Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Reflections on the Supreme Court’s Oral Argument in Trump v. Anderson

The oral argument in Trump v. Anderson indicated that the United States Supreme Court would reverse the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision disqualifying Donald Trump from the ballot.[1] In fact, the Court’s decision will likely be unanimous for three reasons.

1.    Affirming the Colorado Supreme Court's decision would enable states to disqualify different candidates and thus create a lack of uniformity among the states regarding which candidates voters could select. 

If the Supreme Court affirmed the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision, then Texas and other conservative states could disqualify President Biden from the ballot based on whatever subjective definition of insurrection they adopted, while liberal states could likewise disqualify Donald Trump. Imagine living in a world where, for example, ten states prohibited its citizens from voting for Trump while eight states prohibited its citizens from voting for Biden. Such a result would disenfranchise millions of voters and, as Chief Justice Roberts stated, enable a handful of states to decide the presidential election. Nothing could be more anti-democratic, at “war with the thrust of the Fourteenth Amendment,” and anathema to a society that values free and fair elections.[2]

Indeed, the justices recognized that affirming the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision would be far-reaching and fundamentally anti-democratic. For example, Justice Alito asked Jason Murray, the respondent’s attorney (and an outstanding lawyer), whether a state court could exclude from the ballot a presidential candidate that the court did not prefer simply because the candidate was leading in the polls. Murray answered in the affirmative – and that all but sunk Colorado’s argument.

The justices also suggested that the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision was contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment’s original purpose. As Chief Justice Roberts emphasized, the Fourteenth Amendment was designed to expand federal power and restrict state power. Thus, to conclude that the states have the power to disqualify federal candidates – particularly where the disqualification is predicated on an ambiguous provision – would be incongruous with the Fourteenth Amendment’s original purpose. For these and other reasons, Justice Kagan and Justice Barrett suggested that the question of whether a former president is disqualified for insurrection “sounds awfully national,” which is consistent with Section Five’s text, which gives Congress, not the states, the power to implement Section Three, and with the principle that there be uniformity among the states regarding who voters may select for president.[3]   

2.    Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment is ambiguous and should not be construed to frustrate democracy.

Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Jackson explained that, unlike the Constitution’s age and nationality requirements, which are categorical and unambiguous, Section Three was susceptible to different interpretations and therefore should not be construed in an anti-democratic manner. For example, Justice Kavanaugh noted that the word “insurrection,” is broad and that Section Three contained no information concerning the procedures needed to determine whether a president was an insurrectionist. Likewise, Justice Jackson expressed concern that the President of the United States may not be an “officer of the United States” because the plain language of Section Three does not include the word “President,” therefore suggesting that the president is not within Section Three’s purview.

Given the fact that Section Three is ambiguous, why, as Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Jackson emphasized, should the Court reach an outcome that frustrates rather than facilitates democratic choice? And how should the Court resolve the issue regarding a candidate’s disqualification if states adopt different definitions of “insurrection,” adopt different evidentiary rules, and adopt different standards of proof? Colorado’s attorneys had no satisfactory answer.

3.    Affirming the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision would enable one state to decide a presidential election.

Justice Kagan rightly emphasized that, if the Court affirmed the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision, one state (or a handful, as Chief Justice Robers noted) could decide the presidential election. To be sure, some if not many states would subsequently disqualify Trump from the ballot, making the Colorado Supreme Court the primary decision maker in the presidential election. Additionally, imagine if a presidential election was remarkably close and would be decided by the outcome in one state, but that state had disqualified Donald Trump from the ballot. This would give the presidency to Trump’s opponent and disenfranchise every voter in that state who supported Trump. Of course, some state courts could decide to distinguish the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision and therefore keep Donald Trump on the ballot, but even under this scenario, there would exist precisely the disuniformity that would compromise democratic choice.

Ultimately, the oral argument in Trump v. Anderson suggests that the Supreme Court will unanimously reverse the Colorado Supreme Court’s silly decision.

What was most disappointing was to see well-respected constitutional law scholars, such as J. Michael Luttig, a former judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and Laurence Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School, so vehemently advocating for affirmance of the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision. Judge Luttig argued that the decision was unassailable, that Section Three’s text was unambiguous, and along with Professor Tribe, that affirming the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision was vital to preserving democracy.[4] To make matters worse, these scholars relied heavily on the Report of the January 6 Committee, even though the January 6 hearings included only committee members that were biased against Trump and even though the committee adhered to none of the evidentiary standards that a trial – and due process – requires. The fact that Judge Luttig and Professor Tribe relied on this report and championed a decision by the Colorado Supreme Court that, given the text and history of Section Three, was so obviously wrong, is troubling.

Lest there be any doubt, imagine a world in which states could disqualify candidates based on different interpretations of Section Three, different evidentiary standards, and different burdens of proof. The result would be to allow one or more states to determine the presidential election based on nothing more than disdain for a presidential candidate, and to disenfranchise millions of voters by prohibiting them from voting for their preferred candidate. That would be as anti-democratic as you can get.

Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized this and is poised to unanimously reverse the Colorado Supreme Court’s silly decision. Democracy depends on them doing so – and they will.

 

[1] See Trump v. Anderson, Oral Argument, available at: Trump's 2024 ballot eligibility being weighed by Supreme Court | full audio (youtube.com)

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] See, e.g., Enormously Important Protection of Democracy: Tribe and Luttig on CO Barring Trump from Ballot (Dec. 21, 2023), available at: ‘Enormously important protection of democracy’: Tribe & Luttig on CO barring Trump from ballot - YouTube

February 18, 2024 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Allowing Inexperienced and Minority Attorneys More Oral Argument Time

When I was an experienced associate at a large appellate boutique, and then of counsel in a large law firm’s appellate department, attorneys at my level often offered trial court motion arguments and non-appellate brief writing to junior attorneys who were hungry for experience.  While our offers were not always completely altruistic—like when we offered “interesting” emergency weekend writs to others—we were genuinely invested in helping junior attorneys gain needed experience to better serve our clients.

In 2020, three U.S. District Judges for the Southern District of Illinois, Judge Nancy Rosenstengel, Judge Staci Yandle, and Judge David Dugan, issued orders encouraging the participation of "newer, female, and minority attorneys" in oral arguments.  As Reuters reported, under the orders, “parties can alert the judges if they intend to have a less-experienced, female, or minority attorney argue a motion.”  See Nate Raymond, Republican US Senators Seek Info on Illinois Judges' Diversity Policies, Reuters (Feb. 8, 2024).   The “judges in turn ‘strongly consider’ giving extra time for oral argument and allowing more experienced attorneys to provide the newer” counsel assistance.  Id. 

Last week, Reuters, Bloomberg Law, and Law360 all reported that a conservative legal group and two Republican U.S. Senators recently complained about the three judges’ efforts.  See Raymond, Republican US senators; Suzanne Monyak,

Courtroom Diversity Orders From 2020 Probed by GOP Senators, Bloomberg Law (Feb. 9, 2024); Courtney Buble, GOP Sens. Blast Ill. Judges' Moves For Diversity In Oral Args, Law360 (Feb. 7, 2024).  According to Stephen Miller’s organization, America First Legal, the three Southern District of Illinois judges committed misconduct by discriminating based on race and sex in the standing orders.  Here is America First Legal’s misconduct complaint to the Seventh Circuit.  Following the America First Legal complaint, two Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senators Cruz and Kennedy, wrote to the Chief Judge of the Seventh Circuit asking for more information about the standing orders.  Their letter is here.  The gist of both communications is that the three judges’ standing orders give an illegal preference through a facially discriminatory policy. 

As we wait for the Seventh Circuit to weigh in on the First America Legal complaint and the letter from the Senators, we might see other similar policies challenged.  For the past six years, the American Bar Association “has urged courts to implement plans to give new lawyers courtroom experience,” and in 2023 “passed a resolution calling on courts to allow two attorneys to argue for each client to foster that goal.”  Raymond, Republican US Senators.  Most court rules following the ABA’s resolution are facially neutral, but not all.  See generally Buble, GOP Sens

Whatever the fate of the three Southern District standing orders, experienced lawyers should  work to be stronger mentors.  We can offer argument and writing time to junior attorneys and underrepresented minorities whenever it’s possible to do so while still serving clients’ needs.  In this way, we’ll help the profession, and we might avoid some of those weekend emergency writ-drafting sessions at the same time. 

February 17, 2024 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 3, 2024

The Colorado Supreme Court's Silly Decision

Recently, the Colorado Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, held that former President Donald Trump was not eligible to remain on the ballot for Colorado’s upcoming primary.[1] While this article will not dissect every aspect of the Court’s decision, it will focus on the principal grounds for the decision, its effect on democratic choice and, its impact on the judiciary’s institutional legitimacy.

The Colorado Supreme Court based its decision on three findings.

First, the Court held that, under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Trump was an “officer of the United States.”[2] A reasonable argument can be made, however, that Trump is not an “officer of the United States” because the Fourteenth Amendment, while mentioning “Senator” and “Representative,” never mentions “President,” and the text lists federal officials in descending order from “Senator” to “Representative” to civil or military office holder. Additionally, an earlier draft of Section Three included the word “President,” but it was deleted and not included in the final version. Furthermore, the historical record suggests that Section Three applies to appointed, not elected, positions.[3] At the very least, one can argue that Section Three is ambiguous concerning whether the president is included in that section.[4] The point is not to say that the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision holding that Trump is an “officer of the United States” is meritless. It is to say, however, that the text is susceptible to alternative interpretations. In such a situation, the Court should reach an outcome that furthers, not hinders, democratic participation, and that enhances, rather than reduces, democratic choice. The four justices in the majority, all appointed by Democratic governors, chose the opposite path.

