Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Implicit Bias Challenged, If Not Debunked

In recent years, the concept of implicit bias – the belief that all individuals harbor unconscious biases that affect their choices and actions – has been embraced by many law schools and the American Bar Association. In fact, the ABA passed a resolution requiring law schools to provide some type of bias training. But there is one problem – implicit bias research is deeply flawed and, in fact, so flawed that its validity is now in question.[1] Below is a summary of the flaws in implicit bias theory.

1.    The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is deeply flawed.

The IAT, developed by researchers at Harvard University, purports to measure an individual's implicit biases. The problem is that there is little, if any, evidence that IAT scores actually measure unconscious bias. As one scholar states:

The IAT is impacted by explicit attitudes, not just implicit attitudes, . . . It is impacted by people’s ability to process information quickly on a general level. It is impacted by desires to want to create a good impression. It is impacted by the mood people are in. If the measure is an amalgamation of many things (one of which is purportedly implicit bias), how can we know which of those things is responsible for a (weak) correlation with behavior?[2]

Furthermore, individuals who take the IAT are likely to achieve different scores if they take the IAT multiple times.[3] One commentator explains as follows:

The IAT, it turns out, has serious issues on both the reliability and validity fronts, which is surprising given its popularity and the very exciting claims that have been made about its potential to address racism” … That’s what the research says, at least, and it raises serious questions about how the IAT became such a social-science darling in the first place.[4]

Indeed, “much murkiness surrounds (a) the proper causal explanation for alleged IAT effects, (b) the psychological meaning of IAT scores, [and] (c) the statistical generality and potency of alleged relations between IAT scores and actual behavior.”[5] To be sure, Tony Greenwald, who co-created the IAT, acknowledged that the IAT should not be used to predict biased behavior, stating that the IAT is only “good for predicting individual behavior in the aggregate, and the correlations are small.”[6] Put simply, the “IAT provides little insight into who will discriminate against whom, and provides no more insight than explicit measures of bias.”[7]

2.    There is insufficient evidence that implicit bias – or results on the IAT – predicts biased behavior.

Empirical studies suggest that implicit biases do not necessarily cause biased behavior. As one commentator explains:

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Harvard, and the University of Virginia examined 499 studies over 20 years involving 80,859 participants that used the IAT and other, similar measures. They discovered two things: One is that the correlation between implicit bias and discriminatory behavior appears weaker than previously thought. They also conclude that there is very little evidence that changes in implicit bias have anything to do with changes in a person’s behavior. These findings, they write, ‘produce a challenge for this area of research.’[8]

Importantly, these researchers examined “63 studies that explicitly considered a link between changes in bias and changes in actions . . . [but] they found no evidence of a causal relationship.”[9]

3.    There is no way to quantify the impact of implicit bias on biased behavior, particularly given the presence of explicit          biases.

Assuming arguendo that implicit bias exists, there is no reliable way to quantify its relationship to biased behavior, if such a relationship even exists. For example, how can one distinguish between explicit and implicit biases? And how can scholars quantify or measure the impact of implicit biases when explicit bias has a demonstrable relationship to biased behavior?

These and other issues have led some scholars to question the validity of implicit bias as a predictor of biased behavior: As one scholar states:

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]

Resolving these issues in an intellectually honest manner is critical to determining whether implicit bias bears any relationship to biased behavior.

 4.    Implicit bias training is ineffective.

Not surprisingly, implicit bias training is not effective in reducing biased behavior. For example, a study in the United Kingdom concluded as follows:

[A] 2017 meta-analysis of 494 previous studies of racial sensitivity training programmes found that ‘changes in measured implicit bias are possible, but those changes do not necessarily translate into changes in explicit bias or behaviour’. The Equality and Human Rights Commission published its findings in 2018, stating that ‘the evidence for [unconscious bias training’s] ability effectively to change behaviour is limited’ and that it may cause a ‘backfiring’ effect, actually making people more biased. And last year the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (the UK’s main HR professional body) said ‘unconscious bias training has no sustained impact on behaviour’.[11] 

Indeed, “while implicit bias trainings are multiplying, few rigorous evaluations of these programs exist,” the fact remains that “to date, none of these interventions has been shown to result in permanent, long-term reductions of implicit bias scores or, more importantly, sustained and meaningful changes in behavior (i.e., narrowing of racial/ethnic clinical treatment disparities."[12]

Of course, these facts have not stopped the American Bar Association from requiring law schools to conduct training on implicit bias, a proposal that was rightfully met with resistance from established scholars.[13] Perhaps this is because most law faculties are so overwhelmingly liberal that groupthink, rather than critical thinking, precludes a principled assessment of implicit bias’s validity.[14]

Without such an assessment, claims that implicit biases impact biased behavior will continue to lack empirical support. As such, the efficacy of implicit bias training remains dubious.[15]

Ultimately, eradicating bias and discrimination from all facets of society is a legal and moral imperative, but scholars should question seriously whether a focus on alleged implicit biases is an effective way of doing so. And in so doing, scholars should be committed to intellectual honesty to ensure that their own biases do not influence their findings.

 

[1] Lee Jussim, 12 Reasons to be Skeptical of Common Claims About Implicit Bias (March 28, 2022), available at: 12 Reasons to Be Skeptical of Common Claims About Implicit Bias | Psychology Today

[2] See Adam Lamparello, The Flaws of Implicit Bias and the Need for Empirical Research in Legal Scholarship and in Legal Education, available at: The Flaws of Implicit Bias -- and the Need for Empirical Research in Legal Scholarship and in Legal Education by Adam Lamparello :: SSRN.

[3] See The Spectator, The Dangers of Unconscious Bias Training (Aug. 15, 2020), available at: The dangers of unconscious bias training | The Spectator

[4]  Harvard Embraces Debunked ‘Implicit Bias’ Test that Labels You a Racist, (Jan. 22, 2020), available at: Harvard Embraces Debunked 'Implicit Bias' Test that Labels You a Racist (mixedtimes.com)

[5] German Lopez, For Years, This Popular Test Measured Anyone’s Racial Bias. But It Might Not Work After All, VOX (Mar. 7, 2017, 7:30 AM), https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/3/7/14637626/implicit-association-testracism (quoting New York University Professor James Jaccard).

[6] Id.

[7] Tom Bartlett, Can We Really Measure Implicit Bias? Maybe Not, CHRON. OF HIGHER EDUC. (Jan. 5, 2017), https://www.chronicle.com/article/Can-We-Really-Measure-Implicit/238807.

[8] Id.

[9] Brandie Jefferson, Change the Bias, Change the Behavior? Maybe Not, WASH. UNIV. IN ST. LOUIS NEWSROOM (Aug. 1, 2019), https://source.wustl.edu/2019/08/change-the-bias-change-the-behavior-maybe-not/

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

[11] Lewis Feilder, The Dangers of Unconscious Bias Training (Aug. 15, 2020), available at: The dangers of unconscious bias training | The Spectator

[12] See Tiffany L. Green & Nao Hagiwara, The Problem with Implicit Bias Training Aug. 28, 2020), available at: The Problem with Implicit Bias Training - Scientific American

[13] See, e.g., Karen Sloan, U.S. Law Students to Receive Anti-Bias Training After ABA Passes New Rule (February 14, 2022), available at:   U.S. law students to receive anti-bias training after ABA passes new rule | Reuters

[14] See Michael Conklin, Political Ideology and Law School Rankings: Measuring the Conservative Penalty and Liberal Bonus, 2020 U. Ill. L. Rev. Online 178, 179 (2020) As Professor Conklin explains:

It was not until 2015 that a robust analysis of law school ideological diversity was published (hereinafter “2015 study”). Before this, it was already well known that law school professors were disproportionately liberal—both when compared to the public at large and when compared to the overall legal profession. A study using 2013 data found that only 11% of law school professors were Republicans, compared to 82% who were Democrats. Not only do conservatives find it difficult to gain admittance into legal academia, but those who do find that they are effectively barred from the more prestigious topics, such as constitutional law and federal courts, and are instead relegated to topics such as law and economics.

[15] See Green and Hagiwara, supra note 12.

January 28, 2023 in Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 14, 2023

What Law Students Should Know About Law Practice

One of the criticisms of law schools is that they do not adequately prepare students for law practice.

In law school, students learn legal doctrines, acquire critical thinking, argumentation, and persuasive writing skills, master IRAC/CRAC, and participate in clinics – all of which help students to obtain the knowledge and skills needed to successfully practice law. But for many years, lawyers and judges have criticized law schools for not producing practice-ready graduates, citing, among other things, graduates’ substandard persuasive writing skills, inexperience in drafting real-world legal documents, and lack of ‘soft’ skills.[1] This criticism, as underscored by graduates at many schools, has some merit, although law schools certainly do their very best, within a limited time of three years, to provide students with the skills to practice law competently upon graduation.

Below are a few tips for students regarding what to expect – and the skills needed – when practicing law.

1.    Learning to work with other people – including those you don’t like – is critical to your success.

In the legal profession – and in life – you are going to encounter people that you despise. Such individuals are not hard to identify and there are many of them in all facets of the legal profession.  They typically display inflated egos, treat others disrespectfully, lack trustworthiness, have narcissistic tendencies, and are so self-absorbed that they cannot possibly appreciate an opposing argument or perspective. Nobody likes these people. Invariably, however, you will almost certainly have to work with them – or for them – in your legal career.

And when you do, the worst thing that you could do is become combative, disrespectful, or dismissive. Doing so will only hurt you – and empower them. Instead, focus on what you can control, such as your work product, your responses to their behavior, and your demeanor. If you do that and, as such, learn to work with difficult people, you will increase your value and reputation. So don’t focus on how others behave or be consumed with external circumstances over which you have no control. Focus on how you behave and conduct yourself.

2.    Confidence and humility are critical to developing strong relationships with your colleagues.

Confidence matters in the legal profession.

But humility matters too.

Regardless of whether you graduate at the top of your class at Harvard, serve as your law review’s editor-in-chief, or publish in the Yale Law Journal, you will face a steep learning curve when you begin practicing law. Recognizing that – and being willing to learn from and listen to your more experienced colleagues – is essential to developing strong relationships with them and mastering the skills necessary to practice law at the highest levels. Thus, being courteous, respectful, and professional is vitally important if you want to cultivate a reputation as a good lawyer – and a good person.

In other words, personality matters. If you are a jerk who gossips about or criticizes your colleagues, boasts about your class ranking or LSAT score, or treats assistants like they are second-class citizens, you will not get very far. If you think that you are ‘right’ all the time or are overly opinionated, most people will despise you. Simply put, don’t be a jerk – the world is already saturated with them, and nobody wants to associate with those types of people. Rather, be authentic, humble, and respectful.

3.    Your reputation and credibility – particularly with your colleagues and judges – are vital to your success.

Reputation and credibility are everything in the legal profession. If you lose your credibility, you lose your ability to garner the trust of your client, your colleagues, or judges. When your reputation or credibility is compromised, your career is likely irreparably damaged.

Accordingly, make sure, for example, that you work diligently to produce an outstanding work product. Always be honest, particularly when you make a mistake. Treat your clients, your adversaries, and judges with respect and civility. Be ethical and professional. And most importantly, be a nice, authentic, and decent person.  As stated above, nobody likes jerks.

4.    Excellent persuasive writing skills are essential.

If you cannot write persuasively, you cannot practice law effectively. Thus, at the beginning of and throughout your legal career (and life), focus on continually developing your persuasive writing skills. In so doing, read outstanding legal briefs and legal writing textbooks. Take the time to thoroughly rewrite and edit your work. Read great fiction books and apply literary techniques to your briefs where appropriate. Ask for feedback from more experienced colleagues about your writing. After all, two or three semesters in legal writing classes, while helpful, is not nearly enough to develop outstanding persuasive writing skills.  Learning to write persuasively is a lifelong lesson and one that you should embrace if you want to be a great lawyer.

5.    Outstanding communication skills are critically important.

Interpersonal communication, whether with a client, an adversary, or a court, is integral to your success as a lawyer. If you cannot, for example, clearly articulate arguments and explain complex legal concepts in an understandable way, you aren’t going to be successful.

Thus, you must know, among other things, how to present an argument concisely, clearly, and persuasively. You must understand that how you say something is just as important as what you say. You must actively listen to and respect others’ opinions. You have to show empathy and compassion for your client. You need to be skillful in negotiating with your adversary, present your argument in a way that convinces others to adopt your position, and have the judgment to know when compromise is appropriate.

6.    Law practice is stressful and can be all-consuming.

The legal profession is often quite stressful. Indeed, at times, the pressure can be all-consuming, such as when preparing for a trial, writing motions and briefs, reviewing voluminous discovery documents, or preparing to argue before an appellate or supreme court. Indeed, practicing law is far from glamorous, as many days and hours are spent reviewing documents and filing motions. Put simply, there’s a reason why many lawyers struggle with alcohol or drug abuse, or mental health issues. The legal profession is difficult and there is no way around that fact. If you are working in a large or medium-sized firm, your billable hours matter. Whether you can attract clients matters. Whether you win matters.

But that doesn’t mean that you have to become the legal profession’s next alcoholic or drug addict. It does mean, however, that you have to prepare yourself for this reality. In so doing, learn how to cope with stress and adversity.  Organize your day and prioritize your tasks. Take care of your physical and mental health, such as by exercising every day, eating healthy, and reserving some time – even if only for an hour – to do something that you enjoy. Spend time with family and friends. And realize that you’re probably not going to change the world, that justice is truly subjective, and that life is going to present far more adversity than you expected. But if you can help your clients to achieve positive results, live a meaningful life, and find happiness, then the law is a profession that can have a noble purpose.

 

 

[1] See, e.g., David Segal, What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering (Nov. 19, 2011), available at: After Law School, Associates Learn to Be Lawyers - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

January 14, 2023 in Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 16, 2022

How to Prepare Law Students for the Real World

The goal of law school should be to prepare students to practice law competently and advocate persuasively upon graduation. Below are suggestions that will help to maximize students’ success in the legal profession.

1.    Use the Socratic Method.

Some legal scholars have, for a variety of reasons, criticized the Socratic method. Such criticism, however, lacks merit.

The Socratic method teaches preparation. It requires students to learn how to read cases. Additionally, it requires them to discuss these cases in class, often before a large audience. In so doing, students are often confronted with difficult legal and policy questions, which tests their preparation, communication skills, and ability to think on their feet – all of which are essential to being a competent lawyer. That’s why doctrinal courses, particularly in the first year, are so important.

Furthermore, the Socratic method helps students cope with anxiety and uncertainty. Indeed, most students do not know if their professor will call on them in class and, of course, have no idea what questions the professor will ask. Although this may engender anxiety and fear among students, that is not necessarily a bad thing. In law practice, attorneys face anxiety and uncertainty when litigating a case or preparing an oral argument before an appellate court. Helping students to cope with these feelings in a healthy manner is essential to preparing them to succeed in law and in life.

Certainly, if used improperly, such as to embarrass students, the Socratic method can be counterproductive. And the Socratic method alone is not sufficient to prepare students for law practice. But when used responsibly, the Socratic method is an essential component of legal education.

2.    Expand the legal writing curriculum.

Many law schools do not devote sufficient time to training students to be competent legal writers in the real world. For example, some schools only require two semesters of legal writing, in which students draft only a legal memorandum and an appellate brief.

But in law practice, students will not only draft memorandums and appellate briefs. They will be required to draft, among other things, complaints, contracts, motions to dismiss, motions for summary judgment, interrogatories, document requests, and requests for admissions, trial briefs, mediation statements, and settlement agreements. Given this fact, law schools should train students to draft and re-draft the most common litigation and transactional documents; in so doing, students will be more prepared to practice law when they graduate.

