anxiety can keep you at a heightened state of alert, allowing you to react more quickly when urgent dangers arise—like when you’re driving anxiously in the rain, and you find yourself responding immediately to erratic changes in traffic patterns.”3 He explains that if you face no anxiety when facing life-changing events and choices, you may end up missing something important because you will not fully think through what is going on.4 Situational anxiety serves to enhance your motivation to work hard and perform well, and it boosts your performance levels.5 It can also improve memory and lead to “responsible leadership.”6 “At significant moments when performance becomes an issue, the right amount of anxiety will help us do that much better.”7 

Thus, for the law student or lawyer called upon to represent a moot or a real client, situational anxiety can provide just what is needed to ensure that the advocate is giving the task and the client his or her all, both in preparation and in execution.

Educators and mentors of law students and lawyers should be sure to share this message. Doing so will help to normalize what these students and lawyers may be feeling and allow them to recognize and accept the positive aspects of what is ordinarily considered negative. Moreover, as first generation law students and lawyers enter law schools and the profession, it is especially important to educate these newcomers on the value and, indeed, the routine occurrence of the situational anxiety lawyers experience. These newcomers to the field may lack the opportunities to hear from seasoned lawyers about the anxiety that is common and can be helpful. Recognizing and embracing the kind of anxiety every client’s lawyer should experience before and during an oral argument or presentation should lead to better lawyering and perhaps more well-adjusted lawyers.

 

1Loren Soeiro, 3 Reasons Why Anxiety is Good for You, Psychology Today, May 20, 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/i-hear-you/201905/3-reasons-why-anxiety-is-good-you.

2Kendra Cherry, 10 of the Most Common Phobias, Verywell Mind Blog, https://www.verywellmind.com/most-common-phobias-4136563 (last updated October 3, 2019) (explaining that fear of public speaking is the most common form of social phobia).

3Soeiro, supra note 1.

4Id.

5Id. (noting that “[r]esearch indicates that student-athletes who feel anxiety are able to perform better in their events — and on college exams! — than those who denied feeling worried.”).

6Id.

7Id.

 

October 16, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

October Beginnings

October is a great month, perhaps the greatest month of all. In October, the oppressive heat of the summer sun begins to wane – this year being an exception, of course. With the waning oppression, we have moments of crisp, cool, clear days where the sky is a deep blue, and every breath we draw has a freshness that cannot compare. The stifling chaos that we saw in August, as we tried to cram in just a few more days of summer fun, and prepare to move our offspring back to college, or go shopping for new school supplies, persisted into September. Do you remember September? That blur of back-to-school, with new routines and bedtime fights, and syllabuses that won’t write themselves, and fresh first year law students eager to grasp the subtle nuances of CREAC. Oh yes, I stepped out of September with barely a glance back and walked, head held high, into October.

But why? Why is it that I greet October with such reverence? October is the beginning of holiday season. Yes, I know that many do not consider Halloween to be a true holiday, but it is the start of a season of festivities that will march us month by month, holiday by holiday, until spring. But even the holidays, and the cooler weather, and the promise of sweaters and bonfires, and apples and pumpkins, are not the reason why October is the most romantic of months.  October marks the opening of two things that make me giddy: First, the Supreme Court session year opens with all of its promise and anticipation and, second, October marks the opening of the moot court season with equal amounts of promise and anticipation. I recognize that for many practitioners, news people, and scholars, nothing can compare to the October session of the Supreme Court. And for me, I will be watching, waiting, and pontificating, for sure.  As I went to compile a short list, I went from, "oh this case," and "ah that case," to "how can I choose?"  Just check out the line-up for yourself: https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/terms/ot2019/

My muse, however, is moot court, where my students and I get to dabble in mock cases based on the issues that the Court will be tackling. In fact, last year, my students argued many of the issues that will be decided this term.  October marks the beginning (if you don’t count all the briefs that were due in the last few weeks).  

Just like those of us in the real world have been making adjustments in late August and early September, my students have been re-adjusting to a new school year. In addition, our 2Ls and 3Ls have been busy writing briefs and practicing their oral advocacy skills. And, now, beginning this coming weekend, and over the many weekends to come, they get to see how they have been doing. Certainly, I have been giving the praise and critiques. We’ve been honing their skills, and sharpening their wits. But at this point, my praise is beginning to sound parental. They need to see how their work pans out in the “real” world, or as real as it gets before you are barred (or have your 3rd year practice certificate). Strangers, who haven’t learned to love each of them for who they are, will be assessing their strengths and weaknesses, and the best part is my students will know almost instantaneously how they fared.