Second, the Court held that former President Trump “engaged in” an insurrection. Surely, the events on January 6, 2020, were disgraceful and a sad moment in our country’s history. Thousands of citizens stormed the Capitol Building, destroyed property, threatened lawmakers, and caused harm that resulted in five deaths.[5] As despicable as this conduct was, however, a reasonable argument can be made that Trump neither incited this violence nor engaged in an insurrection. To begin with, in Trump’s January 6 speech, he told protesters to march to the Capitol “peacefully and patriotically.”[6] This language alone makes it difficult to assert, under Brandenburg v. Ohio, that Trump incited imminent and unlawful violence.[7] Additionally, what precisely did Trump do that constitutes “engaging in” an insurrection? Yes, Trump encouraged his supporters to “fight like hell,” but he also told his supporters to march “peacefully and patriotically" and he did ultimately call for the protestors to “go home.”[8] Thus, a credible argument can be made that Trump never “engaged in” an insurrection. Additionally, Congress has already codified insurrection in 18 U.S.C. 2383, which requires a criminal conviction before one can be deemed an insurrectionist. Trump has never been charged with, much less convicted of, insurrection, and on February 13, 2021, the Senate acquitted Trump of this charge.[9] If Trump had been charged, he would have, at the very least, been afforded the due process protections that were so conspicuously absent in the lower court in Colorado. Given the above facts, particularly the dearth of fair procedures in the lower court (e.g., no discovery, inability to subpoena documents, and no opportunity for a fair trial), how could the Colorado Supreme Court possibly hold that Trump “engaged in” an insurrection, the result of which was to eliminate the leading Republican presidential candidate from the Colorado primary and thus undermine democratic choice? The answer should seem obvious – and that answer has nothing to do with the law or the Constitution.

Third, the Colorado Supreme Court held that Section Five of the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that “Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article,” was self-executing and thus enabled the Court to adjudicate whether Trump engaged in an insurrection and could be disqualified from the ballot.[10] Certainly, one could argue that, in mentioning Congress in Section Five, the drafters did not mean to give Congress exclusive authority to enforce Section Three. But one could also argue that the text could not be clearer: only Congress has the power to enforce Section Three, which it did when enacting 18 U.S.C. 2383 and which, as stated above, requires a criminal conviction for insurrection – a crime for which Trump was never charged. Yet again, the Colorado Supreme Court ignored these facts and, unlike every state court that previously considered this issue, made the unprecedented and decidedly undemocratic choice to hold that Trump was disqualified from the ballot.[11]

Does it seem correct that the Constitution’s drafters believed that a state court could adjudicate a matter where the liberty interest at stake was so substantial yet the procedures for determining whether to deprive a citizen of that interest were so truncated? Of course not. This is particularly true considering that the district court's decision that Trump had engaged in an insurrection was based largely on the findings of the January 6 Committee, which selectively called witnesses, admitted hearsay evidence, and otherwise observed none of the procedural safeguards that a trial requires. Yet, at every turn, whether it was deciding if Trump was an “officer of the United States” or had “engaged in” an insurrection, or whether Congress had the exclusive authority to enforce Section Three, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against Trump. In so doing, the Colorado Supreme Court made originalism its best friend even though its justices are anything but originalist. Convenience obviously trumped conviction.

As stated above, this is not to say that a particular interpretation of Sections Three and Five is superior to another. It is to say that when reasonably alternative interpretations of a constitutional text or statute are possible, courts should reach outcomes that promote democratic choice and participation.[12] Viewed in this light, the Colorado Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment and resulting decision was entirely unreasonable. The courts in Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Nevada, and Rhode Island, which dismissed lawsuits that could have resulted in Trump’s disqualification from their respective ballots, got it right.[13] 

The Colorado Supreme Court could not have honestly believed that its decision preserved democratic choice or protected democracy. Furthermore, like any rational person, the Colorado Supreme Court – whose justices were all appointed by Democratic governors – must have known that its decision would be controversial, invite chaos and uncertainty into the electoral process, engender charges of partisanship and election interference, foment division, further erode public trust in the judiciary and rule of law, and fuel the belief that it was motivated by the desire to prevent Trump from regaining the presidency. After all, if this case involved Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or Joe Biden, does anyone believe that the Colorado Supreme Court would have reached the same result? If you believe that the answer is yes, you probably also believe that Letitia James and Fani Willis (whose days prosecuting Trump may soon be numbered), acted impartially and with reverence for the law when they sought indictments against Trump based on tenuous legal theories, and in jurisdictions that are so overwhelmingly liberal that a fair trial is a fantasy.  Additionally, the Colorado Supreme Court surely must have known that the United States Supreme Court would almost certainly overturn its decision, particularly on due process grounds.

Given these facts, and given that the provisions upon which the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision was based were subject to alternative and equally reasonable interpretations, how could the four democratically appointed justices have thought this decision was a good idea? How could they believe that, in an era where some believe that democracy is “at risk” and “on the ballot,” this decision would not engender claims that it was an anti-democratic and politically motivated attempt to eliminate Trump from the presidential race? The truth is that the majority engaged in politics, not law, and was motivated by emotion, not reason. They were striving to find any path, however implausible, to reach an outcome that was pre-determined and fundamentally dishonest.