In fact, imagine if, over three years, students were required to represent a hypothetical client in a litigation that contains issues from all of their first-year required courses, and that required them to, among other things, conduct a client interview, draft a complaint and answer, file a motion to dismiss, draft discovery documents, conduct depositions, draft a motion for summary judgment and a trial brief, participate in a trial, and draft an appellate brief. And imagine if they had to do so in the order that it would occur in practice. That would truly prepare students to practice law, and it would teach students to learn by doing.

More broadly, law schools should focus on developing their students’ writing skills, such as in classes devoted to editing, rewriting, and revising, and requiring students to draft legal documents in a variety of contexts. Doing so takes time, and certainly more than two or three semesters.

3.    Require students to enroll in at least two clinics.

Law students do not learn how to practice law by memorizing legal principles and regurgitating them on an exam. They learn by, among other things, applying the law to hypothetical and real-world fact patterns, addressing counterarguments effectively, reconciling unfavorable law and facts, and crafting compelling factual and legal narratives. Perhaps most importantly, they learn by practicing like lawyers, namely, representing clients, drafting briefs, performing oral arguments, negotiating with adversaries, and exercising judgment about trial strategy and settlement.

Clinics provide law students with the opportunity to acquire these and other real-world skills, and often in a context that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of individuals who might otherwise lack access to legal representation.

For these and other reasons, law schools (and some already do) should require students to enroll in at least two clinics prior to graduation. After all, the only way to prepare for practice is to actually practice law (under supervised conditions, of course).

4.    Require students to take multiple upper-level practical skills courses.

Most law schools give students the freedom to select most of their upper-level courses. This is certainly understandable, as students are interested in different areas of the legal profession and intend to pursue different paths in law practice. Having an elective-heavy curriculum, however, need not dispense with a focus on practical skills instruction, and theory and practice need not be considered mutually exclusive.

The problem with some upper-level electives is that they have no relationship to practice. For example, courses focusing on comparative jurisprudence, the original meaning of the Privileges and Immunities Clause, or the death penalty, are certainly instructive and probably quite enjoyable. But how do they prepare students for law practice? At the very least, such courses should include practical components, such as the drafting of a complaint, motion, or brief, to merge theory with practice.

After all, in medical school, students are not taking courses on the origins of contraception. They are learning how to practice medicine. Law students, too, should learn how to practice law.

5.    Use “high-pressure” assignments.

The legal profession is demanding and stressful. Partners and clients have high expectations. And in many instances, lawyers are under intense pressure to produce high-quality work under severe time constraints. Indeed, many lawyers can relate to the unfortunate and all-too-common situations (often on a Friday afternoon or holiday weekend) where a partner says, “I need you to draft a motion for injunctive relief immediately and, at the latest, by Monday morning.”

For that reason, law schools should train students to excel under and cope with pressure and high expectations. For example, in upper-level courses, a professor can present students with a distinct legal question and require them to draft a memorandum or prepare for an oral argument within twenty-four hours or require them to draft a response to a motion to dismiss within forty-eight hours. Sure, this will be stressful for the students, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Training students about the realities of law practice will help them to become better lawyers, and to develop the mindset and mental toughness necessary to excel under pressure.

6.    Focus on developing the intangibles, or soft skills.

A high IQ, an excellent LSAT score, a perfect law school GPA, or the best score on the MBE does not mean that a law graduate will be successful in law or in life. Rather, to be a good lawyer, you need the intangibles, or soft skills, that complement raw intelligence.

For example, great lawyers have emotional intelligence. They work harder than almost anyone. They have excellent judgment. They are efficient and organized. They can handle adversity and criticism, and persevere through difficult times. They know how to cooperate and collaborate with other people, including those that they do not like or who have different viewpoints. They know how to communicate with a colleague, a client, and a court. They are humble and honest. They have empathy. And they want to win.

Without the intangibles or soft skills, law graduates will likely not find success in the legal profession – or in life. As such, law schools should focus on developing the intangibles, and this can be accomplished in, for example, clinical courses, where students are required to be part of a team and represent clients in actual cases.

7.    Focus on mindset development – and mental toughness.

In the legal profession and in life, students will encounter substantial and unexpected adversity. They will face unfairness and injustice. They may have to deal with the death of a family member or friend, an abusive colleague, the break-up of a relationship, or an unexpected medical emergency. These and other events, although we all hope to avoid them, will happen.

But law students are not victims. They are not oppressed. They are not powerless. Rather, they have the power – and the choice – to overcome whatever adversity they face because their choices, not their circumstances, determine their destiny.

Of course, as with developing intangible or soft skills, teaching mindset and mental toughness does not necessarily require a separate course. Rather, these lessons can be incorporated into any law school course by a professor who devotes a little time in each class to the mental, not merely the intellectual, aspect of law.

8.    Have high standards.

It’s important to have empathy and compassion for students, and to support them in every way possible as they navigate the difficulties of law school. But that does not mean coddling students, which is one of the worst things an educator can do, or dispensing with high – even very high – standards. Challenging students to be their very best, offering constructive criticism, and demanding excellent work is the hallmark of a great teacher. And invariably, students will fail to meet these expectations. But failure is good thing. It presents students with an opportunity to learn and grow. Most importantly, high standards prepare students for what they will face in the real world.

9.    Teach students to respect diverse viewpoints.

Diversity is a critical component of any educational institution. And among the most important aspects of diversity is teaching students to respect different viewpoints and engage in civil discourse with those with whom they disagree.

For that reason, professors should create a safe and constructive classroom environment in which all viewpoints are welcomed and respected, and where a diversity of perspectives is encouraged. One of the worst things that educators can do is to reveal their political and personal biases in a classroom (and worse, try to ‘indoctrinate’ students) because doing so stifles debate and diversity.

After all, in the real world, students will encounter – and have to work with – people that they disagree with, that they don’t like, and that have backgrounds and experiences entirely different from their own. If they cannot work with and respect such individuals, and realize that their views aren’t necessarily ‘right,’ their path to success – and humility – will be much harder.

***

Ultimately, traditional legal education is not broken. The Socratic Method has served students very well over the years. But a few adjustments can be made to ensure that theory and practice merge in a cohesive manner that prepares students to think and practice like lawyers, and to be good people.

December 16, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Why Judicial Deference Matters Now More Than Ever

As the United States Supreme Court begins a new term, its approval among the public is alarmingly low[1]. Whether driven by the Court’s recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the fact that the justices’ decisions often conveniently coincide with their political beliefs, or the fact that the Court’s composition, rather a principled interpretation of the Constitution, seems to determine whether a right is fundamental, there can be no doubt that the Court’s legitimacy is at stake.[2] Put simply, the Court is now viewed by many as a political institution, where constitutional meaning changes based on whether its current members are conservative or liberal.  

So how can the Court’s legitimacy remain intact and the public’s confidence in the Court be restored?

Certainly not by expanding the Court, which is liberals’ way of saying that they want to put more liberal justices on the Court to reach outcomes that they like. 

Certainly not by endorsing living constitutionalism, which basically means that the justices can manipulate or ignore the Constitution to reach decisions that comport with their subjective policy predilections.[3] Certainly not by having an on-again, off-again relationship with stare decisis, in which the Court’s adherence to precedent depends on whether a majority of the justices are Republicans or Democrats.

And certainly not by listening to the media or, worse, academics’ criticism of the Court, which is as blatantly partisan and equally unprincipled as the Court it so consistently criticizes. Indeed, and quite amazingly, some academics have complained that they now struggle to teach constitutional law, stating that they are ‘traumatized’ by the Court’s recent decisions, which they view as partisan and “results-oriented.”[4] Some have even asserted that decisions such as Dobbs “have unsettled the foundational premises of [their] professional lives,” left them “deeply shaken,” and required their “own personal grieving period” where they look to students to keep them “afloat in darker moments."[5]  

No, this is not a joke. Law professors actually made these statements.

Thankfully, Professor David Bernstein has called out this nonsense:

[T]he fact that the Court is solidly conservative, and the constitutional law professoriate overwhelmingly liberal or further left, is exactly the problem. In the past, the left could count on the Court for sporadic big victories: same-sex marriage, affirmative action, [and] abortion. Now they can't, so they have turned against the Court. We all know that left-leaning lawprofs would be dancing in the streets if SCOTUS were equally aggressive to the left. And indeed, while [Mark Joseph] Stern portrays discontent with the Court as a question of professional standards rather than ideology, he does not manage to find a single right-leaning professor to quote in his article.[6]

That’s because they are practically no conservative law professors in academia – or even the pretense of viewpoint diversity at many law schools.

In any event, how can the Court preserve its institutional legitimacy?

By embracing a more robust form of judicial deference. Put simply, the Court should not invalidate a statute unless it clearly violates a provision in the Constitution, and it should not create a right unless it is based on or reasonably inferable from the Constitution’s text. Thus, when the Constitution is ambiguous and subject to reasonably different interpretations, the Court should defer to the democratic process and not get involved. In so doing, the Court can reduce, at least to some degree, the perception that the existence of constitutional rights and the outcomes of cases depend on whether a majority of the justices are conservative or liberal.

Below are several examples of cases where the Court should have never intervened and where its intervention harmed its legitimacy.

1.    National Federation of Independent Investors v. Sebelius

In National Federation of Independent Investors, the Court addressed whether the Affordable Care Act, including the individual mandate to obtain health coverage, violated the Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the broad power to regulate commerce.[7] The answer to this question, particularly given the Clause’s broad language, is anybody’s guess, and reasonable arguments could be made in favor of and against upholding the Affordable Care Act.  What is known is that both houses of Congress passed and the president signed this legislation. So why did the Court get involved? After all, given that reasonable people could disagree on the Act’s constitutionality, why didn’t the Court simply defer to the coordinate branches and democratic process? That’s anybody’s guess too.

Unfortunately, the Court intervened, and, in a 5-4 decision (predictably divided on partisan lines), the Court upheld most of the Act’s provisions. And Chief Justice Roberts, ostensibly concerned with the Court’s legitimacy, somehow determined that the individual mandate constituted a tax, not a penalty. This reasoning was, to put it mildly, troubling. If the Court was concerned with its legitimacy, it should have never heard the case.

2.    Kennedy v. Louisiana

In Kennedy v. Louisiana, the Court addressed whether a Louisiana law that authorized the death penalty for child rape violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.[8] To be sure, the Eighth Amendment, among other things, was intended to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain when punishing convicted offenders and prohibit sentences that were disproportionate to the severity of the crime. Given this backdrop, the Eighth Amendment’s text, and the Court’s precedent, did the Louisiana law violate the Eighth Amendment?

Who knows. Reasonable jurists can – and did – disagree on this question. What we do know is that Louisiana passed this law democratically.

Accordingly, why did the Court get involved and, in a predictably verbose and wishy-washy 5-4 opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, invalidate the law?

3.    Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC

In Citizens United v. FEC, the Court held in a 5-4 decision that the First Amendment prohibited Congress from restricting independent expenditures by corporations, labor unions, and other associations.[9] And in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Court held, in another 5-4 decision, that limits on individual expenditures to federal and state candidate committees violated the First Amendment right to free speech.[10]

Did the Constitution compel this result? Of course not. The First Amendment protects, among other things, freedom of speech. But does giving money to a political candidate or committee constitute speech? And if so, is the government’s interest in ensuring that wealthy corporations and individuals do not unduly influence elections sufficiently compelling to justify a restriction on this speech? Yet again, reasonable people can disagree.

As such, why did the Court get involved and invalidate legislation that was designed to reduce undue influence by corporations and wealthy individuals in the electoral process?  

4.    Roe v. Wade

There is no need to discuss Roe in detail. Nearly all legitimate constitutional law scholars agree that Roe was a terrible decision. It had no basis in the Constitution’s text, was not inferable from any provision in the text, and was not rooted in history and tradition. Notwithstanding, in Roe, like in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Court invented an unenumerated right out of thin air, thus imposing the subjective values of nine unelected justices on an entire country.[11] And the doctrine upon which Roe was based – substantive due process – was equally as indefensible.

The Court should have never gotten involved. It should have allowed the people to decide whether, and under what circumstances, abortion should be allowed. Although the Court corrected this error in Dobbs, the decision to overrule Roe, which had been the law for nearly fifty years and was affirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, was troubling. Indeed, the only thing that changed since Planned Parenthood was the Court’s composition. Notwithstanding, the fact remains that Roe was the original sin and the product of the Court’s unnecessary meddling in the democratic process.

5.    Clinton v. New York

In Clinton v. New York, the Court addressed whether the Line Item Veto Act of 1996, which authorized the president to repeal portions of statutes that had been passed by both houses of Congress (particularly spending provisions) violated the Constitution’s Presentment Clause.[12] The Clause states in pertinent part that “Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it.”[13]

The Line Item Veto Act, some argued, violated the Presentment Clause because it allowed the president to unilaterally and without Congress’s approval repeal specific provisions of duly enacted legislation. At the same time, however, Congress, on a bipartisan basis, passed the Line Item Veto Act to, among other things, reduce wasteful government spending. Given these facts, and considering the Presentment Clause’s broad language, was the Line Item Veto Act constitutional?

Certainly, reasonable people could disagree on this question. Thus, why not defer to the coordinate branches and to the democratic process? Unfortunately, the Court yet again intervened and, in a 6-3 decision, invalidated the Act. In so doing, it prevented Congress from addressing the problem of wasteful government spending.

6.    Shelby County v. Holder

In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court invalidated Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, which includes a coverage formula that determines which states (based on a history of discrimination) must seek preclearance before enacting changes to their voting laws.[14] Importantly, in 2006 the Senate reauthorized the Act, including Section 4(b), by a unanimous vote.  

Notwithstanding, the Court decided to get involved and, by a 5-4 vote, invalidated Section 4(b). But was it clear that Section 4(b) violated any constitutional provision? No. So why did the Court get involved? Why didn’t the Court defer to the democratic process and to the Senate’s unanimous vote to reauthorize the Act? Again, it’s anybody’s guess.

***

The above cases are just a sample of those in which the Court’s intervention was unnecessary and unwarranted. Unless a statute clearly violates a provision in the Constitution’s text, the Court should defer to the democratic and political process, and it should not create a right unless it is based on or reasonably inferable from the Constitution’s text.

After all, intervening in such circumstances makes the Court appear political and undermines its legitimacy. The Court’s decision in Dobbs highlights this problem. Although the Court was technically correct to overrule Roe, that doesn’t mean that it should have done so. Why? Because the only thing that changed between Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, where the Court reaffirmed Roe’s central holding, was the composition of the Court. Specifically, the Court in 2022 had more conservative members than in 1992, and its decision sent the message that the existence of constitutional rights depends on whether the Court has a majority of conservative or liberal members. It's difficult to understand how Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barret could not grasp this fact.  

To restore its legitimacy, the Court should defer more often to the coordinate branches and adhere to stare decisis on a more consistent basis. That can only happen if the Court stops invalidating laws that do not clearly violate the Constitution, refuses to create rights out of thin air, and does not reverse precedent simply because it has a majority of conservative or liberal jurists.

 

[1] See Jeffrey M. Jones, Supreme Court Trust, Job Approval at Historic Lows, (Sept. 29, 2022), available at: Supreme Court Trust, Job Approval at Historical Lows (gallup.com)

[2] No.19-1392, 597 U.S.     , available at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf

[3] See, e.g., Neil Gorsuch, Why Originalism is the Best Approach to the Constitution (Sep. 6, 2019), available at: Why Originalism Is the Best Approach to the Constitution | Time

[4] Mark Joseph Stern, The Supreme Court is Blowing Up Law School, Too (Oct. 2, 2022), available at: Supreme Court: Inside the law school chaos caused by SCOTUS decisions. (slate.com)

[5] Id.