I love this for my students. I want the judges to be respectfully honest, and I want my students to see that some things are truly up to the subjective nature of the individual, while other things are almost universally true. When we know what is universally true, we can begin to learn how to adjust and account for the subjective expectations of others. I love that my students have the opportunity to take the feedback they receive and then incorporate that into the next competition, and I treasure the unique opportunity that I have to see them grow and mature. In less than a year, my 3Ls will leave this moot court world behind, but they will never forget. Moot court students are the marching band of law school. They will forever think fondly of their experiences, and will tell cautionary tales that arise from their negative experiences. They will return to the school and share their real world experience with my next crop of students, and when they get picked to argue in one circuit or the other, they will call me. And it all starts in October.

October 2, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Law School, Moot Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 23, 2019

We need more activist judges

Yes, the title of this blog is designed to raise eyebrows.  But no, I am not arguing for judicial activism as defined by the right or the left.  Rather, I am arguing for a court that takes an active role in legal education. We need judges--state and federal--who visit law school classes, speak at campus events, teach classes and seminars, take interns, and otherwise engage in legal education in their state.

Since moving to Arizona, I have been astounded at how involved that state and federal judges are at the state law schools.  For example, each academic year the state Supreme Court and the local appellate court hold arguments at the school where I teach.  The local appellate court also welcomes students in our brief-writing course to its courtroom each semester to give their final arguments, with all of the judges and many of the clerks and staff attorneys serving as judges for the arguments.

Current and retired appellate judges and justices teach courses at the law school. They also attend campus events, give lectures at orientation or to student groups, judge competitions, and attend social events.

While I see the state judges on campus the most, the federal bench is also active.  The federal judges are also good about judging competitions and speaking at or attending events.  They also take a lot of student interns, and I always hear from students about what a great opportunity it was to intern at federal court.

The advantages of an active, engaged bench are profound.

First, judges make great mentors and role models for the students.  Students are often more likely to listen to advice from judges, especially on topics like professionalism and civility, which are extremely important skills for students to learn.

Second, and related, judges reinforce what is said in the classroom.  I can count on one hand the number of times that I have heard a judge give advice on brief-writing, advocacy, or professionalism that I disagree with.  Generally, we are all on the same page, and, to the extent that we want to produce excellent future lawyers, we are all on the same team.

Third, our students are likely to give and do their best if a real judge is involved in an event or competition.  While some students still care about impressing professors, nearly all of them care about impressing judges.  They rightly see judges as a possible future employer and/or someone that they should try to impress.  

Finally, having judges involved gives faculty a break. I can judge arguments, competitions, speak at events, and socialize, but it is so nice to have local judges who are willing to step into that role.  Sometimes, after saying the same things over and over, we faculty members just need a break.  Thankfully, we have enough judges in Arizona who lend a helping hand that they can get a break too!

I want to thank all of the state and federal judges who devote so much time to making law school a better experience for students.  Your hard work does have an impact!

 

September 23, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Law School, Legal Profession, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 22, 2019

An Ethos for Giving Feedback to New Legal Writers: Expert Coach, not Rival Writer

Thursday’s Rhaw Bar: A Little Bite of All Things Rhetoric and Law—exploring ideas, theories, strategies, techniques, and critiques at the intersection of rhetoric and legal communication.

Today’s Rhaw Bar is inspired by the start of a new law school year.  I’ve been teaching legal writing courses for nearly twenty years, and it’s always right about now that I start collecting myself and my thoughts for the feedback I’ll be giving new legal writers on their writing.  I also start thinking about the lawyers and judges who will be welcoming recent graduates into the practice and who might also be supervising those new lawyers and giving them feedback on their legal writing.

In this post, I describe a perspective an experienced lawyer can adopt for giving feedback to novice legal writers; an experienced lawyer can think about giving feedback as establishing a particular kind of ethos—the ethos of an “expert coach.”  By taking the perspective of an expert coach when giving feedback, the experienced lawyer can help the novice legal writer more fully engage with the feedback and ultimately be a more effective, competent, and independent legal writer in the future.  

The idea of developing a positive ethos for feedback is explored in depth in my article, “Building Credibility in the Margins: An Ethos-Based Perspective for Commenting on Student Papers,” so you can read more about the rhetorical theory that supports this perspective there.  In addition, if you are interested in reading even more about how to give feedback to legal writers, take a look at Volume 1 of the Legal Writing Institute’s Monograph Series, The Art of Critiquing Student Work.  While these articles are mainly about the feedback given by faculty to students in law school, the ideas in the monograph articles are transferable to the mentoring and supervising relationships between more experienced lawyers and novice legal writers who are just beginning their professional legal writing careers.