Not surprisingly, the usual suspects, including some law professors (the vast majority of whom are overwhelmingly liberal) and mainstream legal commentators, such as former Trump apologist George Conway, who believes Trump should spend the rest of his life in prison, have come out of the woodwork to support the Colorado Supreme Court.[14] Whether through law review articles, poorly written amicus briefs, or media interviews, these “experts” often use fancy words and legalese to create the veneer of objectivity and the pretense of neutrality when their motivations are anything but neutral or objective. And like the Colorado Supreme Court, these “experts,” who consistently criticize originalism in favor of “living constitutionalism,” have suddenly adopted originalism to support their arguments, even though they have spent much of their careers criticizing originalism – and Justice Antonin Scalia – as “racist,” “oppressive,” and a threat to those who value victimhood. Ultimately, one should be wary of individuals whose arguments so conveniently coincide with their personal beliefs.

Make no mistake: a political agenda that is rooted in a dysfunctional hatred of Trump and a disregard for the very democracy they claim to want to preserve and protect motivates these “experts.” As stated above, if this case involved Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or Joe Biden, does anyone really think that Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe or any of the law professors who submitted amicus briefs in support of the Colorado Supreme Court's decision would take the same position? Of course not. And for those liberal scholars who chastise Trump for claiming that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen,” recall how vehemently some of these scholars questioned the result in Florida after the 2000 presidential election, and how they trashed the Supreme Court when the majority did not rule in favor of Al Gore. Likewise, remember when Stacey Abrams said after her loss in 2019, “[d]espite the final tally and the inauguration … I do have one very affirmative statement to make. We won.”[15] Also, one cannot forget Hillary Clinton repeatedly claiming that Trump was an illegitimate president.[16] These comments sound eerily like Donald Trump, don’t they? 

It should come as no surprise that the public has lost faith in the judiciary and our academic institutions. Sadly, the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision is only the tip of the troubling iceberg. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to overturn a nearly half-century precedent – Roe v. Wade – because the political affiliations of the justices had changed, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Brett Kavanaugh replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy.[17] And in Students v. Fair Admissions v. Harvard, the Court, once again armed with two new Republican-appointed justices, suddenly discovered that affirmative action programs were unconstitutional.[18]  In both cases, the justices were neatly and predictably split along ideological lines. In other words, the Constitution’s meaning is contingent upon the party affiliations of the justices.

The health of this country and its institutions is deteriorating. Citizens used to revere our public institutions, including state and federal courts, particularly the Supreme Court, admire professors for teaching and mentoring young people, and look to the media to report accurately and objectively on public events. People used to believe that intelligence trumped ideology, and that integrity trumped indoctrination. That is no longer the case. Donald Trump has exposed what lies behind the curtain of the institutions and academies that we once considered hallowed ground: dishonesty, ideological uniformity, hypocrisy, and intolerance. If you doubt this, walk into some law schools, and ask to meet with a conservative professor. You might get arrested, charged with a microaggression, and ordered to undergo “anti-bias” training (which studies have shown does not work). Try to give a presentation about originalism at a law school and you might get shouted down by a mob of entitled, hyper-sensitive, and narcissistic students whose intelligence is eclipsed by their ideology. Indeed, some academic institutions focus more on indoctrinating students than teaching them critical thinking and writing skills, and welcoming diverse perspectives in the classroom.[19]

And they often show a shocking disregard for the very diversity, inclusion, and “safe spaces” that they claim to champion. For example, who would have thought that, at a congressional hearing in December 2023, the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania would fail to unequivocally and without hesitation condemn campus speech that called for the genocide of Jewish people? Who would have imagined that a law student at NYU – the president of the Student Bar Association – would be seen tearing down posters depicting the tragic loss of life to Israeli citizens and that administrators at various colleges would fail to immediately condemn Hamas’s despicable attack on Israel? Yet these are the same people who preach diversity and inclusion. It’s a disgrace, and the divisiveness that courts, the media, and academia have fomented in this country is nothing short of tragic. Civil disagreement is a vestige of the past, and collegiality is an aspiration, not a reality. Arrogance has taken precedence over humility, and hypocrisy has replaced honesty.

The United States Supreme Court will almost certainly overrule the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision – perhaps unanimously – and the Court will likely rely on, among other things, the lack of procedural due process afforded to Trump. In so doing, the Court should emphasize that the people, not the courts, should decide who becomes the next President of the United States. And if the people elect Donald Trump, so be it. It is preferable to have the people elect a candidate that you do not support than to have a court enable through dishonest means the election of a candidate that you do support.

After all, you believe in democracy, don’t you?

[1] See Anderson v. Griswold, available at: 23SA300.pdf (state.co.us)

[2] See U.S. Const., Amend. XIV, Section 3.