[6] See David Bernstein, Why Are Constitutional Law Professors Angry at the Supreme Court? (Oct. 3, 2022), available at: Why Are Constitutional Law Professors Angry at the Supreme Court? (reason.com) (emphasis added).

[7] 567 U.S. 519 (2012).

[8] 554 U.S. 407 (2008).

[9] 558 U.S. 310 (2010).

[10] 572 U.S. 183 (2014).

[11] 410 U.S. 113 (1973); 381 U.S. 479 (1965).

[12] 524 U.S. 417 (1998).

[13] U.S. Const., Art. I, Section 7.

[14] 570 U.S. 529 (2013).

October 8, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 24, 2022

In Praise of the Second Edition of The Indigo Book: A Manual of Legal Citation

Most appellate practitioners understand the necessary evil of citations, and some of us even enjoy parts of The Bluebook.  On the other hand, I have concerns about Bluebook cost, frequent Bluebook revisions seemingly for the sake of revising, and allegations of law review happy hours funded by Bluebook sales.  See, e.g., Richard A. Posner, The Bluebook Blues, 120 Yale L. J. 850, 851 (2011); Bryan Garner, The Bluebook's 20th Edition Prompts Many Musings From Bryan Garner, ABA Journal (Aug. 1 2015); https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2022/06/harvard-led-citation-cartel-rakes-in-millions-from-bluebook-manual-monopoly-masks-profits.html.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, California, Florida, and some other states have their own style manuals and do not follow The Bluebook.  Additional states have their own gloss on key Bluebook rules or allow use of other manuals.  Rule 28 of the Alabama Rules of Appellate Procedure, for example, tells counsel to use The Association of Legal Writing Directors Citation Manual: A Professional System of Citation (the ALWD Guide), The Bluebook, or otherwise follow the citation style of the Alabama Supreme Court. 

Happily, those of us in Bluebook jurisdictions have a wonderful alternative, now in its second edition.  The completely free, open source The Indigo Book, which one commentator described as “compatible with The Bluebook [but including] easier-to-use guides,” now has a second edition.  See generally Wendy S. Loquasto, Legal Citation:  Which Guide Should You Use and What Is the Difference?, 91 Fla. Bar J. 39, 42 (2017). 

Here is the final second edition of The Indigo Book, which parallels the twenty-first edition of The Bluebook:  https://indigobook.github.io/versions/indigobook-2.0.html.   Many thanks to Prof. Jennifer Romig of Emory University School of Law, and others, for this resource.  In sharing the second edition, Prof. Romig explained:  “The Indigo Book is a free, open-access citation manual. It is consistent with well-accepted citation practices.”  The new version also “includes enhanced and expanded state-by-state "Local Notes" in Table T3 at the back,” along with “commentary and critique” in “Indigo Inkling” boxes.  Prof. Romig thanked many in our legal writing community who helped her create this wonderful resource, especially David Ziff, and noted “Alexa Chew's work is cited twice.” 

The original Indigo Book was a light-hearted, yet serious resource, which raised important questions about monopoly, ethics, and bias.  Prof. Romig promised, “in general the [second edition] attempts to engage with ongoing conversations about citation ethics and practice, while staying true to its main function as a rule-based manual with examples.”  In my opinion, the second edition of The Indigo Book succeeds in these missions, and I urge you to share this resource with students and practitioners.  

September 24, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Books, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Tips for Writing a Persuasive Reply Brief

Reply briefs give litigants an opportunity to refute an adversary’s arguments and enhance the persuasiveness of their position. Below are several tips on how to maximize the effectiveness of a reply brief.

1.    Begin with a concise and powerful introduction.

Your reply brief should begin with a short but powerful introduction that: (a) provides a brief overview of the case; (b) includes a roadmap of your arguments; and (c) refutes the arguments made in your adversary’s brief. One way to do this is by using the Rule of Three, namely, identifying three specific flaws in your adversary’s arguments and explaining why they lack merit.

After all, you can be fairly confident that, after reading your adversary’s brief, the court will have questions or concerns about some of the points that you made in your initial brief. Anticipating those concerns and responding briefly but effectively to them in the introduction will enhance the quality and persuasiveness of your brief.

2.    Focus on what your adversary did not say.

Often, what your adversary did not say is equally, if not more, important than what your adversary did say. For example, your adversary may fail to address unfavorable precedent or fail to acknowledge unfavorable facts. Be sure to expose these omissions in your reply brief, as doing so will undermine your adversary’s credibility and strengthen the persuasiveness of your argument.

3.    Respond to some of your adversary’s arguments.

The purpose of a reply brief is to respond to your adversary’s arguments, not to repeat your arguments. In so doing, however, you do not need to respond to all of your adversary’s arguments.  If your adversary includes weak or irrelevant arguments, you need not – and should not – respond because it will give undue credibility to those arguments. Instead, respond only to arguments that have at least some merit and that the court is likely to consider when deciding your case. Likewise, do not point out minor or inconsequential errors that will have no bearing on the outcome of your case.

Of course, in responding to your adversary’s arguments, make sure that you maintain your credibility. For example, never misstate your adversary’s arguments. Acknowledge unfavorable facts and law. Never overstate the value of precedent. If you make one of these mistakes, you will undermine your credibility and your likelihood of success.

4.    Do not repeat the arguments that you made in your initial brief – but briefly remind the court of those arguments.

The worst thing that you can do in a reply brief is to repeat the arguments you made in your initial brief. Doing so will add no value to your position and will fail to respond to your adversary’s arguments, which is the purpose of a reply brief. Indeed, merely repeating your arguments will affect your credibility with the court, which will affect your likelihood of success.

Importantly, however, you should briefly remind the court of the arguments that you made in your initial brief and of the relief that you are seeking, which can be done at the end of your introduction or legal argument. The reason for doing so is that the reply brief may be the first document that the judge reads in your case.

5.    Write your reply brief with the expectation that it may be the first document that the judge reads in your case.

Some judges and law clerks will begin reviewing your case by reading the reply brief first. Accordingly, your reply brief should include the facts and precedent necessary to understand the relevant legal issues.  This does not mean, of course, that you should regurgitate every fact and case from your initial brief; rather, you should dedicate a portion in the introduction to framing the legal issues, telling the court what you want (i.e., the remedy you are seeking) and explaining briefly why you should win. The remainder should be devoted to refuting your adversary's arguments.

6.    Maintain consistency with your initial brief.

Make sure that you represent the facts and law precisely as you did in your initial brief. In many instances, for example, you may paraphrase or summarize some of the facts or arguments that you made in the initial brief. In so doing, be careful not to say anything that could be construed as inconsistent with (or overstating) what you wrote in the initial brief. Simply put, be honest and candid with the court because your credibility matters as much, if not more, than the validity of your arguments.

7.    Keep it short and re-enforce your theme.

Your reply brief should be both concise and comprehensive, in which you refute your adversary’s arguments, highlight the most favorable facts and law, and re-enforce the theme of your case. An overly lengthy reply brief may lend unnecessary credibility to your adversary’s arguments or suggest that you lack confidence in your arguments. As such, keep it short, tight, and to the point.

8.    End strong.

A reply brief gives you the last word. Make it count. For example, if you could state in one sentence why you should win, what would you say? If you knew that the court would only remember what you said at the end of your reply brief, what would you say? Think about that and make sure to draft a powerful ending to your brief.

 

 

September 10, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Characteristics of the Best Appellate Advocates

The best appellate advocates possess certain skills and abilities that often place them among the most distinguished attorneys in the legal profession. Below is a list of characteristics that distinguish the best appellate lawyers from the rest.

1.    They are highly intelligent and analytical.

The best appellate advocates are highly intelligent and possess exceptional analytical and critical thinking skills. These lawyers know, among other things, how to tell a compelling story, research efficiently, synthesize voluminous case law, present complex facts and legal concepts in a straightforward manner, distinguish unfavorable precedent, spot the nuances that each case presents, and make persuasive legal arguments. And they exercise great judgment, particularly when confronted with incomplete information or unsettled law. Simply put, intelligence matters, and the best appellate advocates are often among the brightest in the legal profession.

2.    They have the intangibles.

The best appellate advocates know that intelligence is necessary, but not sufficient, to succeed in the legal profession. These advocates work extremely hard and prepare better than almost anyone. They are incredibly resilient and disciplined. They persevere and know how to cope with adversity. They excel under pressure. They are empathetic and they are passionate about their work. They have common sense, good judgment, and emotional intelligence, and they know how to relate to people. In short, the best appellate advocates possess intangible – and often unteachable – qualities that cannot be measured by an LSAT score or a grade on a final examination.

3.    They are objective in assessing the merits of an appeal.

The best appellate lawyers are objective and honest in assessing the validity of a legal argument, particularly given the standard of review, unfavorable facts, and unfavorable law. They place themselves in the shoes of the opposing party and, in so doing, identify the flaws in their arguments. They do not have tunnel vision. They are not guided by emotion. They do not convince themselves that meritless legal arguments have a chance of succeeding on appeal, and they do not throw every possible legal argument against the wall in an appellate brief, hoping that one will stick.

4.    They know how to select issues for an appeal.

The best appellate lawyers know how to identify issues in the record that have the best chance of succeeding on appeal. As stated above, they do not appeal every conceivable mistake made by the lower court and throw every possible argument against the wall, hoping that one will stick. Instead, they exercise judgment based on their experience, knowledge, and the standard of review. For example, they will, in most instances, appeal errors of law, not fact, because errors of law are subject to de novo review. And they will present only the strongest legal arguments on appeal and support them with compelling facts and precedent.

5.    They are exceptional writers.

The best appellate advocates know how to write and communicate persuasively. They draft outstanding appellate briefs (see, e.g., John Roberts’ brief in Alaska v. EPA) that, among other things, have a strong theme, begin with a compelling introduction, tell a powerful story, use precedent effectively, and distinguish unfavorable facts and law convincingly. They draft briefs that address counterarguments thoroughly and persuasively. They know how to use various literary techniques to capture the audience’s attention and enhance the readability of their brief. They draft and re-draft their brief (often countless times), making line and copy edits to ensure that the brief is as close to perfect – in style and substance – as possible. In so doing, they produce a first-rate product, which enhances their credibility with the court and the legitimacy of their argument.

6.    They are outstanding oral advocates.

The best appellate lawyers are exceptional oral advocates. They know how to persuade an audience using verbal and non-verbal techniques. They are prepared. They present well-organized and convincing legal arguments. They are skilled at answering the judges’ questions concisely and effectively. They are never flustered. They have outstanding memories and can recall precedents and facts in the record without notes. In short, they own the courtroom.

7.    They are extremely thorough and methodical.

The best appellate lawyers thoroughly and methodically review the underlying record and relevant law. They know how to research efficiently and never fail to identify a relevant case, statutory provision, or regulation. They are skilled at identifying, among other things, subtle errors or inconsistencies in the record and flaws in evidentiary rulings. And they do so carefully and intentionally; they take the time to review and reflect upon the record, the possible appealable issues, and the likelihood of success on the merits.

8.    They are confident.

The best appellate advocates know that perception – and appearance – matter just as much as reality. They have confidence and, quite frankly, swagger. They never appear nervous. They conduct themselves as if every development in the courtroom, however unexpected, is precisely what they anticipated. They are never surprised or taken off guard by the judges’ questions. They do not get emotional. They do not exude arrogance or hubris. Instead, they are prepared, self-assured, and unflappable. As stated above, they own the courtroom.

9.    They win.

As Vince Lombardi said, “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” The best appellate advocates win consistently. They sustain their success over years. They are the best of the best.

August 27, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Honest Advice for Incoming Law Students

Incoming law students undoubtedly receive a substantial amount of advice regarding how to succeed in law school and the legal profession. Below is some honest advice based on experience and the realities of law practice.

1.    Focus on developing your analytical thinking and writing skills.

Great lawyers are extremely intelligent. They have exceptional analytical thinking and persuasive writing skills. Thus, in law school, you should focus predominantly on developing these skills.

Regarding your analytical thinking skills, learn, for example, how to quickly extract the rule of law from a case, synthesize rules from different cases, distinguish unfavorable facts and legal authority, reason by analogy, address counterarguments effectively, present a logical argument, and explain why the policy implications of a ruling in your favor lead to the fairest and most just result.

Concerning your writing skills, focus on, among other things, writing concisely and in plain language, presenting a well-structured and logical argument, crafting a compelling narrative, and avoiding common mistakes, such as unnecessary repetition, overly long paragraphs, over-the-top language, and spelling and grammatical errors.

2.    Your grades and class rank are incredibly important.

Your grades and class rank largely determine your prospects of obtaining membership on your school’s law review, being selected for a clerkship, and receiving job offers from prestigious law firms. Accordingly, from day one, focus on achieving the highest grade possible on your law school exams. In so doing, manage your time effectively, purchase the LEEWS legal essay exam writing system (www.leews.com), buy commercial outlines, such as Emanuel Law School outlines, take practice exams, use the IRAC/CRAC method in answering your exam questions, draft concise outlines, and learn the rules of law for each subject (not the facts of the cases you studied).[1] Finally, read Getting to Maybe: How to Excel in Law School Exams.[2]

Also, do not worry about performing well in class when the professor calls on you or about impressing your classmates with incisive questions or comments. This has no (or a very minimal) impact on your grade. Additionally, do not brief cases. Instead, learn the black-letter law and practice applying the law to hypothetical fact patterns. And learn how to draft an answer that flows logically, considers all relevant perspectives, and arrives at a reasonable conclusion.

Having said this, law schools provide wonderful opportunities to network, get involved in student organizations, and participate in other extracurricular activities. You should take advantage of these opportunities. But at the end of the day, grades and class ranking are what matter.

3.    Your soft skills matter too.

To be a great lawyer, it is not enough to be extremely intelligent and a gifted writer. Although these skills are critical to your success, they are not sufficient to ensure a successful legal career.

Great lawyers have humility. They have strong interpersonal skills. They have emotional intelligence. They listen. They know how to work collaboratively and accept constructive criticism. They have common sense and exercise good judgment. They know how to manage their time and work efficiently. They know how to communicate effectively, think creatively, and adapt to new circumstances. And ideally, they are nice people; they are respectful and decent, not arrogant and narcissistic.

When you begin law school, you will undoubtedly confront students who are jerks and it will not take long to spot them. Typically, they think they are better than everyone else. They have the emotional maturity of a five-year-old. They gossip. They ask you what your LSAT score was and what grade you received on your exams. These losers should be avoided at all costs. And when they become lawyers (or, worse, married), their prospects for success will diminish (and the likelihood of divorce increase) because of their personality. Do not be like these people – or associate with them.

4.    Lose your idealism and be realistic about what law practice entails.

When you begin your law school career, you will almost certainly be overwhelmed with platitudes about the law and a legal career. For example, you may hear statements to the effect of “the law is a noble calling and the vehicle by which you can achieve a more just and equal society,” or “lawyers are the agents of social change whose mission is to change the world and make a transformative difference in people’s lives.”

This sounds wonderful. But it is not the reality of what you will be doing as a lawyer. So, if your reason for going to law school is to “make a difference” and to “change the world,” you are going to be disappointed.

Most competent graduates will obtain jobs in private law firms that do litigation and transactional work. They will represent, for example, banks, corporations, developers, universities, and hospitals. They will work long hours under stressful conditions. They will spend most of their time drafting pleadings, motions, briefs, and discovery, taking depositions, dealing with difficult clients, and negotiating settlement offers. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this; lawyers provide a vital service to these clients and ensure that their legal rights are protected.