A Commenting Ethos Is A Perspective, Not A Technique

Mostly, when I talk with others about giving feedback to legal writers on their writing, we end up talking about the “techniques” for giving good feedback.  Examples of techniques for giving feedback include “be sure to include feedback that is positive,” “avoid critical comments that start with the word ‘you,’” and “use a describe-evaluate-suggest” structure for your comments.”  These techniques are all important in constructing effective feedback (both written or oral) for others’ legal writing.  (You can learn about some of these techniques in the monograph and at the end of this article.)  But, this post is not about technique.  Instead, it is about the perspective one can take when giving feedback.  That is, how should one think about the feedback task?  How should a lawyer giving feedback approach the work?  What attitudes should she adopt?  

One perspective you can take on giving feedback is to think of feedback as a place where you construct who you are as the person giving feedback, a place where you construct your ethos.  Ethos (one of the Aristotle’s three artistic modes of persuasion—ethos, pathos, and logos) is the idea that a person’s identity—as perceived by the audience—has persuasive force.  

Aristotle considered ethos as having three dimensions: competence, character, and goodwill.  In the context of giving feedback to newer lawyers, this means demonstrating that you, the commenter, are competent to give the feedback, are of the right character to give the feedback, and have goodwill toward the writer in giving feedback.  A positive commenting ethos can help you meet the goals of persuading the writer engage with your feedback, to improve the document (and the next document), to better understand the writer’s audience, and to be more confident and competent to draft and revise in the future.  Conversely, developing a negative feedback ethos can result in giving feedback that is ignored or not implemented fully—the perception of your competence, character, and goodwill doesn’t persuade the audience to listen to you.  

Ethos is not something that you craft exclusively on your own; instead, ethos exists at the intersection between you, others with whom you interact, and the groups or communities in which you are a member.  In other words, ethos is a social act that takes place in a particular cultural context.  Thus, when giving feedback on the legal writing of others, you and your audience are acting together to construct your ethos for the feedback situation.  The perspective you bring to that interaction can work to shape how your audience will interact with you to shape your credibility as a source of feedback.  I’ve found that taking a perspective that emphasizes the ethos of “expert coach” rather than “rival writer” will improve your feedback’s appeal.

A Positive Commenting Ethos:  Expert Coach, Not Rival Writer

Developing an “expert coach” commenting ethos can help you make choices in your feedback that will appeal to novice legal writers, engage them, and improve their writing. So, what is the ethos of an “expert coach”?

An expert coach is comfortable with (but not arrogant about) his or her competence and seeks to demonstrate that competence through detailed and kind feedback.  The expert coach does not want to make the novice writer feel poorly about being a novice or about missing the mark on a first or even second attempt at a final product.  Instead, the first goal of the expert is to show the novice that the expert is speaking on behalf of the community of readers and writers—that the expert is a “fellow legal reader.”  This ethos of expertise coupled with fellowship builds the novice’s trust in the feedback and in the person giving it.  

The expert coach’s second goal is to bring the new legal writer into the community by revealing the range of the accepted practices in the community to which the new writer wants to belong.  This is the coaching perspective—the experienced lawyer sees himself as the source of detailed information that gives the novice writer insight into the audience’s needs and expectations.  The goal of the expert is to build the novice’s confidence in herself so that she will make further efforts to join the community of legal writers and readers.

The expert coach does not project himself as authoritarian, someone who “tells” the new writer what to do or rewrites the document so that it is “right.”  Instead he sees himself as an authority who knows much about the subject of legal writing and can guide, model, and make suggestions for someone who doesn’t have the same level of knowledge.  The expert coach knows that she wants to convey feedback in an objective rather than a judgmental tone, using a tone that builds trust rather than exacts judgment or conveys irritation, impatience, or annoyance.  An expert coach knows that supportive patience is essential to building the trust that results in the novice benefitting from the feedback.

An expert coach sees herself as sitting “alongside” the novice writer; the coach is not a rival trying to take control of the novice writer’s work or to demonstrate why the expert “wins” and the novice “loses.”  Instead, the expert coach understands that the goal of the feedback is to give the writer power, not to take power away.  Thus, the feedback tone is collaborative, not competitive, and the feedback content is reflective and engaging, not simply a rewrite of the novice’s work.  The expert coach adopts an ethos that makes feedback empowering and gives the novice both ideas and options for how to improve.  