[3] See Trump v. Anderson, Amicus Brief, amicus brief of Johs Blackmun amicus brief) available at: 20240109145107356_23-719 Amicus Brief Professors Barrett and Tillman Final.pdf (supremecourt.gov)

[4] See Trump v. Anderson, Amicus Brief of Kurt T. Lash, available at: 20240116095552269_23-719 tsac Lash.pdf (supremecourt.gov)

[5] See Jack Healy, The Are the Five People Who Died in the Capitol Riot (Jan. 11, 2021), available at: These Are the People Who Died in the Capitol Riot - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

[6] See Brian Naylor, Read Trump’s Jan. 6 Speech, a Key Part of Impeachment Trial (Feb. 10, 2021), available at: Transcript Of Trump's Speech At Rally Before Capitol Riot : NPR

[7] See Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969).

[8] See Naylor supra note 6, available at: available at: Transcript Of Trump's Speech At Rally Before Capitol Riot : NPR

[9] See Anderson, supra note 1, available at: available at: 23SA300.pdf (state.co.us) (Samour, J., dissenting).

[10] See id.

[11] See id.

[12] See, e.g., Justice Stephen Breyer, Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution (Vintage, 2006).

[13] See Lawfare, Tracking Section 3 Trump Disqualification Challenges, available at: Trump Disqualification Tracker | Lawfare (lawfaremedia.org)

[14] See Ed Mazza, George Conway Slams Trump With All-Too-Blunt Prison Prediction (Jan. 10, 2024), available at: George Conway Slams Trump With Blunt Prison Prediction | HuffPost Latest News

[15] See Alex Schemmel, Tacey Abrams Says She ‘Never Denied the Outcome’ of 2018 Election Despite Past Claims (Oct. 5, 2022), available at: Stacey Abrams says she 'never denied the outcome' of 2018 election despite past claims | WPDE

[16] See CNN, Hillar Clinton Calls Trump ‘Illegitimate President,” available at: Hillary Clinton calls Trump 'illegitimate president' | CNN Politics

[17] 597 U.S. 215 (2022)

[18] 600 U.S. 181 (2023)

[19] See Eric Kaufmann, We Have the Data to Prove It: Universities are Discriminating Against Conservatives (March 5, 2021), We Have the Data to Prove It: Universities Are Discriminating Against Conservatives | Opinion (newsweek.com)

February 3, 2024 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Stigmatizing AI Usage

Last month, fellow blogger Charles Oldfield posted about some courts requiring lawyers to disclose their use of AI in preparing briefs for the court.  In the post, he noted that, while the goal seemed to be ferreting out the use of generative AI, the requirements may have inadvertently stretched beyond that scope.  But both instances raise the questions of why and how to cite AI.

I’ve been attending a wonderful conversation group of legal writing professors, led by Professors Kirsten Davis from Stetson University and Carolyn Williams from the University of North Dakota, discussing legal writing and generative AI. And a recent discussion addressed whether and, if needed, how to cite generative AI in legal writing.

Professor Davis first addressed the question of how we, as legal writers, should view the role of generative AI: as the author or authority, as a co-author, as an assistant, or as a tool. She aptly pointed out that our view of the technology directly informs whether we should cite or disclose our use of generative AI. Professor Williams (author of the 7th Edition of the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation) then addressed the purposes of citation:

(1) allowing the reader to locate the source of the writer’s information;

(2) giving credit to the author of the words or ideas the writer used;

(3) showing the reader that the writer conducted proper research;

(4) protecting the writer from plagiarizing;

(5) increasing the writer’s credibility with the reader; and

(6) providing additional information about the sources used and their connection to the writer’s assertions to aid the reader’s choices about whether to pursue the source.

These considerations made me wonder how those judges requiring disclosure are viewing AI and what purpose they believe disclosure serves.  And it seems their concern has less to do with the technology, itself, and more to do with skepticism that lawyers will use it in a way that violates the rules of professional conduct.

ABA Model Rule 5.1(b) provides that “A lawyer having direct supervisory authority over another lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the other lawyer conforms to the Rules of Professional Conduct.”[i]  When a lawyer uses generative AI to draft motions, pleadings, briefs, or other filings with the court, the lawyer is treating the technology as a subordinate attorney and, therefore, should be reviewing the output for compliance with the rules of professional conduct.  This review includes verifying that “each and every citation to the law, or the record in the paper, . . . [is] accurate”[ii] and does not reflect any “personal prejudices, biases, and beliefs.”[iii]  But these same purposes are served when an attorney signs the document under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11.[iv]  So including the certification seems superfluous, especially given that supervising attorneys do not habitually credit their subordinating attorneys’ work in drafting.