But disabuse yourself of the notion that you are going to change the world. And be honest with yourself about the realities of the world. If you think that most criminal defendants are innocent, you are delusional. If you think that the vast majority of law enforcement officers are racist and that most prosecutors spend their time convicting innocent people, you are mistaken. Not to mention, the majority of cases result in a plea bargain (or in civil cases, a settlement).

This is not to say that the practice of law is not a noble undertaking; indeed, lawyers have been responsible for protecting civil rights and liberties and achieving greater social and constitutional protections for citizens. It is to say, however, that this is not the common or everyday experience of most lawyers.

5.    Be mindful of incurring too much debt.

As has been well-documented, many law students incur crushing, six-figure, non-dischargeable debt and, upon graduation, struggle to find a job to justify that debt. Do not be one of those people.

Now, this does not mean that incurring debt is always a bad thing. If, for example, you are accepted to Yale, Harvard, Stanford, or Chicago, and intent on being a litigator at a large law firm, the debt you incur will likely represent a small fraction of your career earnings. But if you are accepted at a fourth-tier law school where only some graduates obtain full-time jobs in law firms and make modest salaries – and you are not offered a substantial scholarship – you should probably not attend.

Ultimately, make sure to review a law school’s American Bar Association 509 report to assess, among other things, the employment outcomes of its graduates, the types of jobs that graduates obtain, and their average starting salary.

6.    Take care of your physical and mental health.

It is no secret that many lawyers are unhappy and that the practice of law is stressful. This should not be surprising; how would you feel if you had to spend hours, days, and years reviewing documents, answering interrogatories, responding to nonsensical motions, and dealing with difficult clients (and unpleasant colleagues who somehow managed to find their way into the legal profession).

To be sure, one survey found that 45% of lawyers suffer from depression, and 36% struggle with substance abuse issues.[3] And approximately 28% of lawyers get divorced, a number that is likely higher for those who work in large law firms.[4]

Given these facts, when entering law school and the legal profession, be sure to prioritize your physical and mental health. Develop healthy coping skills to deal with stress and adversity. Ask for help when you need it. If you are depressed or struggling with anxiety, for example, seek professional help and try cognitive behavioral therapy. Experiment with meditation. Exercise. Focus on getting optimal nutrition, take supplements if needed (e.g., multivitamins, fish oil), and get sufficient sleep. Have a personal life and pursue interests and activities that are unrelated to the law. If you allow law practice to control your life, you will find yourself burned out, unhappy, and unfulfilled.

Perhaps most importantly, avoid the common pitfalls. Do not abuse alcohol or drugs to manage stress. And do not be a victim. Do not blame others – or circumstances – for your problems. Take ownership of your life – and your choices.

7.    Be honest with yourself about what you want – and whether a legal career will make you happy.

As you proceed in your law school career, be honest with yourself. Are you passionate about becoming a lawyer? Do you understand fully the demands of law practice? Can you manage the stress, the long hours, and the difficult clients? Are you comfortable with drafting countless motions and briefs, and engaging in prolonged discovery? Are you willing to accept less time with family, friends, and partners? Can you accept the fact that, as a lawyer, you are probably not going to change the world and be the lead counsel in a landmark case before the United States Supreme Court?

If the answer is no, do not be afraid to make a change. At the end of the day, your happiness matters more than anything, and if you are not passionate about, and willing to make personal sacrifices for, a legal career, it may not be worth pursuing. Having the courage to make a change now will benefit you for a lifetime. Simply put, do what is right for you, not what others expect of you, or what you think you should do.

Life is short, and there is much more to life than law. Your family, your relationships, and your friends are far more important than winning a summary judgment motion or an appeal. So put yourself – and your happiness – first.

 

[1] See, e.g., www.leews.com Order Audio (CD) Program (incl. Primer [10th edition]) or Primer Alone (leews.com); Emanuel Law Outlines: Constitutional Law, Thirty-First Edition (Emanual Law Outlines): Steven L. Emanuel: 9781454824817: Amazon.com: Books

[2] Richard Fischl & Jeremy Paul, Getting to Maybe: How to Excel in Law School Exams (Brown Co., 1st ed. 1999), available at: Buy Getting to Maybe: How to Excel in Law School Exams Book Online at Low Prices in India | Getting to Maybe: How to Excel in Law School Exams Reviews & Ratings - Amazon.in.

[3] See Priscilla Henson, Addiction and Substance Abuse in Lawyers: Statistics to Know (July 5, 2022), available at: Addiction & Substance Abuse in Lawyers: Statistics to Know (americanaddictioncenters.org)

[4] See Leslie Satterlee, A Fool For a Client: Why Lawyers Should Not Represent Themselves in Divorce, available at: A Fool for a Client: Why Lawyers Should Not Represent Themselves in Divorce – woodnicklaw.com; Harrison Barnes, Why Big Law Firms Attorneys Are So Likely to Get Divorced: Stressed, Tired, Mad and With Nothing More to Give, available at: Why Big Law Firms Attorneys Are So Likely to Get Divorced: Stressed, Tired, Mad and With Nothing More to Give | BCGSearch.com

August 13, 2022 in Law School, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, August 8, 2022

Advice to 1Ls--Part I

In the next few weeks, a new class of law students will flock to law school campuses for orientation and the start of classes. If you are one of those new students--welcome! Over the next few weeks, you will be inundated with advice on how to survive law school. Allow me to chime in with advice gathered from a decade plus of teaching and attending law school twice--one as a student and once as the spouse of a law student. Because this blog is focused on appellate advocacy, I will give a few tips too for students interested in an appellate career. I am going to post 5 tips this week and 5 more next week.

#1—Read the syllabus, the course website, and emails from your professor. Before your class starts, you should carefully review the course documents. These documents should give you valuable information about the course, and your professor will expect you to be informed on what they contain—like due dates and formatting rules.  These course documents are similar to court rules, something that you as an attorney will be expected to know and follow when handling a matter.

#2—Go to office hours. Chances are really good that your professors are a cool group of people with vast legal experience and connections. You should get to know your professors by visiting them in office hours. Ask them questions about the course, ask them questions about the practice of law, ask them questions about their careers. These visits will provide you will valuable information about the course and about possible legal careers. It will also help your professors write you letters of recommendation since they will know who you are apart from the in-class experience.

#3—Go to cool events on campus.  Is there a judge coming to talk to a student group? Perhaps an alum is giving a talk on their niche practice area? Maybe a court is hearing oral argument on a case. Whatever it is, try to go to these events. Not only will you likely get free food, but you will also learn something new. When I was in law school I got to meet the Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox and his wife of 70 years. He was being honored with a portrait unveiling and the whole Harvard Law community was invited. I was surprised that few students attended, but I am glad that I went!

#4—Recognize that you will probably suffer from imposter syndrome. Unfortunately, at some point during your 1L year you will probably suffer from imposter syndrome, meaning you will think that you only got into law school by some sort of lucky (or maybe unlucky) mistake and you are not worthy to be a law student. Imposter syndrome stinks but is also very prevalent. I had (sometimes still have) it. I suspect that most law students do too. Law school is hard and overwhelming, especially for first generation students. I would encourage you to talk to a trusted mentor about your feelings, and maybe even some close law school friends or faculty if you feel comfortable. You will be surprised what you hear!

#5—Understand that the amount that you talk in class rarely correlates with good grades. I am not telling you to not participate in class—you should participate. But please understand that those students who talk all the time (we called them gunners) do not have their #&*$ together any more than you do. Nearly everyone in your class is struggling to adapt to law school.

August 8, 2022 in Law School | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 30, 2022

The Hallmarks of a Great Appellate Brief

Writing an excellent appellate brief is an arduous task. The quality of your writing, coupled with how you organize and present your arguments, can make the difference between winning and losing. Below are a few tips that can enhance the persuasive value of your appellate brief.

1.    Start strong and get to the point quickly.

Writing an appellate brief is, in many ways, like writing a fiction novel or directing a movie. Great books and movies begin powerfully, with a riveting opening chapter or scene. Likewise, in an appellate brief, you should begin with a persuasive introduction that captures the reader’s attention and that does the following:

  • Tells the court in one sentence why you should win.
  • States clearly what remedy you are seeking.
  • Explains why the court should rule in your favor.
  • Presents the strongest facts and legal authority that support your argument.

Drafting a powerful, persuasive, and concise introduction is your first – and often most important – opportunity to convince a court to rule in your favor. 

2.    Focus on the facts.

In most instances, the facts – not the law -- win cases.

An outstanding appellate brief, like a great fiction novel or academy award-winning movie, tells a compelling story. That story, among other things, is well-written, flows logically, keeps the reader’s attention, emphasizes the facts most favorable to your position, explains why unfavorable facts do not affect the outcome you seek, and demonstrates why a ruling in your favor is the fairest and most just result.

To be sure, laws, statutes, and constitutional provisions are often broadly worded and subject the different interpretations, and precedent is usually distinguishable. For example, determining whether a particular search is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, or whether a punishment is cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment, depends substantially on the court’s independent judgment and, to a lesser extent, subjective values.

As such, a court’s ruling is likely to turn on the facts of each case, which makes your statement of facts the most critical section of your brief. A powerful statement of facts, like a compelling introduction, can often determine your likelihood of winning.

3.    Adopt a more objective tone.

Appellate judges understand that your job is to advocate zealously on your client’s behalf. The best advocacy, however, is often achieved by adopting a more objective tone that does the following:

  • Confronts effectively and persuasively the weaknesses in your argument (e.g., by distinguishing unfavorable facts and precedent).
  • Explains how a ruling in your favor will affect future cases and litigants.
  • Considers the policy implications of a ruling in your favor.
  • Addresses institutional considerations, such as how the public might react to a ruling in your favor.
  • Acknowledges the merits of the adversary’s argument but explains why your argument produces the most desirable result.

Focusing on these issues will enhance your credibility with the court and demonstrate that you have fully considered the competing factual, legal, and policy aspects of your case.

4.    Break the rules – sometimes.

When writing, rewriting, and revising your brief, do not focus exclusively or even predominantly on, for example, whether every sentence complies with the Texas Manual of Style, whether you have eliminated the passive voice, or whether you avoided using italics or bold.

Instead, focus on whether your story is compelling and consider whether your brief accomplishes the following goals, among others:

  • Captures the reader’s attention from the beginning.
  • Emphasizes the most favorable facts and law immediately and throughout the brief.
  • Appeals to emotion where appropriate.
  • Exposes the logical flaws in your adversary’s argument.
  • Uses metaphors or other literary devices to enhance persuasion.
  • Ends powerfully.

Sometimes, this requires you to break the rules. For example, assume that you are appealing a jury verdict against your client, a popular media personality, on the ground that one of the jurors lied on the jury questionnaire to conceal biases against your client. On appeal, you write the following:

During jury selection, potential jurors were asked whether they harbored any disdain for or bias toward my client, who is a controversial public figure due to his perceived conservative views. Juror No. 16, who was empaneled on the jury, stated that “I do not dislike or have any bias toward the defendant. I respect diverse points of view because they are important to ensuring the free exchange of ideas.” After the jury reached its verdict, however, an article on Juror No. 16’s blog surfaced that stated, “any conservative media commentator should burn in hell, and I would do anything to erase these people from the planet.”  Additionally, one week after the verdict, when Juror No. 16 was questioned about this comment, he stated, “Look, I don’t give a s*** what people say about me. Sometimes, the ends justify the means, and I did what I did because people like that jerk need to be silenced.” Surely, Juror No 16’s first comment unquestionably supports overturning the jury’s verdict. But if there is any doubt, Juror No 16’s second comment was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

This is not perfect, of course, but you get the point. Sometimes, to maximize persuasion, you must break the rules.

5.    Perception is reality – do not make mistakes that undermine your credibility.

Never make mistakes that suggest to the court that you lack credibility. This will occur if your brief contains the following mistakes, among others:

  • Spelling errors
  • Long sentences (i.e., over twenty-five words)
  • Excessively long paragraphs (e.g., one paragraph occupying an entire page)
  • Failure to comply with the local court rules
  • Over-the-top language (e.g., unnecessary adjectives, insulting the lower court or adversary)
  • Inappropriate language (e.g., “the respondent’s arguments are ridiculous and stupid”)
  • Fancy or esoteric words (e.g., “the appellant’s meretricious argument ipso facto exacerbates what is an already sophomoric and soporific argument that, inter alia, manifests a duplicitous attempt to obfuscate the apposite issues.”) This sentence is so bad that writing something like this in a brief should be a criminal offense.
  • Avoiding unfavorable facts or law
  • Requesting relief that the court is not empowered to grant
  • Including irrelevant facts or law in your brief (and including unnecessary string cites)

Avoid making these and other mistakes at all costs.

6.    The law will only get you so far; convince the court that it is doing the right thing by ruling for you.

Ask yourself whether your argument produces the fairest and most just result. Judges are human beings. They want to do the right thing. They do not go to sleep at night saying, “I feel so good about my decision today because I made sure that we executed an innocent person.” Put simply, judging is both a legal and moral endeavor. As such, convince a judge that the result you seek is the right result as a matter of law and justice.

July 30, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Rhetoric | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 23, 2022

In Praise of Bryan Garner’s Approach to Minimizing Passive Voice

Many of my students believe I “prohibit” any use of passive voice.  I certainly discourage passive voice, especially in objective writing.  As I explained in past blogs, I even use E-Prime sometimes, avoiding “to be” verbs to assist with clarity.  As Bryan Garner explained in his 2019 Michigan Bar Journal piece:  “Stylists agree” passive voice is “generally weaker than active voice.  It requires two extra words, and the subject of the sentence isn’t performing the action of the verb--you’re backing into the sentence with the recipient of the action. And the actor either is identified in a prepositional phrase or is missing altogether.”  Bryan Garner, Eliminate Zombie Nouns and Minimize Passive Voice, 98 Mich. B.J. 34  (Dec. 2019).   

However, I also remind students passive can help occasionally, such as when brief writers deliberatively de-emphasize their clients’ acts with language like “the bank was robbed.”  Garner has nice notes on this as well, explaining passive voice “does have its place” where the “recipient of the action may be more important than the actor (e.g., the defendant was convicted)” or “the actor may be unknown (e.g., the building was vandalized),” or where “passive voice simply sounds better,” for example, like moving “a punch word to the end of a sentence for impact (e.g., our client’s bail has been revoked).”  Id. at 34.

As I pulled together fall reading materials for my incoming 1Ls, I was struck—again—by how much we can learn from Garner’s examples on spotting and removing passive voice.   Garner asks us to count the passive voice examples in this passage:

In Reich v Chez Robert, Inc, the court found that § 203(m) required three conditions to be met before an employer can lawfully reduce the amount paid to an employee by a tip credit: (1) the employer must inform each employee that a minimum wage is required by law; (2) the employer must inform each employee of the dollar amount of the minimum wage; and (3) the employee must actually keep the tips received. It is clear under the law that vague assertions of the restaurant’s compliance with the notice provision of §203(m) do not constitute compliance. Instead, testimony regarding specific conversations where the provisions of the Act were explained to an employee must be provided.

Then Garner says, “Guess what? Few law-review editors could accurately spot every passive-voice construction in that passage.”  Id. at 35.   Students who struggle to remove passives will rejoice reading this, but the true help in Garner’s article is the way he shows us how to edit even more precisely than those law-review editors.   