Adopting a coaching ethos is particularly useful in relationships of supervision. If mentors and supervisors want mentees and subordinates to grow as writers by thinking, making choices, and exercising judgment for themselves rather than doing only what they “are told to do,” feedback should empower novices to get comfortable thinking, choosing, and judging.  So, a good commenting ethos abandons a “rival” perspective and takes a seat “alongside” the novice as a fellow legal reader who encourages independence and responsibility-taking.  

Because giving feedback on legal writing is such a practical, hands-on activity, it may seem a bit impractical and high-minded to focus attention on developing a perspective from which to begin the task.  But, I’ve found that being intentional about the ethos I am constructing in the feedback process has helped me meet my feedback goals.  If the goals of your feedback are to help new legal writers learn; join the discourse community; and be more independent, confident, and successful writers, developing an expert coach ethos will help you achieve those results.

Kirsten Davis teaches at Stetson University College of Law and in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. She is the Director of the Institute for the Advancement of Legal Communication. The Institute’s mission is to study legal communication issues and provide programming and training that improves legal communication skills. The views she expresses here are solely her own and not intended to be legal advice. You can reach Dr. Davis at kkdavis@law.stetson.edu.  

 

 

 

August 22, 2019 in Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Rhetoric | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Moot Court Benefits Coaches and Advisors, Too.

Dumier high tribunal of judges

There have been numerous articles and speeches about the benefits of moot court for law students. Success in advocacy competitions in general is an overall indicator of success on the bar. It teaches the student to examine both sides of an issue, be thorough in their research and writing, develop professionalism in the courtroom, and to refine arguments through multiple iterations. Some students say that the exercise is one of their most educational experiences in law school.

But what about the coaches and advisors who work with the students? This year marks my 21st year coaching moot court teams. Over those 21 years I have been repeatedly questioned as to why I put so much effort into a work that has never generated a single appellate case referral. My answer is that while coaching moot court may never build your business, it can build you up in many other ways.

First, lawyers never stop learning the law. I coach three competitions a year, and they are difficult ones. While only one permits me to work with the students on the writing, they all permit working together in collaboration on the oral argument. Because they also all do a good job of developing problems that deal with perplexing and important issue of the day in the law, I am able to keep abreast of the law in ways that simply would not be possible if I were to focus exclusively on my practice. This is particularly true in the area of Constitutional law, in which I have developed a broad and deep knowledge that I find invaluable at odd moments in my practice.

Second, lawyers never stop honing their skills. As I work with students in each competition, I am reminded of the importance of certain skills and the impact of bad habits. That helps me keep my own skills sharpened. And I refine those skills through lessons I learn from those interactions.

Third, lawyers always benefit from a larger network. Whether you teach full time or practice law and have recently been asked to volunteer, you will likely benefit from expanding your network. You might get referrals later in your career, you might develop a peer group of other coaches and advisors that you can bounce ideas off over time, or you might develop a stronger reputation in your given area. Networking works differently for everyone, but there are always benefits.

And finally, lawyers need community. Practicing lawyers who work as mentors experience greater job satisfaction than those who do not. Our work, whether teaching or practicing law, can become painfully isolating. Coaching or advising a moot court team draws us out of our shells and into the lives of the students we work with.

Over the weekend I had the great honor of officiating at the wedding of two of my former moot court students. I was deeply honored and humbled by their request. While I may never receive an appeal to work on as the direct result of my work with students, no amount of legal fees could ever match the satisfaction and affirmation of that experience, or any of the personal interactions I have on an almost weekly basis with my former students.

Moot court is good for law students. It is good for their coaches and advisors, too. So if you are asked, say yes. And if you haven’t been asked, consider this an invitation to volunteer.

(Image credit: Honore Daumier, The High Tribunal of Judges, 1843)

August 20, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Starting a New Term Strongly

Today is the first day of school at many law schools around the country, including the one where I teach. Those schools that haven’t started are likely to begin in the next few weeks. This time of year has me thinking about new beginnings and the rhythm of the academic year. While culturally there is a lot of talk of New Year’s resolutions, those of us on an academic calendar start our new year in August or September, with all the plans and hopes that accompany a fresh start--new students, new courses, new approaches to material.