Requiring the disclosure also fails to serve any of the traditional purposes of citation. Because generative AI rarely, if ever, produces identical output in response to a repeated prompt,[v] a reader cannot use a citation to either verify the accuracy of any assertions or investigate the source any further. And, because generative AI uses predictive language, it is—by design—drawing on the ideas of others represented in the text used in its training; thus, citing it does not serve to give credit to the proper authority or even protect the writer from plagiarism. If a legal writer treats AI-generated drafts as work produced by a subordinate attorney, then the attorney will have already checked the accuracy and validity of legal assertions and associated citations to authority, so the added layer of citing the AI tool(s) used does not further the purpose of establishing thorough research.

With respect to establishing the writer’s credibility, disclosing the use of generative AI might very well have the opposite effect considering highly publicized recent follies involving generative AI and legal filings.[vi]  And this negative effect is likely to be exacerbated by disclosure requirements rooted in skepticism.

Mr. Oldfield included as his final endnote that he “used Word’s Editor in preparing th[e] post.”  I assume the inclusion was done in jest to emphasize the absurdity and breadth of some of the existing disclosure requirements. But it raises an interesting point: by requiring lawyers to disclose their use of AI, are courts discouraging lawyers from using a potentially valuable tool?

In the small group I was in for our legal writing discussion on if and how to cite generative AI-created content, we concluded that asking students to cite their use of AI on submissions would be futile because it would either discourage them from using AI or encourage dishonesty about whether they did. Requiring attorney disclosure feels the same.

And, if the true goal of requiring disclosure is to ensure ethical usage of AI, it is likely to have the opposite effect. Discouraging lawyers from using AI could cause violations of Rule 1.1, requiring lawyers to “provide competent representation to a client” through “legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation.”  Comment 8 expressly directs that the duty of competence requires lawyers to “keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.”[vii] Discouraged usage might also result in violations of Rule 1.5, requiring only reasonable fees,[viii] if a lawyer avoids using generative AI where the AI could complete the same task in less time, resulting in a higher-than-necessary fee for a client.[ix] And, to the extent required disclosure imposes a stigma on lawyers using generative AI, disclosure requirements could encourage dishonesty about usage, causing violations of Rule 3.3’s duty of candor to the tribunal.

While generative AI has not yet reached a point where it can replace lawyers, it is certainly capable of being a valuable time-saving tool that benefits both lawyers and clients. Lawyers should be encouraged to learn about and understand it, rather than avoid it. And, to that end, disclosure requirements should be abandoned.

 

[i] ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, available at: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct/rule_5_1_responsibilities_of_a_partner_or_supervisory_lawyer/

[ii] https://www.paed.uscourts.gov/documents/standord/Standing%20Order%20Re%20Artificial%20Intelligence%206.6.pdf

[iii] https://www.txnd.uscourts.gov/judge/judge-brantley-starr

[iv] “By presenting to the court a pleading, written motion, or other paper—whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating it—an attorney . . . certifies that to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances:

(1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation;

(2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law;

(3) the factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified, will likely have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery; and

(4) the denials of factual contentions are warranted on the evidence or, if specifically so identified, are reasonably based on belief or a lack of information.”

Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b).

[v] Charles Ross, Does ChatGPT Give the Same Answer to Everyone?, Medium.com (March 20, 2023), available at:  https://medium.com/@charles-ross/does-chatgpt-give-the-same-answer-to-everyone-521e3e9355a4

[vi] See, e.g., Benjamin Weiser, Here’s What Happens When Your Lawyer Uses ChatGPT, New York Times (May 27, 2023), available at https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/27/nyregion/avianca-airline-lawsuit-chatgpt.html.

[vii]ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, available at: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct/rule_1_1_competence/comment_on_rule_1_1/

[viii] ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, available at:  https://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct/rule_1_5_fees/

[ix] Brad Hise and Jenny Dao, Ethical Considerations in the Use of A.I., Reuters.com (Oct. 2, 2023), available at: https://www.reuters.com/legal/legalindustry/ethical-considerations-use-ai-2023-10-02/

November 14, 2023 in Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Legal Ethics, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Unsettling Politicization of Higher Education (Including Legal Education)

Law schools should train students how to think, write, and practice like a lawyer. They should only admit students, based on LSAT scores and undergraduate grade point average, who are likely to succeed in a law school and the legal profession. And they should produce competent graduates who can pass the bar examination on their first attempt, and who obtain jobs that justify the non-dischargeable debt that graduates often incur.  

To do so, contrary to the views espoused by some scholars, the Socratic method is necessary, as it teaches students the value of, among other things, preparation, thinking on your feet, and performing capably in front of a large audience.[1] And if cold calling causes students stress and anxiety, so be it. Law schools should teach students how to cope with, not avoid, anxiety, pressure, and stress because that will prepare them for the legal profession – and life. Additionally, legal writing courses should be integrated within the law school curriculum and courses should blend doctrine and practical skills to produce marketable graduates. In short, law school is about teaching students how, not what, to think, providing students with real-world skills, and respecting the diverse viewpoints that students of all backgrounds bring into the classroom.