I especially like Garner’s explanation:  “From a mechanical point of view, passive voice has two parts: a be-verb (e.g., is, are, was, were) and a past participle (e.g., broken, sued, considered, delivered).”  Id.  Thus, we should “[w]atch for two things when trying to spot passive voice. First, some constructions that appear passive really just involve a past participial adjective: He was embarrassed. Now, if you make that He was embarrassed by Jane, then it is passive (because embarrassed then functions as a verb); but with embarrassed alone at the end, it’s just a participial adjective.”  Id

This “subtle point” can be lost on struggling students, but they can gain understanding with Garner’s second point:  “the be-verb may not actually appear in the sentence. It may be what grammarians call an “understood” word, as in the amount charged will vary (the full sense of the phrase is that is charged) or the fee set by the trustees (the complete relative clause is that is set).”  Garner tells us, “[t]hese constructions with implied be-verbs are indeed passive.”  Id.

Returning to the challenge passage, Garner says there are six passives:  “(1) to be met, (2) paid, (3) is required, (4) received, (5) were explained, and (6) be provided.”  Id.  Looking for these passives can be a nice group or in-class exercise, and students can gain understanding from reviewing this example together.   Garner notes we can all “take some extra credit” if we spot “paid” and “received,” as “they have understood be-verbs, to be paid and that are received.”  Id

Finally, I would ask students to re-write this passage, with the most direct language possible.  Students, and lawyers, can then compare their revisions to Garner’s: 

In Reich v Chez Robert, Inc, the court found that § 203(m) requires an employer to meet three conditions before reducing the employee’s tip credit. First, the employer must inform each employee that the law imposes a minimum wage. Second, the employer must say what that wage is. It isn’t enough for the restaurant to assert vaguely that it has complied with either requirement; the court will require clear testimony about specific conversations in which the employer explained the Act. Third, the employee must actually keep the tips.

Id.  Garner removed what he calls “zombie nouns” along with passive voice, and made the  “reader’s job” much easier.  Id.  Hopefully, this exercise will help you add clarity to your own writing, and give you an interesting tool to teach others.

July 23, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Bluebooking

A recurring discussion on #AppellateTwitter and #LegalWriting Twitter is the importance (or lack thereof) of proper citation format. A recent post said that time spent learning to cite properly was not time well spent. I don’t take the author of that post to mean that citations are unimportant, but the view expresses a writer-centric view of citations rather than a reader-centric view. As writers, and particularly as appellate advocates, we must take a reader-centric view of writing. So, let me explain why I think that time spent learning to cite properly is time well spent.

First, and most obviously, your reader needs to be able to easily find what you’re citing. Judges and their law clerks are busy people. Why make it more difficult for the people who you are trying to persuade to find your source? You must do the work so that they don’t have to.

Next, as Professor Alexa Chew explains in Citation Literacy,[1] citations provide the law-trained reader with important information about the weight of the cited authority.[2] Is it binding or only persuasive? Is it a recent case or well-settled law?[3] Is what is being cited from a concurring or dissenting opinion? All of those things matter to the reader. If you omit part of a citation, or worse, incorrectly cite a source, you’re depriving your reader of important information.

Finally, and as Professor Tracy L. M. Norton pointed out in a post responding to the original Tweet, judges and law clerks use adherence to proper citation format as a proxy for your diligence and attention to detail. I know this to be true from my experience as a law clerk and from talking to other law clerks and to judges. A writer who doesn’t take the time to put citations into proper format is often assumed to have neglected other matters in their writing. Because let’s face it, it doesn’t take much effort to format most citations properly. The answers are right there in the citation manual. You just have to spend some time looking them up.

That said, I don’t mean that you are expected to properly format every part of every citation. It won’t matter if the comma is italicized when it shouldn’t be. What I’m suggesting is that it’s important to do your best to properly format citations so that your reader will know that you pay attention to detail. Doing so will reflect well on you and your work.

Oh, and one practical tip. Don’t blindly rely on the “copy with reference” feature of your favorite online legal research platform. The citations produced by those features are not always correct. For example, the Supreme Court of Ohio has its own citation manual. The Ohio “copy with reference” feature of one legal research platform produces this citation for an Ohio trial court case: State v. Vita, 2015 WL 7069789 (Ohio Com.Pl.) The correct citation format is State v. Vita, Clermont C.P. No. 2015 CR 0071, 2015 WL 7069789 (Oct. 29, 2015).

 

[1] Alexa Z. Chew, Citation Literacy, 70 Ark. L. Rev. 869 (2018).

[2] Id. at 872-73.

[3] We’ll leave what “well-settled” law is for another day.

June 28, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Rhetoric | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 4, 2022

A Few Commonsense Tips on How to Persuade Judges (and People)

It’s not that difficult to be persuasive. Below are a few tips to increase the persuasive value of your arguments.

1.    Keep it simple, talk like a normal human being, and get out of the weeds.

If you want to persuade a court (or anyone), simplify your narrative. Think of it this way: if you had only one sentence to explain why a court should rule in your favor, what would you say? If you had only thirty seconds to explain why the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms, what would you say? Simplifying your narrative, making complex concepts easily understandable, and staying “out of the weeds” is critical to effective advocacy.

After all, judges (and people generally) have short attention spans. They’re busy and often under considerable stress. So, get to the point immediately and do so in a manner that makes your argument clear and persuasive. Use simple words. Don’t state the obvious. Make sure your argument is structured logically and presented concisely. And get to the bottom line – quickly. Tell the court what you want and why it should rule in your favor. Consider the following example of an attorney arguing that there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment:

Attorney: May it please the Court, the First Amendment is a bedrock, indeed the backbone, of our freedom in this country. As the historical record shows, the First Amendment was designed to create a marketplace of ideas in which the perspectives and political views of individuals from all segments of society must be respected and unregulated. As the federalist papers demonstrate, as John Marshall argued in 1788, and as countless law review articles that nobody reads confirm, the First Amendment is the essential safeguard of, and the impregnable sanctuary protecting, citizens’ right to disseminate commentary on matters apposite to political and social discourse. To be sure, the First Amendment is the catalyst for a democracy that can withstand the threats that tyranny poses and that authoritarianism endorses.

This is utterly ridiculous. If anything, this nonsense supports restricting First Amendment rights, if for no other reason than to spare the court from having to listen to this gibberish. A better approach would be as follows:

Attorney: The First Amendment protects unpopular, offensive, and distasteful speech to ensure that individuals can share diverse perspectives on matters of public concern. A hate speech exception would, by intent and in effect, allow the government to prohibit speech based on disagreement with its viewpoint and content. And the subjectivity inherent in this determination would present a threat to citizens of every political persuasion.

Again, this isn’t perfect, but you get the point. Keep it simple and direct.

2.    Address the court’s questions and concerns.

Judges don’t care about what you want to argue. They care about whether you can address their concerns and respond in a way that makes them want to rule in your favor. For that reason, your answers to the court’s questions are critical to your chances of succeeding on the merits. If you evade a court’s questions, both your credibility and the persuasiveness of your argument will diminish substantially.

Imagine, for example, a relationship where a husband is upset because his wife is working long hours and not dedicating sufficient time to the relationship. Consider the following dialogue:

Husband: I feel like you don’t care about our relationship. You work at the law firm seven days a week and talk more about the Fourteenth Amendment than you do about our future. It’s like I don’t matter to you at all.

Wife: Look, I work eighty hours a week and without my salary, we wouldn’t be able to live in this house or send our kids to the best schools. I’m not expecting a medal, but a thank you now and then would be nice.

Yeah, these two are likely headed for a divorce – and for good reason. Why? Because the wife didn’t acknowledge and address the husband’s concern and therefore made no attempt to resolve the conflict. If you do this as an advocate, your argument will likely fail. Consider, for example, the following dialogue between an attorney and a justice on the United States Supreme Court:

Justice on Supreme Court: Counselor, Roe v. Wade is not based on any reasonable interpretation of the Constitution’s text and is based on a theory – substantive due process – that makes no sense. Where in the Constitution can this Court find a right to abort a pregnancy?

Attorney: Your Honor, Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land for fifty years, and overturning Roe now would seem like a brazenly political decision.

That nonsensical response is the equivalent of saying, I don’t care about your question or your concerns. Such an approach will diminish your credibility, reduce the persuasiveness of your argument, and alienate the justices. A better response would be as follows:

The right to abortion is firmly rooted in the liberty protected under the Fourteenth Amendment, which this Court has affirmed numerous times, such as in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and this right reflects the underlying purpose of the text, which is to ensure the liberty, equality, and bodily autonomy of all persons.

This response, although not perfect, responds directly to the justice’s concerns.

3.    Acknowledge weaknesses in your argument.

Nobody is perfect, as the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial so clearly showed. And no argument is perfect. You will almost always have to address unfavorable facts or law. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, because it gives you an opportunity to explain why unfavorable facts or law do not affect the outcome you seek.

The worst thing that you can do, however, is to evade, minimize, or offer unpersuasive explanations for unfavorable facts or law. For example, in the Johnny Depp trial, Depp’s attorney, Camille Vasquez, highlighted that while Amber heard had pledged to donate the money from her divorce settlement with Depp to charity, she hadn’t actually donated the money. Heard should have simply acknowledged this point. Instead, she claimed that, in her view, the words pledged and donated are synonymous.

Whatever.

That was bad.

Very bad.

And very damaging to her credibility.

4.    Be passionate and emotional (when appropriate).

It’s important, as an advocate, to show that you care. That you are emotionally invested in your client and your case. When you show genuine passion and emotion, it conveys that you believe strongly in your argument and in the remedy that you seek. For example, Camille Vasquez’s cross-examination of Amber Heard demonstrated that Vasquez believed strongly that Heard was lying and that Depp had been defamed. In essence, believing in your argument increases the persuasive value of what you say. After all, imagine if you proposed marriage to your partner in a monotone voice and with no emotion whatsoever? The answer would likely be no.

5.    Be likable and relatable.

This doesn’t require much explanation. People hate jerks (and there are many jerks lurking in the legal profession). So, don’t be a jerk. Don’t be arrogant. Don’t gossip. Don’t judge. Be a nice person. Respect people with whom you disagree. Be honest. Be compassionate. Courts and people are more likely to empathize with others that they like.

June 4, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Camille Vasquez Is a Rockstar

Actor Johnny Depp is currently suing his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, for defamation, and the trial is both entertaining and educational – particularly for law students and lawyers. The reason for that is Camille Vasquez, who graduated from the University of Southern California and Southwestern Law School, and whose performance at the trial is equivalent to a master class in persuasive advocacy.

Put simply, Camille Vasquez is a rockstar.

Law students (and lawyers) should watch Camille because they will learn more from her in a few hours than they will likely learn in three years of law school. Below are a few reasons why Camille Vasquez is an outstanding attorney, and why she represents the best of the legal profession.

1.    She is confident and owns the courtroom.

Whether it is conducting the cross-examination of Amber Heard or objecting to the adversary’s questions on direct examination, Camille Vasquez is incredibly confident and self-assured. Quite frankly, Vasquez has swagger. She knows she is among the best. She owns the courtroom. And if you try to bullshit her, it won’t end well for you.

Such confidence, which Vasquez has exuded in all aspects of the trial, is critical to creating the perception with the court and jury that you know what you’re doing, and that you are a credible advocate. When you create that impression, the judge and jury are more likely to view you and your client more favorably – and rule in your favor.

2.    She uses non-verbal techniques effectively.

When arguing before a judge or jury, your non-verbal techniques are equally, if not more, important, than what you say. Non-verbal techniques, such as posture, facial expressions, eye contact, and variance in tone, attitude, and emphasis, convey to the jury, among other things, your confidence, knowledge of the record, and belief in your position.

Camille Vasquez uses non-verbal techniques extremely effectively. When Vasquez was cross-examining Amber Heard, for example, she stood upright, at times leaning into the podium to emphasize a critical point. She varied her facial expressions to convey skepticism, if not disbelief, of some of Heard’s responses. She remained focused and confident at all times. She never laughed or displayed inappropriate emotional responses. She never fidgeted, folded her arms, or paced about the courtroom. She listened to Heard’s responses and retained eye contact. In short, her non-verbal communications showed that she had perfect knowledge of the record and that she was owning the witness and the courtroom.

3.    She knows how to adjust and follow up during cross-examination.

During cross-examination, Camille Vasquez adjusted effectively to Amber Heard’s sometimes-evasive responses with follow-up questions that forced Heard to concede unfavorable facts. In so doing, Vasquez didn’t simply recite a list of questions and hope that she would receive a favorable answer. Instead, she knew Heard was going to be evasive at times, and she adjusted in the moment, asking follow-up questions that would not allow Heard to avoid conceding unfavorable facts. For example, during cross-examination, Heard testified that she had pledged/donated seven million dollars to a particular charity. Vasquez refused to allow Heard to conflate the distinction between pledging and donating money, forcing Heard to admit that, although she had pledged seven million dollars to a charity, she never actually donated any money to that charity.

4.    She knows how to strategically include comments that undercut a witness’s credibility.

Effective advocacy includes strategically commenting on a witness’s testimony during cross-examination to express skepticism about a witness’s truthfulness or highlight a witness’s non-responsiveness. Simply put, cross-examination is not merely about asking questions. It’s about having a conversation with the witness and, through excellent questions, non-verbal communication, and strategic commentary on the witness’s responses, owning that conversation and eliciting facts that damage the adversary’s credibility. For example, during the cross-examination, Vasquez made comments such as:

“That wasn’t my question, Ms. Heard.” (conveying to the jury that Heard was being evasive)

“You know what a deposition is, right Ms. Heard?” (implying that Heard is ignorant and trying to hide unfavorable facts)

“You understand the difference between pledging money and donating money, right?” (this may not be the exact quote, but it’s similar and conveys that Ms. Heard’s attempt to say that pledging and donating money are synonymous makes no sense)

The inclusion of such comments enables a lawyer to communicate subtly to the jury that the witness’s testimony is not credible. Put another way, when cross-examining a witness, you can still “testify” if you do so strategically and subtly. Camille Vasquez did that very effectively.

5.    She is prepared and has outworked Amber Heard’s attorneys.

This point doesn’t need much explanation, except to say that many people have no idea what it means to be truly prepared for a trial (or a midterm or final examination, for that matter). Preparation means, among other things, knowing every inch of the record. It means being able to recite the page and line number of a deposition when conducting a direct or cross-examination. It means knowing the rules of evidence and practicing objections thousands of times, and being able to anticipate responses to those objections. It means knowing the relevant case law so well that you never need notes.

Camille Vasquez was incredibly prepared for this trial and almost certainly as prepared as any human being can be for a trial. She knew the rules of evidence so well that every objectionable question from Heard’s attorney was met with an objection by Vasquez – and sustained nearly every time. The link below shows the preparation – and sheer talent – that Vasquez has displayed during the trial.

Amber Heard's Lawyer SHUT DOWN! 40+ OBJECTIONS Within 19 MINUTES (Camille Vasquez) - YouTube

6.    She’s very smart.

Intelligence matters, and great lawyers are highly intelligent. Camille Vasquez is no exception – her analytical abilities, quick thinking, and ability to articulate complex points in a clear and relatable manner, reflect her impressive intellect.

7.    She cares for and is a passionate advocate for her client.

This trial has shown that Camille Vasquez is a kind and passionate person who cares deeply for her clients and for the causes that she is advocating. She represents Johnny Depp with compassion and empathy, and through her interactions with Depp, you can obviously see that she cares about him and is doing everything possible to achieve a favorable result.

In short, she is a good person – and good people make the best attorneys.

May 22, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Profession, Moot Court | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Oral Argument Prep While Managing Life Too: Make a One-Sheet and Keep Your Sense of Humor

My first-year students participated in a traditional 1L moot court competition this week, making their first oral arguments.  As I helped guide the students through this rite of passage, I answered many anxious questions about content, presentation style, appropriate “court suit” fashion, and more.  In answer, I stressed the need to be prepared and flexible, and most of all, to enjoy the process.  My overall advice:  make a one-sheet, place the sheet in an organized binder to support a professional and successful argument, and don’t buy a new suit just for an argument.   