As summer has wound down, I’ve been reading First, Evan Thomas’s fascinating biography of Sandra Day O’Connor. In the same way that schools operate on their calendar, the Supreme Court operates on the rhythm of its Terms, which begin every year on the first Monday in October. The Court recesses at the end of June, then works on the petitions and other business to prepare for the next October Term.
Justice O’Connor was sworn in just a couple of weeks before the Term began in 1981, and it seems as that first Monday in October approached, she was anticipating what the new Term would hold. For example, Thomas reports that in 1986 upon the appointment of Justice Scalia that “O’Connor had welcomed his high intelligence and verve. . . Scalia, she believed, would be a tonic. ‘Nino Scalia will have a dramatic impact here,’ she wrote in her journal.”
As I start a new school year this August, Justice O’Connor’s example is on my mind. Her strength, will, and energy enabled her to be a trail-blazer, as highlighted in First. And she continued to start each October Term strongly for 25 years, even when dealing with challenges including breast cancer, diagnosed shortly before the 1988 October Term.

For those of you not on an academic or appellate term, do you have a way of creating fresh starts for yourself? Do you still look to the calendar to demarcate your own “terms”?

Any advice you’d like to share for starting strong, whether in academics or practice?

I like to make sure my office and inbox is organized at the start of a new semester, as piles tend to grow during the hectic pace of classes.

I hope everyone who is starting a new term soon has a great start!

August 19, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Law School, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 12, 2019

When Having A Heart for Justice is Not Enough--Part 2

In March, Professor Teri McMurtry-Chubb blogged about her forthcoming article The Practical Implications of Unexamined Assumptions: Disrupting Flawed Legal Arguments to Advance the Cause of Justice, which will be published in the Washburn Law Journal.  The article can now be accessed here on SSRN.

As Prof. McMurtry-Chubb explained in her post, her article explores "how bias shapes lawyer analytical and reasoning processes," and it is the product of "a 6-year empirical research study [that she] conducted involving student motion and appellate briefs generated from case files involving social justice issues."  In her article, Prof. McMurtry-Chubb goes into more detail on the different problems that she used in the study--ranging from legacy admits to law school to Indian Child Welfare Act cases.  Her article, her study, and the results are simply fascinating and raise important questions for law schools.  As she explains in the article,

This research project has the potential to change how we view the preparation of law students for law practice. As such, it has significant implications for how we approach diversity, equity, and inclusion in legal education and the law. Legal education touts diversity—equity and inclusion less so—as aspirational goals, but has largely focused efforts to achieve the same in admissions and faculty hiring.

. . . .

. . . The study in this Article suggests that the presence of non-White racial and ethnic bodies in law school classrooms do not, and cannot, in and of themselves, promote
better learning outcomes, prepare all students for a globally diverse workforce and society, and help them to shape professional identities beyond the touch of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism.

In sum, rarely have law schools mapped and studied their curricula to assess how it perpetuates inequities and reinforces hierarchies. This and more are required to address the law and lawyers’ inability to fully serve racially and ethnically diverse client groups. As this study teaches us, legal educators and employers cannot take for granted that students leave law school with the skills to advocate effectively for historically marginalized, underrepresented groups, even as they matriculate successfully through law school. A heart for justice is not sufficient to do justice. Rather, law schools must actively develop interventions in their core curricula that directly and explicitly engage students around issues of power and privilege. Until then, students will not act with agency to transform law practice and its societal impact in ways that challenge their unexamined assumptions and allow them to make arguments in the service of justice. 

Thank you Prof. McMurtry-Chubb for your important contribution to how we approach legal education.  I am certainly going to be mindful of these issues as I teach this semester.

August 12, 2019 in Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 5, 2019

Editing and Polishing: Moot Court Edition

Over the summer, I have been going through moot court brief section by section, giving moot court drafting and scoring advice. In this final installment I will discuss the overall editing of the brief. There is nothing that sours a reader faster than finding multiple editing errors. As I’ve mentioned before, typos in the Questions Presented do not give me much hope of finding an excellent brief as I turn past the first section. Over the years, students have been most frustrated when they realize that their brief did not score well because they violated the word count or lost points for some other avoidable editing issue.

Often, moot court briefs are scored separately for content and form, with a set of scorers specifically tasked with going through and looking for editing and citation issues. I always suggest doing separate editing passes to make sure that your brief is as close to perfect as possible before you turn it in.