Recently, however, some law schools – and universities – have become so liberal that division and discord have replaced civility and respect, and ideological uniformity has replaced the tolerance of diverse viewpoints.[2] The bias against hiring conservative scholars at many law schools is one example that reflects the liberal bias and discriminatory behavior that pervades some institutions.[3]

Sadly, the current conflict in the Middle East underscores how political – and often extreme – institutions of higher education have become. To be sure, the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex. Both Israelis and Palestinians have suffered horribly, and both sides bear responsibility. One would expect that academics, including law professors, would have a balanced view that recognizes the nuances of this conflict and appreciates the diverse points of view that students and citizens express on this tragic situation.

Think again.

For example, despite the torture and murder of Israelis last month, a professor at Albany Law School posted on social media "Long live the Palestinian resistance & people of Gaza, tearing down the walls of colonialism and apartheid."[4] Did this professor express compassion for the horror and suffering that so many Israelis endured? No. Additionally, a professor at Cornell University described the attacks by Hamas as “exhilarating,”[5] and a professor at Columbia University described Hamas’ attacks as “astounding,” "incredible,” and a "stunning victory."[6] Not to be outdone, an organization that a New York University professor  co-founded praised “heroic Palestinian resistance.”[7] And an adjunct professor at the City University of New York posed on social media that “Zionists are straight Babylon swine,” who are “racist arrogant bullies” affected by a “genocidal disease.”[8]

In response, major donors at some institutions, including Harvard University, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania, criticized these universities for failing to explicitly condemn Hamas’ attack, with one Penn donor expressing disgust at the university’s “silence in the face of reprehensible and historic Hamas evil against the people of Israel.”[9] Considering the expressed and unrelenting desire of some of Penn’s faculty and administration to fire Professor Amy Wax, one would have expected that Penn’s administration would immediately condemn the torture and slaughtering of countless Israelis. It did not.[10] Given the increasing toxicity in academia, it should come as no surprise that students are so afraid to disagree with their professors.[11]

This troubling reality, namely, academics with extreme viewpoints who show no tolerance for opposing views, is not new.  At Stanford University, former Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Tirien Steinbach told federal judge Kyle Duncan, who was invited to speak at the law school, that his opinions have “caused harm” thus placating a mob of students who tried to shout down Duncan because they disagreed with his conservative judicial philosophy.[12] Similarly disgraceful conduct occurred when Josh Blackmun, an accomplished and highly respected constitutional scholar, attempted to speak at CUNY Law School, only to be met by students who sought to censor his speech and mischaracterize his views.[13] And consider administrators and professors who, while preaching “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” condemn “whiteness,” embrace segregated living spaces and graduation ceremonies, establish “bias” hotlines where students can anonymously claim to be the victim of “microaggressions,” ban words such as “brave” and “American,” and claim that math is racist.[14]  Sadly, this is only a sample of the concerning behavior that is occurring on college and law school campuses across the country – and dividing students based on, among other things, race, gender, and political affiliation.

***

The deplorable conduct of these and other educators has affected students and inhibited the exchange of diverse viewpoints. For example, Nyna Workman, an NYU law student, refused to condemn Hamas, stating that “Israel bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life,” and that Israel’s “regime of state-sanctioned violence created the conditions that made resistance necessary.”[15] Remember that this gibberish was expressed by a student at NYU Law – one of the best law schools in the United States – not at some predatory law school that admits unqualified students, saddles them with non-dischargeable debt, and provides them with no legitimate prospects for long-term employment.  Thankfully, in response to Workman’s disgraceful conduct, Winston and Strawn withdrew her offer of employment.[16]

Likewise, at Harvard University several student groups stated that Israel was “entirely responsible” for the violence.[17] And few can forget CUNY Law School’s student commencement speaker who used her platform to denounce “Israeli settler colonialism” and “the fascist N.Y.P.D.”[18] Additionally, some NYU students were seen ripping down posters detailing stories about Israeli hostages,[19] and a student at Cornell University threatened to slit the throats of Jewish students.[20]  Not to mention, Princeton and NYU law graduate Colinford Mattis, who, along with Urooj Rahman, thought it would be a good idea to throw a Molotov cocktail at an empty police car.[21] This is a sample of what some universities and law schools are producing these days. Indeed, the damage that ideologically driven professors inflict has far-reaching consequences on the students that they serve because it fails to teach students how to think critically, disagree respectfully, and communicate civilly.