I stress the one-sheet because it worked for me.  Also, as a former state and federal appellate law clerk, and then an appellate specialist for years, I saw many oral arguments fail over lack of preparation and complicated podium notes.  Instead of fancy folders or notes, I suggest  students distill the argument to one piece of paper.  The process of making this one-sheet, in law school and practice, requires advocates to know their record and case law very well, and to create argument summaries taking no more than a sentence or two.  Plus, even if you drop one piece of paper, you can quickly pick it up and continue, unlike scattered index cards or multi-page notes. 

As part of my preparation to teach the one-sheet approach to oral argument this year, I once again read many blogs and articles to see if I could add any new advice.  I found a very helpful ABA Journal piece which perfectly summarized my appellate practice life before full-time teaching.  In A Working Mother's 32-Step Guide to Preparing for Oral Arguments, author, law professor, and former Dean Sarah Gerwig-Moore provides a humorous and helpful discussion of oral argument, especially the concerns of being an advocate, mother, and woman in an appellate court setting.  See ABA Journal, Nov. 18, 2019,

https://www.abajournal.com/voice/article/a-working-mother-prepares-for-oral-argument

I suggested my students read Gerwig-Moore’s piece, and many told me the humor helped them keep their argument preparation in perspective.   

Given how much my students enjoyed Gerwig-Moore’s 32-steps, I am also sharing them here.   Gerwig-Moore explained her preparation for a Spring 2019 law clinic oral argument in the Supreme Court of Georgia “that would decide an important question regarding the scope of issues cognizable in habeas corpus proceedings.”  See id.  As so often happens, her “oral argument coincided with a truly insane week or two of sports and other obligations for [her] sons.”  She explained, “[s]ometimes you just have to laugh to keep from crying. And—just as in baseball—there’s no crying in court.”  Id.

Here is Gerwig-Moore’s lighthearted summary of her oral argument preparation:

      1. Reread all briefs and entire case record, making notes and highlighting.
      2. Reread all laws cited. Realize you might need the full 150-year history of the statute—ask team to track that down. As they’re researching this, realize the milk in your refrigerator might be 150 years old.
      3. Reread every case cited in all briefs and make notes. Ask your team to create charts of cases and facts so you can see each one at a glance. Make sure to ask very nicely.
      4. Slice up your brief for the first draft of an outline.
      5. Slicing up the brief reminds you to slice up food. Your children need to eat. Cook dinner! Leave dishes in the sink.
      6. Question absolutely everything—even your own name. Stay up too late.
      7. Wake up too early. Wonder if dark circles under your eyes make you look too shrill. Consider buying undereye concealer.
      8. Decide on a few key record items you will need to memorize. Make breakfast for children while reciting these. Scowl when sons remark that this isn’t fun. Consider smiling more with record recitations. Scowl again.
      9. Let at least three people down. (These are likely to be close friends or family members.)
      10. Anticipate questions from the bench. Arrange mock arguments with colleagues who don’t mind insulting you. Consider inviting archrivals, too. Or your teenage offspring. They’ll definitely insult you.
      11. Feed pets. Feed children. Eat leftovers. Deposit dishes in the sink.
      12. Moot the argument. Send follow-up assignments to team. Thank team! Donuts are a good way to thank people! Consider bringing some donuts to work but then forget.
      13. Consider wardrobe. Pantsuit? Skirt suit? Dress? Clothes should be flattering—but not too flattering. It should be comfortable—but not too comfortable. Assess work shoes to decide which will help you see over the podium but not actually tip you over in court. Don’t even get started on all the ways you can mess up your hairstyle strategy.
      14. Simultaneously wish you were both much, much taller and much, much smaller (see musing above re: shoes).
      15. Reread everything.
      16. Hem your suit—and I am not making this up—while on a conference call, while sitting in your car watching your son play lacrosse.
      17. As you are sewing, notice your nails haven’t been done in months. Wonder how many people will actually notice your hands. Resolve not to be too demonstrative with hands while in court.
      18. Do all your other work and errands and at least one ridiculous extra thing (can you say “homemade” cookies for your kid’s class, anyone?) you committed to months ago.
      19. Try to see the case from opposing counsel’s perspective. Consider adopting this tactic with your children, but then (metaphorically) hit them with the ol’ “Because I said so.”
      20. Check in with client.
      21. Buy the best lipstick your credit card can handle. This is unquestionably Pirate by Chanel. Case closed. (See what you did there?)
      22. Be serious but not too serious. Be confident but not too confident. Be yourself but not too much of that either (e.g., suit sleeves should cover your justice tattoos).
      23. Eat one vegetable. Make children eat two vegetables. Pat self on back for being health guru.
      24. Reread everything. Condense argument down to a one-pager.
      25. Ponder a twist on the Dorothy Parker classic: Justice makes spectacles of women in spectacles (which cause issues with limited peripheral vision). Decide to wear contact lenses.
      26. Read notes from team. Wax philosophical on the notion that all team members are working with the same richness of the experience of your work.
      27. Whiten teeth. Sharpen fangs. Consider optics of fangs. Stow them in a tiny pocket right next to your heart.
      28. Reread everything.
      29. Decide you hate your suit. Wish that suits of armor were still a thing.
      30. No—not sigh—breathe.
      31. Reread everything. Boil down outline to one word and the dancing woman emoji.
      32. Set four alarm clocks. Or is it alarms clock?

Id.  Gerwig-Moore added a fun postscript, and if you want to know how the argument ended, please check out her article

I wish you all great oral arguments, with one-sheets and humor as your guides. 

March 19, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Humor, Law School, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Appellate Oral Argument Tips

Nearly all lawyers and law students are familiar with the conventional advice regarding how to perform and maximize the persuasiveness of an appellate oral argument. For example, law students are taught to develop a persuasive theme, begin with the strongest argument, know the record, the law, and the standard of review, concede (or reconcile) unfavorable facts and precedent, never attack the adversary or lower court, never misrepresent the facts or law, and craft a compelling narrative.

This is good advice that can certainly enhance the persuasive value of an argument, increase the likelihood of success, and ensure that an advocate maintains credibility with the court. But do these techniques always work? No.

Below are several tips that attorneys should consider when preparing for an appellate oral argument.

1.    Begin by addressing the weaknesses in your argument.

Conventional wisdom suggests that you should begin with your strongest and most persuasive arguments. But that doesn’t always work.

Appellate judges aren’t stupid.

They know the law.

They know the record.

And they know what your strongest arguments are – and they probably don’t care.

Rather, they are concerned with the weaknesses in your argument and, during questioning, will probe those weaknesses with precision and consistency. So why adopt the predicable and formulaic approach of beginning with your strongest arguments? Indeed, some appellate judges probably aren’t even paying attention to you when you do so.

For example, in Maryland v. King, where the Court considered  whether a cheek swab of an arrestee's DNA violated the Fourth Amendment, the oral argument began as follows:

[Petitioner’s attorney]: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court: 11 Since 2009, when Maryland began to collect 12 DNA samples from arrestees charged with violent crimes 13 and burglary, there have been 225 matches, 75 prosecutions, and 42 convictions, including that of Respondent King.

Justice Scalia: Well, that's really good. I'll bet you, if you conducted a lot of unreasonable searches and seizures, you'd get more convictions, too. (Laughter.)

Justice Scalia: That proves absolutely nothing.

[Petitioner’s attorney]: Well, I think, Justice Scalia, it does, in fact, point out the fact that -- that the statute is working, and, in the State's view, the Act is constitutional.

Justice Scalia: So that's its purpose, to enable you to identify future criminals -- the perpetrators of future crimes? That's the purpose of it? I thought that that wasn't the purpose set forth in the -- in the statute.[1]

The Petitioner’s attorney probably and understandably believed that beginning with an argument about the statute’s efficacy would be persuasive.

The justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, however, are very smart and perceptive. After reading the briefs, they are aware of your strongest arguments. They know the record and the law. They know, in many cases, how they are going to decide a case before an oral argument begins. And they have identified the weaknesses in your argument.

Accordingly, in some instances, begin by immediately addressing the weaknesses in your case. In other words, cut out the bullshit and get straight to the heart of the matter. After all, as an appellate advocate who has prepared extensively for oral argument, you probably know the questions – and concerns – that the judges will raise. Thus, why not begin by addressing those concerns and, in essence, preempting their questions? Doing so will enhance your credibility and your argument’s persuasive value. 

2.    Appellate courts care about their institutional legitimacy and your argument should reflect that reality.

The justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, along with judges on lower federal and state appellate courts, live in the real world. They understand that their decisions can – and often will – engender substantial criticism from the public, which can undermine the Court’s institutional legitimacy.

That’s why judging is a political, not merely a legal, endeavor. It’s also why the Supreme Court (and lower federal and state appellate courts) will render decisions based in part on perceptions about how the public will react to a particular decision.

Thus, when presenting your argument, be sure to provide the court with a workable, fair, and equitable solution that will produce an opinion that maintains an appellate court’s institutional legitimacy. Think about the opinion that the court will ultimately write. Would your argument result in an opinion that the court would embrace and that the public would find credible? If not, your chances of winning decrease substantially.

3.    The law isn’t everything – convince an appellate court that it is doing the right thing by ruling in your favor.

When judging moot court competitions recently, many, if not most, law students based their arguments primarily, if not exclusively, on precedent, emphasizing favorable case law and striving mightily to distinguish or reconcile unfavorable precedent. And to a substantial degree, these arguments were well-presented and persuasive.

But judges aren’t robots. They are human beings. They have emotions and biases. Perhaps most importantly, they want to reach decisions that enable them to sleep at night with a clear conscience.

That’s in part why courts have an on-again, off-again relationship with stare decisis. When judges believe that a prior case was wrongly decided, or will lead to a result that they find unjustifiable, they can – and often will – overturn precedent. And even though they will cloak their analysis in legal jargon, you can be sure that their decision is based on the fact that they believe they are doing the right thing.

To be clear, precedent is important. But it’s the beginning, not the end, of the inquiry.

For that reason, advocates should always consider the equities in a given case and appeal to principles of fairness and justice (and sometimes, emotion).

4.    Know who your friends are and target the swing justices.

Before oral argument, many appellate judges, after reviewing the record and reading the briefs, know how they are going to rule. And no matter what you say at oral argument, they aren’t going to change their minds.

Before oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court, for example, you need to identify the justices that will likely support or oppose your position. Most importantly, you have to identify the swing justices and tailor your argument – and responses to questions – to those justices. For example, in Obergefell v. Hodges, legal scholars almost certainly knew that Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito would not vote to invalidate same-sex marriage bans. They also knew that Justice Kennedy was the swing justice and that the Petitioner’s arguments should focus on getting his vote.

To be sure, in many oral arguments before federal appellate courts, you will not know before the argument which judges will support or oppose your argument. But as the oral argument progresses, you will usually be able to identify the judges that support you, the ones that don’t, and those that are undecided. When you do, tailor your argument to the undecided, or swing, judges.

5.    Be conversational and relatable, not confrontational and rigid.

Again, when recently judging moot court competitions recently, it became quickly apparent that many of the competitors’ demeanors were excessively formal and impersonal. The rigidity with which the arguments were delivered – along with the defensive reactions to the judges’ questions – made it difficult, if not impossible, to have a genuine conversation with the advocates.

That approach is a mistake. An oral argument should be a conversation, not a confrontation.

Accordingly, when arguing before an appellate court, relax. Show the judges that you are a human being. Show the judges that you have a personality – and even emotion. Be conversational. Be confident. Be relatable. Be likable. Watch actor Edward Norton’s oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in The People v. Larry Flynt and you’ll get the point.

Judges – like all people – may be more likely to agree with a litigant that they like.

Of course, you should always be professional and respectful. But if you come across as a robot, you will appear inauthentic and preclude the type of connection with the judges that excellent appellate advocates achieve.

6.    Think of the one thing that you want to say – and say it in a way that the judges will not forget.

This needs no explanation.

Watch Matthew McConaughey’s closing argument in A Time to Kill.

 

[1] Maryland v. King, 569 U.S. 435 (2013), Transcript of Oral Argument, available at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/2012/12-207-lp23.pdf. (emphasis added).

March 12, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, February 27, 2022

The First Amendment and Low-Value Speech That Causes Substantial Emotional Distress

“God Hates Fags.”[1]

“Fags Doom Nations.”[2]

“Fag Troops.”[3]

“God hates you.”[4]

Should the First Amendment be interpreted to protect this nonsense?

No.

Some speech is so despicable – and so injurious – that it should not receive First Amendment protection. Indeed, individuals should be permitted to recover damages for emotional distress where speech:

  • Intentionally targets a private and in some cases, a public figure;
  • Has no social value (e.g., “God Hates Fags”); and
  • Causes severe emotional distress.

Put simply, the First Amendment should not be construed to allow individuals to hurl vicious verbal assaults at citizens with impunity, particularly where such speech causes substantial harm.

***

By way of background, the First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”[5]

Of course, protecting speech is essential to ensuring liberty, autonomy, and decentralized governance. Furthermore, the right to free expression promotes a “marketplace of ideas” that exposes citizens to diverse perspectives on matters of public and political significance, which is vital to ensuring an informed citizenry and a healthy democracy.

For that reason, offensive, distasteful, and unpopular speech – particularly on matters of public concern – should receive the strongest First Amendment protection. In Cohen v. California, for example, the United States Supreme Court correctly held that the First Amendment prohibited the prosecution of an individual who entered a courthouse wearing a shirt stating, “Fuck the Draft.”[6] Additionally, in Texas v. Johnson, the Court rightly held that the First Amendment protected flag burning.[7] Also, in Hustler v. Falwell, the Court held that the First Amendment protected the satirical depiction of a preacher having sex with his mother in an outhouse.[8] Likewise, in Matal v. Tam, the Court held that there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment.[9] And in Snyder v. Phelps, the Court held that members of the Westboro Baptist Church had a  First Amendment right to display signs stating, among other things, “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for 9/11” outside of a church where a family was grieving the loss of their son.[10] In most of these cases, the Court’s decisions rightfully affirmed that, in a free and democratic society, citizens must tolerate speech – and expressive conduct – that is offensive and unpopular. Otherwise, the right to speech would allow the government to censor speech that it subjectively deemed undesirable. That result would be to chill speech and render the First Amendment meaningless.  

But is there no limit on what citizens can say or express?

To be sure, the Court has placed some limits on the right to free speech. For example, in Miller v. California, the Court held that the First Amendment did not protect obscenity, which is defined as speech that had no “literary, scientific, or artistic value,” and that appeals to the “prurient (sexual) interest.”[11] One can legitimately question why speech must appeal to sexual matters to be obscene.  Also, in Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Court held that the First Amendment did not protect speech that incited others to commit imminent and unlawful violence.[12] And in numerous cases, including City of Renton v. Playtime Theatres, the Court held that states could place reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on speech.[13]

But outside of these limited categories, should the First Amendment protect speech regardless of how vile or harmful?

In other words, is “Fuck the Draft” the same as “God Hates Fags?” And should the First Amendment permit a magazine to publish a satire of a preacher having sex with his mother in an outhouse?

No.

And should the First Amendment be construed to permit all speech, no matter how vile and harmful, if it targets private individuals, has no social value, and causes severe emotional distress?

No.

Put simply, Snyder v. Phelps was wrongly decided.

***

As stated above, in Snyder, the Court, in an 8-1 decision, held that the First Amendment permitted members of the Westboro Baptist Church to stand outside of a church where a family was mourning the loss of their son in the Iraq War with signs that said, among other things “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for 9/11.” The Court’s decision emphasized, among other things, that the First Amendment requires that citizens tolerate offensive speech such as that expressed by the Westboro Baptist Church.