These two blog posts by Joe Regalia go into more depth on editing word choice and using technology to uncover your writing blind spots and are worthwhile reads:
https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/appellate_advocacy/2019/03/10-ways-to-harness-the-power-of-words-in-your-legal-writing.html
https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/appellate_advocacy/2019/08/learning-from-briefcatch-using-technology-to-unearth-your-writing-blind-spots.html

Scoring-wise, style often plays a significant role in total points. In the sample score sheet I reviewed, the Overall Presentation was worth 15 of 100 points.
————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————
OVERALL PRESENTATION:
Is the writing style clear, concise, and persuasive?
Does the brief effectively present the case for the client?
Does the brief look polished and professional?
(15 points possible) _________________
————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

In another competition with separate technical scoring, every error, whether grammatical or citation, resulted in a point subtracted. That adds up quickly when every point matters. Often brief scores tend to cluster, and even a couple of stray errors can take a brief out of the running for a high score.

Here are my top tips for editing a moot court brief:

* Set an internal deadline for the team that is 48 hours before the actual deadline to leave time for additional read-throughs. Have accountability with a coach or director that the internal deadline is met.

* Every team member should read the brief in hard copy at least once. The more eyes on the brief, the better the chances of catching everything.

* Use editing technology, but don’t mindlessly rely on it. Grammarly is what I typically recommend.

* Try to edit after a good night’s rest and when it’s been a few days since you looked at the brief to give yourself better perspective and clarity on your writing.

* Double check all of the little things. Have you complied with all of the competition rules? Are the cites perfect? Are the tables organized and cited properly? Does the cover look polished and professional?

Ensuring that your brief is well-edited will not guarantee that you have the winning brief for a competition, but a poorly-edited brief will not even be in the running.

August 5, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Law School, Legal Writing, Moot Court | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Can Learning to Write Well Lead to More Ethical Behavior?

Diogenese

Last month, there was a short article in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "Why Writing Better Will Make You a Better Person." In the article, two professors of philosophy who teach ethics (Bob Fischer and Nathan Nobis) put forth the idea that good writing leads to more ethical behavior, because it involves several ethical ways of thinking. The article is linked here.

In their article, Fischer and Nobis suggest that writing is an ethical activity, and that becoming a better writer can make you a better person. In so arguing, they suggest several high-level ethical norms that should motivate good writing:

  • Try to do good things and avoid causing bad ones. Writing causes feelings in the reader. We should try to cause good feelings and good consequences, and avoid causing bad ones.
  • Respect everyone, including your readers, as inherently valuable and rational beings. Don't waste your reader's time. Respect them enough to be clear and concise.
  • Follow the Golden Rule. Treat your reader as you would like to be treated yourself. If you like straightforward, well-referenced, well-organized text, provide it to your readers.

In the end, the authors conclude that good character traits should produce good writing. Empathy requires always considering others and their needs and points of view. Compassion means you don't make your writing any more difficult to read than need be. Honesty requires the full truth, including bad facts and opposing arguments. Humility requires acknowledging that those competing arguments might have merit.

Conversely, the authors suggest that practicing these traits to be a good writer will make the writer a better person. Studiously respecting the reader, considering the merit of opposing arguments, and so on will help strengthen the corresponding ethical traits in the life of the writer.

As lawyers, we often divorce ourselves from general rules of ethics and focus on our professional rules of responsibility. But even there, we have the same obligations to fulfill. Our obligations include a duty of competency that requires thoroughness and preparation, See Model Rules of Prof'l Conduct R. 1.1, and a duty of candor, to the court and third parties, that requires us to admit factual and legal weaknesses in our arguments. See Model Rules of Prof'l Conduct R. 3.3, 4.1. And as the preamble notes, while many of the Rules govern our conduct directly, "a lawyer is also guided by personal conscience and the approbation of professional peers."

Numerous studies demonstrate further that ethical writing is more persuasive and effective. Simpler writing is more easily understand and followed by the courts. Admitting weaknesses enhances credibility, which is the coin of persuasion, while sloppiness in research or citations to facts or the law expends that credibility without reason. Our duties of competence and candor, therefore, are best served by being ethical in our writing, which also leads to the best results for clients.

It makes sense that, over time, adherence to these obligations in our writing and other client representations leads to their refinement in our characters. Ethical writing strengthens behavioral muscle that can, and should, work out in our daily lives. Conversely, unethical writing may serve as a warning sign for issues in the personal lives of counsel.

Seen in this light, teaching good legal writing to our students and young lawyers is an exercise in both effectiveness and ethics. The earlier we can convince our young lawyers of this, the healthier the bar will become.

(Image Credit: AndreasPraefcke, Wikipedia U. "Diogenes in Search of an Honest Man." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified August 06, 2014. https://www.ancient.eu/image/2908/.)

 

 

July 9, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Rhetoric | Permalink | Comments (3)