The Court got it wrong.

When, as in Snyder, speakers target private individuals with despicable speech that has no social value and that causes severe emotional distress, those individuals should be permitted to recover damages for the intentional infliction of emotional distress.[14]  

Importantly, Justice Samuel Alito agrees and, in a persuasive dissent, explained that the First Amendment’s underlying purposes are not frustrated by allowing individuals to sue for emotional distress resulting from zero-value – and harmful – speech:  

Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case. He [Petitioner] is simply a parent whose son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq. Mr. Snyder wanted what is surely the right of any parent who experiences such an incalculable loss: to bury his son in peace. But respondents, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, deprived him of that elementary right … They appeared at the church, approached as closely as they could without trespassing, and launched a malevolent verbal attack on Matthew and his family at a time of acute emotional vulnerability. As a result, Albert Snyder suffered severe and lasting emotional injury. The Court now holds that the First Amendment protected respondents’ right to brutalize Mr. Snyder. I cannot agree.[15]

I cannot agree either.

Moreover, as Justice Alito noted, the Westboro Baptist Church had alternative avenues by which to disseminate their hateful views. As Justice Alito stated:

Respondents and other members of their church … have almost limitless opportunities to express their views. They may write and distribute books, articles, and other texts; they may create and disseminate video and audio recordings; they may circulate petitions; they may speak to individuals and groups in public forums and in any private venue that wishes to accommodate them; they may picket peacefully in countless locations; they may appear on television and speak on the radio; they may post messages on the Internet and send out e-mails. And they may express their views in terms that are “uninhibited,” “vehement,” and “caustic.” It does not follow, however, that they may intentionally inflict severe emotional injury on private persons at a time of intense emotional sensitivity by launching vicious verbal attacks that make no contribution to public debate.[16]

Perhaps most importantly, Justice Alito recognized that speech can – and does – cause substantial injury, and when it does, the First Amendment should not bar recovery for the intentional infliction of emotional distress:

This Court has recognized that words may “by their very utterance inflict injury” and that the First Amendment does not shield utterances that form “no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.”  When grave injury is intentionally inflicted by means of an attack like the one at issue here, the First Amendment should not interfere with recovery.[17]

Justice Alito got it right. There are numerous cases where young people, after vicious verbal attacks in-person and online, committed suicide.[18] There are countless cases of “revenge porn,” in which women discover their intimate photographs posted on the internet by a disgruntled ex-partner.[19]

The First Amendment should not be construed to protect this nonsense the law should not turn a blind eye to the harm it causes.

To be clear, this does not mean that state governments should be permitted to criminalize such speech. It does mean, however, that private, and, in some cases, public figures should be allowed to pursue a claim for the intentional infliction of emotional distress where they are intentionally targeted with speech of no social value that causes severe and lasting harm.

This argument should not be construed to support a hate speech exception to the First Amendment. After all, how would one define ‘hate speech?” Such an exception, due to its subjectivity and arbitrariness, would undermine significantly the First Amendment’s core purpose of promoting a marketplace of ideas in which unpopular, distasteful, and offensive ideas are tolerated.

But there is a limit.

As Justice Alito emphasized in Snyder, some speech is of such low value – and so harmful – that it supports a civil suit for the intentional infliction of emotional distress.  Statements such as “God Hates Fags” and “Fags Doom Nations” have no literary, scientific, or artistic value and, although not sexual, can be every bit as obscene as the most revolting sexual images. The speech at issue in Snyder and Hustler had no social value. It was utter garbage and contributed nothing to public debate or the “marketplace of ideas.” But it did cause severe – and lasting – emotional distress. Thus, in some instances, there should be a civil remedy for victims who are intentionally targeted with such speech.

Of course, some will make the slippery slope argument, arguing that any restrictions on speech other than the narrow categories already delineated will result in a chilling effect and give the government the power to restrict any speech that it deems offensive or unpopular. This argument is without merit because it assumes without any evidence that any failure to fully protect even the most injurious speech – such as “God Hates Fags” – will inevitably lead to a ban on other forms of traditionally protected speech. That view essentially prohibits restricting any speech no matter how valueless and no matter how injurious, and ignores the harm that such speech can – and does – cause.  

Ultimately, free speech is an essential component of ensuring liberty and an informed democracy. Accordingly, unpopular, offensive, and distasteful speech must be welcome in a society that values diversity. But that is not a “license for … vicious verbal assault[s]” upon citizens that serves no purpose other than to degrade and demean people, and that causes substantial and often irreparable harm, including suicide.[20]

 

[1] 562 U.S. 443 (2011).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] U.S. Const., Amend. I.

[6] 403 U.S. 15 (1971).

[7] 491 U.S. 397 (1989).

[8] 485 U.S. 46 (1987).

[9] 137 S. Ct. 1744 (2016).

[10] 562 U.S. 443 (2011).

[11] 413 U.S. 15 (1973).

[12] 395 U.S. 444 (1969).

[13]  475 U.S. 41 (1986).

[14] See Adam Lamparello, ‘God Hates Fags’ Is Not the Same as ‘Fuck the Draft’: Introducing the Non-Sexual Obscenity Doctrine, 84 UMKC L. Rev. 61 (2015).

[15] 562 U.S. 443 (Alito, J. dissenting) (emphasis added).

[16] Id. (emphasis added).

[17] Id. (emphasis added) (quoting Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire315 U. S. 568, 572 (1942)); see also Cantwell v. Connecticut310 U. S. 296, 310 (1940) (“[P]ersonal abuse is not in any proper sense communication of information or opinion safeguarded by the Constitution”).

[18] See, e.g., Jane E. Allen, Rutgers Suicide: Internet Humiliation Trauma for Teen (September 30, 2010), available at: Rutgers Suicide: Internet Humiliation Trauma for Teen - ABC News (go.com).

[19] See, e.g., Mudasir Kamal and William J. Newman, Revenge Pornography: Mental Health Implications and Related Legislation (September 2016), available at: Revenge Pornography: Mental Health Implications and Related Legislation | Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (jaapl.org).

[20] See, e.g., Claypool Law Firm, Middle School Student Commits Suicide Following School’s Failure to Stop Bullying (Dec. 18, 2017), available at:  Middle School Student Commits Suicide Following School’s Failure to Stop Bullying (claypoollawfirm.com).

February 27, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Writing Truly Helpful Statements of the Case, with Assistance from Bryan Garner and Justice Rutledge

In my LRW II classes last week, we reviewed persuasive Statement of Fact headings.  I repeated my usual points on making the headings a bit catchy, but completely honest and logical.  I reminded the students of all the notes we have showing busy judges sometimes only get a chance to skim briefs’ tables of contents, and instructed them to always include Statement of the Case headings on their Tables of Contents.  See generally https://legalblogwatch.typepad.com/legal_blog_watch/2012/02/federal-judges-want-you-to-spare-them-the-rhetoric-and-get-to-the-point.html (noting a Bankruptcy Court judge’s complaint judges “don’t have time for rhetoric” as they are “really, really busy”). 

In sum, I suggested students use fact headings to tell a logically-organized and persuasive story consistent with their overall theory of the case, and to only include key facts and truly needed background facts.

Then, after class, I happened to read Bryan Garner’s February 1, 2022 ABA Journal piece, Bryan Garner shares brief-writing advice from the late Supreme Court Justice Wiley B. Rutledge,

https://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/bryan-garner-shares-brief-writing-advice-from-the-late-supreme-court-justice-wiley-b-rutledge.  As Garner reminded readers he:  “occasionally interview[s] long-dead authors.  Another name for it is active reading.  Actually, we do it all the time—taking an author and interrogating the text for all the wisdom it might yield.”  In Garner’s February piece, he interviewed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Wiley B. Rutledge (1894–1949), who also served as a law school dean before sitting on the Court.  Id.  I highly recommend reading Garner’s whole article, but today, I am focusing on the statement of facts points.

Garner asked Justice Rutledge if he was “bothered when the opposing lawyers have widely divergent statements of the facts.”  The Justice’s hypothetical reply is especially helpful for all appellate writers to remember:  “The bulk of the evidence is not controversial” and thus counsel “can freely and truly summarize.”  Id.  As I told my students, a careful summary where parties agree can sometimes be helpful.  Garner notes Justice Rutledge might say: 

This [summary] often, and especially when well done, may be the most helpful, if not also the most important part of the brief.  It cuts the brush away from the forest; it lifts the judge’s vision over the foothills to the mountains.  It enables [the court] to read the record with an eye to the important things, intelligently, in true perspective.

Id.    

 In a similar vein, I often quote to my students a wise law firm founder and mentor, who regularly reminds young associates, “all we really have in law is our good name.”  Bryan Garner notes how this saying can be especially true when we present facts, as any murky or possibly untrue assertion can quickly convince the court our entire brief is suspect.  Id.  Garner explained Justice Rutledge’s point on dealing with adverse facts this way:  “Few things add strength to an argument as does candid and full admission” which “[w]hen made, judges know that the lawyer is worthy of full confidence, and every sentence he [or she] utters or writes carries force from the very fact that [counsel] makes it.”  Id

Finally, on the dreaded topic of citation, Justice Rutledge reminds us our fact sections must have careful and accurate citations, as a “great time-saver for judges” and a way to increase credibility.  Id.  Garner concludes his article asking for the Justice’s concluding thoughts.  The Justice’s hypothetical reply is:  “Make your briefs clear, concise, honest, balanced, buttressed, convincing and interesting. The last is not least. A dull brief may be good law. An interesting one will make the judge aware of this.”  One great way to add interest is to give your court clear, concise, and interesting facts.

I wish you happy drafting.

February 19, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Disparity's Relationship to Discrimination

Anyone with a conscience (or a pulse) knows that discrimination based on, among other things, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity, is abhorrent and has no place in a civilized society. Indeed, inequality of opportunity and access is antithetical to the very freedom, liberty, and dignity that the Constitution requires and that every human being deserves.  

But disparate outcomes among groups do not always reflect discrimination.

In his book Discrimination and Disparities, Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, argues persuasively that disparate outcomes are often attributable to non-discriminatory factors. Indeed, as Sowell notes, even in the absence of discrimination, disparate outcomes among groups nonetheless result, thus undermining the conclusion that disparity reflects discrimination.[1]

I.    Disparity does not equal discrimination.

Disparities among groups do not always reflect discrimination because: (1) in many contexts, the disparity is attributable to other factors; (2) disparities exist within groups for reasons unrelated to discrimination; (3) disparity still results when objective and non-discriminatory measures are used to evaluate performance; and (4) disparities exist because individuals and groups self-select into different professions and make different life choices.

    A.    In many areas, disparity cannot be attributed to discrimination.

Disparities exist everywhere. For example:

The majority of law professors identify as liberal, and conservatives comprise a distinct minority on most law school faculties.[2]

The majority of legal writing professors are female.[3]

The overwhelming majority of individuals convicted of violent crimes are men.[4]

The majority of nurses are female.[5]

The majority of professional football and basketball players are African-American.[6]

The majority of professional baseball players are white.[7]

The majority of methamphetamine users are white.[8]

Let’s analyze just a few of these examples. Do these facts suggest that the National Football League and National Basketball Association are discriminating against whites? Of course not. Do they suggest that law enforcement officers are racially biased against white methamphetamine users? No. A more plausible explanation is that whites predominantly use and sell methamphetamines. Do they suggest that law schools discriminate against conservative faculty candidates? According to one study, the answer might be yes.[9] And this illustrates the broader point: academics, courts, and policymakers should distinguish between those instances where disparity results from discrimination and those where it does not. In other words, they should use empirical data to exclude other possible causes of disparate outcomes rather than assuming that such outcomes reflect discrimination.

Put simply, identifying a disparity in a particular context proves nothing.

    B.    Disparities exist within groups based on cultural and other factors unrelated to discrimination.

The disparity narrative disregards the fact that disparate outcomes occur within groups. For example, a study of individuals with an IQ in the top 1% discovered widely disparate levels of achievement within this group.[10] What did social scientists identify as the reason for the disparity?

The quality of a person’s family upbringing.

Likewise, income disparities exist within racial groups for reasons that discrimination cannot explain. Sowell explains as follows:

[I]n 2012 the US poverty rate for Jamaicans was reported as 14.8 percent, Ethiopians 19.7 percent, and Nigerians 12.8 percent. All the rates were significantly lower than the rate of 28 percent for blacks as a whole.[11]

Additionally, “these three ancestry groups had significantly lower rates of poverty and higher median incomes than the Hispanic population.” Sowell further states:

How were these people of color, often without the benefit of growing up in America, able to clear the “barriers” of a discriminatory “system” far better than other people of color? Culture unquestionably plays a role in income and poverty disparities, even in situations comparing people of color where “discrimination” can be ruled out.”[12]

Furthermore, regarding income inequality, “examining the average age differences among different demographics can explain away a portion of the income inequality that intellectuals proclaim exists due to discrimination.”[13] Indeed, “races and nationalities with older average ages would naturally boast higher average incomes due to being more experienced.”[14]

In other words, not all – or even most – disparities are reducible to racism

    C.    When objective and non-discriminatory measures are used, disparate outcomes still result.

In many instances where objective and non-discriminatory measures are used to evaluate performance, disparity still results. For example, from 2001 to 2012, the home run leader in the American League had a Hispanic surname.[15] From 2008-2014, the National Spelling Bee winner was a child whose parents were of Indian ancestry.[16] In 2012, sixty-eight of the top 100 marathon runners were Kenyan. The best-selling brands of beer are made by people of German ancestry.[17] And although African Americans are overrepresented in the National Football League, an overwhelming majority of NFL kickers are white.[18]

Does this mean that the NFL is discriminating against African American kickers? Of course not.

    D.    Disparities result because individuals self-select into different professions.

Within and among groups, disparities result because individuals self-select into different professions and, more broadly, make different life choices.[19] As Sowell explains:

There are many decisions wholly within the discretion of those concerned, where discrimination by others is not a factor—the choice of television programs to watch, opinions to express to poll takers, or the age at which to marry, for example. All these show pronounced patterns that differ from group to group.[20]

To be sure, “[a]mong the many reasons for gross disparities in many fields, and at different income levels, is that human beings differ in what they want to do, quite aside from any differences in what they are capable of doing, or what others permit them to do.”[21] 

Simply put, in many instances, disparate outcomes have nothing to do with discrimination.

II.    The solution – use empirical data to exclude non-discriminatory causes of disparity.

As stated above, discrimination based on, among other things, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity is reprehensible. But that doesn’t mean that disparate outcomes always reflect discrimination.

As Sowell notes, some disparities result from non-discriminatory factors and thus have no relationship to inequality or injustice. As such, scholars and policymakers should avoid assuming that disparity reflects discrimination. Instead, they should rely on empirical data to exclude other causal factors, thus more firmly supporting their arguments. In so doing, scholars will likely discover that some disparities reflect discrimination and some do not. This is the first step toward embracing an intellectually honest and fact-driven approach to solving the problems affecting the United States and to improving the nation’s discourse on matters of public policy.

[1] See Thomas Sowell, Discrimination and Disparities (Basic Books, 2019), available at: Amazon.com: Discrimination and Disparities: 9781541645639: Sowell, Thomas: Books; see also Coleman Hughes, The Empirical Problems With Systemic Racism, available at: Coleman Hughes: The Empirical Problems with Systemic Racism - YouTube

[2] See Bonica, et al., The Legal Academy’s Ideological Uniformity (2017) available at: The Legal Academy’s Ideological Uniformity (harvard.edu)

[3] See Legal Writing Professor Demographics and Statistics [2022]: Number Of Legal Writing Professors In The US (zippia.com)

[4] See Gender and Crime, Differences between Male and Female Offending Patterns, available at: Gender and Crime - Differences Between Male And Female Offending Patterns - Categories, Women, Crimes, and Arrests - JRank Articles

[5] See Registered Nurse Demographics and Statistics (2022), available at:  Registered Nurse Demographics and Statistics [2022]: Number Of Registered Nurses In The US (zippia.com)

[6] See 18 Fascinating NFL Demographics, available at: 18 Fascinating NFL Player Demographics - BrandonGaille.com; NBA players by ethnicity 2020 | Statista

[7]  See Professional  Baseball Statistics By Gender, available at: Professional Baseball Player Demographics and Statistics [2022]: Number Of Professional Baseball Players In The US (zippia.com)

[8] trends of meth use by ethnicity and gender by www.drug-rehabs.org

[9] See Michael Conklin, Political Ideology and Law School Rankings: Measuring the Conservative Penalty and Liberal Bonus, 2020 U. ILL. L. REV. ONLINE 178, 179 (2020) (emphasis added)

[10] See Discrimination and Disparities With Thomas Sowell, available at: Discrimination and Disparities with Thomas Sowell - YouTube

[11] See Bradley Thomas, Statistical Disparities Among Groups Are Not Proof of Discrimination, (May 21, 2019), available at: Statistical Disparities Among Groups Are Not Proof of Discrimination - Foundation for Economic Education (fee.org)

[12] See id.

[13] See id.

[14] See id.

[15] See Thomas Sowell, Disparate Outcomes Do Not Imply Discrimination (October 5, 2015), available at: Disparate Outcomes Do Not Imply Discrimination | National Review

[16] See id.

[17] See id.

[18] See id.

[19] See Bradley Thomas, Statistical Disparities Among Groups Are Not Proof of Discrimination, (May 21, 2019), available at: Statistical Disparities Among Groups Are Not Proof of Discrimination - Foundation for Economic Education (fee.org)

[20] See id.

[21] See Thomas Sowell, Disparate Outcomes Do Not Imply Discrimination (October 5, 2015), available at: Disparate Outcomes Do Not Imply Discrimination | National Review

[22] See Discrimination and Disparities With Thomas Sowell, available at: Discrimination and Disparities with Thomas Sowell - YouTube

January 23, 2022 in Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Books, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Unconventional Writing Tips

The best writers know when to break the rules. They know when to forget everything they learned in legal writing and disregard conventional grammar and style rules. Simply put, they know when to be unique and original. Below are ten unconventional writing tips that can enhance the quality and persuasive value of a brief (or any type of writing) and highlight your authentic voice as a writer.

1.    Don’t write.

The best way to write an excellent brief, story, or script is to not write at all. Yes, you heard that correctly. Stay away from your computer. Avoid the temptation to write a revolting and blood-pressure-raising first draft simply because you want to “get something on paper.” That “something” will be the equivalent of nothing. Instead, spend time reading great writing.

Most importantly, think before you write. Brainstorm. Carry a small notepad with you and, among other things, write down ideas as they come to you and create an outline of your legal arguments. In so doing, be sure to reflect on your arguments and the likely counterarguments you will face. And remember that excellent thinking leads to excellent writing.

2.    Don’t let anyone read your first draft – or your final draft.

Some people believe that, after spending many hours on, for example, writing and rewriting an appellate brief, they cannot “see the forest for the trees” and need a set of “fresh eyes” to critique their work. The best writers know that this belief is often mistaken. Allowing others to review your writing can often do more harm than good; many suggested revisions reflect differences in style, not quality.

Additionally, many comments will be irrelevant or unhelpful, such as “did you cite the correct cases and check to make sure that they are still good law?” or “are there other counterarguments that you should consider?”

Yeah, whatever. Go away.

Others will offer annoying comments, such as “you should consider using the Oxford comma, and I also saw areas where maybe an em dash would have been appropriate” or “sentences should generally be no longer than twenty-five words but on page twenty, one of your sentences had twenty-seven words,” or “at least for me when I see a sentence with the passive voice, I hit the delete button immediately,”

Yes, and your comments about my writing have just been deleted.

The worst are the ones who offer ambiguous comments, such as “have you thought of restructuring the argument section?” or “in some instances, I thought your arguments were repetitive, but I could see where that might be effective,” or “in my opinion, the question presented doesn’t work because it seemed a bit wordy to me. But if you like it, keep it.”

None of this is helpful. If anything, it could cause you to overthink and doubt yourself. Worse, it could cause you to make changes that worsen your brief and weaken your voice.[1]

The moral of the story is that sometimes, too many cooks will spoil the broth. But if, for whatever reason, you must have someone review your writing, make sure you choose the reviewer carefully. In so doing, remember that one aspect of great writing is developing your unique style and voice as a writer, and not letting that style be compromised by others.

3. “Write drunk. Edit sober.”[2]

To be clear, this does not mean that you should consume a handle of Tito’s vodka when writing a first draft (a couple of glasses of Duckhorn sauvignon blanc should suffice). Rather, it means that you should be in a mindset where you can think freely and creatively without inhibition or reservation, and where you can coherently and concisely communicate your ideas.

If you aren’t in this mindset, your first draft may be gobbledygook. It may turn some people to stone. It may evoke images of the burning gym in the 1976 movie Carrie after Carrie finished exacting her revenge at the prom. And it may require you to delete everything on your computer screen and write another first draft. That may make you open that handle of Tito’s vodka, which is not advisable.

4.    Invent words.

Don’t be constrained by dictionaries. And don’t confine yourself to conventional or boring words. Rather, invent words – most commonly eponyms – that convey important ideas.

Think Obamacare.

Think Bushisms.

Think Californication.

What do these words do? The enhance the persuasive value of your argument. Indeed, a single invented word can implicitly convey arguments that so many attorneys feel the need to express explicitly. Think about it: when you hear Bushisms, it immediately brings to mind words that the former president invented, such as strategery. We all know the point that makes.

5.    Sometimes, throw IRAC/CRAC in the proverbial garbage.

In law school, particularly legal writing classes, students are taught to use the IRAC/CRAC (or CREAC) structure when drafting a brief. This is excellent advice and certainly helpful in many contexts.

Sometimes, however, the IRAC/CRAC formula can be, well, too formulaic. And it can undermine the persuasiveness of your legal analysis. This is particularly true where the facts are favorable to you and suggest strongly a ruling in your favor.

Consider the following examples of an introductory statement in a brief in a case where a defendant shot and killed another person with an AR-15 after the person, who was one foot shorter than the defendant, shoved the defendant and immediately thereafter began walking away. The defendant claimed that he was acting in self-defense.

Based on the relevant law and facts, the defendant’s self-defense claim lacks merit. It is well settled that a self-defense claim requires defendants to demonstrate that they subjectively believed that they were in fear of imminent grave bodily harm or death. Additionally, that belief must be objectively reasonable, meaning that a reasonable person would have feared that grave bodily harm or death was imminent. As such, disproportionate responses to a fear of harm do not constitute self-defense. Lastly, the claim of imperfect self-defense is not recognized in this jurisdiction. In this case, the defendant cannot…

Blah, blah, blah.

Why should a court have to endure this paragraph when: (1) the law of self-defense is well-settled in this jurisdiction, and (2) the facts show indisputably that the self-defense claim is utter nonsense? It shouldn’t. Blame CRAC. Then toss it out the window, get to the point, and write this:

The defendant is 6’7”. The victim was 5’7”. The victim shoved the defendant to the ground and immediately walked away, posing no direct or indirect threat to the defendant. The defendant could have – and should have – walked away too. Instead, the defendant decided to retaliate against the victim. Not by contacting law enforcement. Not by shoving the victim. Not by punching the victim. But by retrieving a semi-automatic weapon – an AR-15 – and shooting the victim twice in the head, killing him instantly. Now, the defendant claims that he was acting in self-defense. But that defense requires the defendant to show that the deadly force he used was objectively reasonable – and thus proportionate – to a threat of grave bodily harm or death. That threat never existed – except when the defendant decided to kill the victim with an AR-15. End of story.

Of course, this isn’t a perfect example, but you get the point. Sometimes, start with the facts. Then, include a very brief statement of the law. In some instances, it is more persuasive than adhering to a conventional formula.

6.    If it sounds good to the ear, write it and keep it.

When drafting a brief, a book, or a movie script, the worst thing that you can do is adhere unquestionably to formulaic writing or comply rigidly with strict grammar and style rules such as:

Don’t use passive voice.

Don’t end sentences with a preposition.

Don’t mix verb tenses.

This approach essentially turns you into a robot, not a writer. It means you aren’t thinking creatively based on the specific facts of your case – or thinking at all. This is not to say, of course, that grammar and style rules don’t matter. In many instances, they enhance the quality and the readability of your brief. The most important rules, however, are these:

Use common sense.

Trust your judgment.

Rely on your instincts.

After all, you want the reader to see you as a relatable and likable human being and, sometimes, that means breaking the rules. But how do you know when to break the rules? It’s simple: if it sounds good to the ear, write it and keep it.  Be sure, however, that what you hear – and write – is grammatically correct.

7.    Get a little nasty sometimes.

People like those who aren’t afraid to be edgy. To be witty. To be controversial. That type of writing shows that you are authentic – and that’s a great quality to have as a writer and person. Put simply, your writing should reflect your passion and your conviction.

To be sure, getting a little nasty doesn’t mean being an unprofessional jerk. But it does mean calling out bullshit when you see it. It does mean forcefully attacking arguments (not adversaries) in a raw and unapologetic manner.

Imagine, for example, that you are representing a defendant accused of murdering his wife. The evidence is largely circumstantial and based on the testimony of two eyewitnesses. On the eve of closing arguments, the prosecution discloses to you a document summarizing a DNA test that was performed on blood found on the murder weapon six weeks before the trial started. The DNA did not match the defendant’s DNA. You immediately move for a mistrial but the court denies it after the prosecution claims that the document had been lost and was found only an hour before it was disclosed to the defense. Your client is convicted and sentenced to life in prison. You appeal.

In your appellate brief, you should dispense with the niceties and professional courtesies, and call out the bullshit.  Consider the following:

Once again, we have a prosecutor who, at the eleventh hour of a murder trial, claims the equivalent of a student alleging that ‘the dog ate my homework.’ Specifically, the prosecution stated that it somehow “lost” evidence that exonerated my client, only to “find” it after the defense had rested its case and just before the jury began deliberations. The prosecution’s excuse is about as authentic as the tooth fairy and reflects a brazen disregard for the facts, the law, and my client’s life. In short, it’s bullshit. The result is that an innocent man is in prison, and if the conviction is affirmed, this court will essentially be saying that the dog did eat the student’s homework.

Yes, this paragraph is quite strong and, some would argue, over the top. Who cares? Stop worrying so much about how the reader will react – and what the reader might prefer – and focus on expressing your authentic voice.

After all, the prosecution’s behavior suggests strongly that misconduct occurred and that an innocent man is in prison for the rest of his life. How would most people, including the defendant and his family, react to such unethical behavior? They’d be furious. Your writing should, within reason, reflect the rightful indignation that should result from that injustice.

8.    Don’t edit too much.

Some writers just can’t stop editing. They just can’t stop rethinking, rewriting, and revising their work. Most of us have encountered these types. They say things like, “Do you think we can make an argument that cease has a slightly different meaning than desist?” or “This sentence is twenty-six words and sentences should only be twenty-five words, so what word should I take out?” or “I decided to delete the revisions to the revisions to the revisions because I don’t think they convey the point clearly” or “The Supreme Court case I cited about the summary judgment standard was from four years ago. We need to find a more recent case.”

These people are so annoying and truly don’t see the forest for the trees.

The problem with excessive editing is that it rarely improves to any substantial degree the quality of a brief. Rather, it often reflects a lawyer’s insecurities and addiction to perfection, which results in devoting every possible second before a deadline to editing. It’s a waste of time. What’s more, excessive revisions can weaken the authenticity and passion of your writing.

Accordingly, don’t overthink or overwrite. Trust in yourself. Let your authentic voice and passion show and remember that the reader isn’t focused on whether your sentence is twenty-five or twenty-six words. The reader is focused on the substance and persuasiveness of your arguments.

9.    Write like a human being.

Readers form perceptions of both the quality of writing and the writer. For that reason, it’s critical to write in a style that shows you to be credible, likable, and relatable. What are some ways that you do that?

Be conversational.

Be humorous (in appropriate circumstances).

Be straightforward.

In other words, lighten up on the formalities and resist the temptation to portray yourself as a master of the verbal section on the SAT. Do not, for example, write statements like “It is axiomatic that the First Amendment protects the right to free speech.”

Huh? Have you ever heard anyone use the word axiomatic during a conversation?

Imagine if you were on a date and your date said, “It is axiomatic that we have a great connection.” Um, that would be weird. And the connection would probably be gone.

People don’t talk like that. You shouldn’t write like that.

Justice Elena Kagan is a perfect example of what it means to speak and write like a human being. Kagan’s opinions display a conversational, authentic, and relatable tone that connects with the reader. Consider the following passage from one of Kagan’s opinions:

Pretend you are financing your campaign through private donations. Would you prefer that your opponent receive a guaranteed, upfront payment of $150,000, or that he receive only $50,000, with the possibility that you mostly get to control - of collecting another $100,000 somewhere down the road? Me too. That’s the first reason the burden on speech cannot command a different result in this case than in Buckley.[3]

The key here is “me too.” It relates and develops a connection to the reader. And few can forget one of Kagan’s humorous responses during her confirmation hearing. In response to the question of where she was on Christmas day, she replied “You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.”[4] The questioner’s response? “Great answer.”[5]

Indeed, it was.

10.    Ask questions.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions in your brief; doing so can enhance your argument’s narrative force. For example, in Obergefell v. Hodges, Chief Justice John Roberts dissented from the Court’s decision holding that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause encompassed a right to same-sex marriage.[6] In so doing, Roberts wrote as follows:

The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent. The majority expressly disclaims judicial “caution” and omits even a pretense of humility, openly relying on its desire to remake society according to its own “new insight” into the “nature of injustice.”… As a result, the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?[7]

Roberts’ question at the end underscores his point that the Court’s decision was predicated on the justices’ policy preferences, and not on the Constitution.

So, again, don’t be afraid to ask questions or be different in other respects. Excellent writing isn’t always about checking all the boxes to ensure that you’ve followed all the rules. It’s about telling the best possible story. It’s about writing with your heart and your authentic voice. Sometimes, that means making your own rules.

 

[1] Also, remember that most people who read your writing are cognizant of your effort and investment in your work. Thus, they will likely be reluctant to offer a blunt and candid assessment of your writing for fear of hurting you.

[2] Joe Berkowitz, “Write Drunk. Edit Sober. According to Science, Ernest Hemingway Was Actually Right (Jan. 4, 2017), available at: “Write Drunk. Edit Sober.” According To Science, Ernest Hemingway Was (fastcompany.com). (Note: This quote has been wrongfully attributed to Hemingway. It was said by Peter De Vries).

[3]  Laura K. Ray, Doctrinal Conversation: Justice Kagan's Supreme Court Opinions, 89 Ind. L. J. 1, 3 (2014), available at: Doctrinal Conversation: Justice Kagan's Supreme Court Opinions (indiana.edu)

[4] Id. at 1.

[5] Id.

[6] 576 U.S. 644 (2015).

[7] Obergefell v. Hodges, Excerpts from the Dissenting Opinions, available at: decision_excerpts_from_dissents_obergefell_student.pdf (landmarkcases.org) (emphasis added)

January 15, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (3)