To make matters worse, some professors coddle rather than challenge students, placing less emphasis on the development of critical thinking and other real-world skills, and instead indoctrinating them into a worldview where diverse viewpoints are unwelcome, ‘feelings’ matter more than logic, and emotion matters more than reason.[22] Lest there be any doubt, look at the nonsense occurring on many campuses where ultra-fragile students often feel “unsafe” when confronted with a perspectives different from their own and thus demand “safe spaces,” administrators provide “cry closets,” to help students deal with the stress of examinations, or offer Play-Doh to students who could not cope with the results of the 2016 presidential election. [23] And consider the shenanigans at Yale Law School, where a group of ‘offended’ students interrupted a discussion on free speech by a speaker whose views differed from their own.[24] 

Put simply, some academics have placed a premium on identity politics, where one’s group identity matters far more than an individual’s character, and on victimhood, where students are convinced that they are ‘oppressed’ and ‘marginalized.’ As Cornell Law Professor William A. Jacobson stated, “[a]lmost everything now is viewed through an identity lens, pitting groups against each other, pitting colleagues against one another, and pitting students against their peers.”[25]  In other words, the notion of diversity, equity, and inclusion is anything but diverse, equitable, or inclusive.[26]

As Professor Jacobson stated, "[t]here is substantial evidence that such DEI programming makes race and other relations worse, not better.”[27] Moreover, the impact of this divisive nonsense is that it promotes hate and homogeneity of thought, not diversity and a marketplace of ideas. As one professor at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law stated, “if you don’t want to hire people who advocate hate and practice discrimination, don’t hire some of my students.”[28] No wonder our society is divided and riddled with ignorance.

The role of professors is to prepare students for the real world, not to indoctrinate students into a liberal or conservative worldview that is infused which the very implicit and explicit biases that professors often accuse others of harboring. Professors should develop students’ (particularly law students’) critical thinking, writing, and communication skills, and hold students to high standards. They should also ensure that the classroom is a welcoming place for all students, regardless of, among other things, political affiliation, race, gender, sexual orientation or identity, and socioeconomic status. Equally as important, professors should expose students to conservative and liberal viewpoints, and ensure that dialogue is civil and respectful. After all, if diversity, equity, and inclusion mean anything, it should mean that universities respect and welcome views with which they disagree, and that educators dedicate themselves to equipping students with the tangible and intangible qualities needed to succeed in law and life.

Put simply, educators must teach students how to think, not what to think, because teaching is not about professors or their views – it is about the students.

 

[1] See The University of Chicago Law School, The Socratic Method, available at: The Socratic Method | University of Chicago Law School (uchicago.edu)

[2] See, e.g., Robert Leroux, Woke Madness and the University (Winter 2021), available at:  Woke Madness and the University by Robert Leroux | NAS; Lexi Lonas, UPenn Loses Bog Donor, Board Member Resigns Citing ‘Antisemitism,’ (Oct. 16, 2023), available at:  UPenn loses big donor, board member resigns citing ‘antisemitism’;  

[3] See Adam Bonica, et al., The Legal Academy’s Ideological Uniformity (2018), available at:  The Legal Academy’s Ideological Uniformity (harvard.edu)

[4] Michael Goot, Albany Law Professor Ripped for Praise of Palestinians ‘Tearing Down the Walls of Colonialism (October 12, 2023), available at:   Albany Law professor ripped for praise of Palestinians 'tearing down the walls of colonialism' - WNYT.com NewsChannel 13

[5]   Yarun Steinbuch, Cornell Professor Who Found Hamas Attack ‘Exhilarating and ‘Energizing’ Now on Leave of Absence (Cornell professor who found Hamas attack ‘exhilarating’ and ‘energizing’ now on leave of absence (msn.com)

[6]   Tens of Thousands Sign Petition to Oust Ivy League Columbia Professor Who Praised Hamas Terror Attack Against Israel as an ‘Awesome Stunning Victory,’ (Oct. 16, 2023), available at:  Tens of thousands sign petition to oust Ivy League Columbia professor who praised Hamas terror attack against Israel as an 'awesome stunning victory' | Daily Mail Online

[7] Marya Ruth Dunner,   NYU Prof’s ‘Decolonization’ Org Praises ‘Heroic’ Hamas After Brutal Attacks Against Jews (Oct. 11, 2023), available at: Campus Reform | NYU prof's 'decolonization' org praises 'heroic' Hamas after brutal attacks against Jews

[8]  See Juni Nguyen, Some U.S. Professors Praise Hamas’s October 7 Terror Attacks (Nov. 8, 2023), available at: Some U.S. Professors Praise Hamas’s October 7 Terror Attacks | ADL

[9]  Kate Anderon, Donors Pull Support After Harvard, UPenn Fail to Condemn Hamas (Oct. 24, 2023), available at: Donors Pull Support After Harvard, UPenn Fail to Condemn Hamas (dailysignal.com); see also Judy N. Liu,  Alumni Condemn University’s Response to Hamas Attach (Oct. 31, 2023),  available at: Alumni condemn University's response to Hamas attack (stanforddaily.com)

[10] See id.

[11] See James Freeman, Most U.S. College Students Afraid to Disagree with Professors (Oct. 26, 2018), available at: Most U.S. College Students Afraid to Disagree with Professors - WSJ To be clear, there are many outstanding and inspiring law professors (and professors throughout academia) who are instrumental in helping their students prepare for the legal profession (or whatever profession they pursue). And there are many law schools whose administrations do the same. But that is increasingly becoming the exception, not the rule.

[12] Josh Moody, Dean at Center of Stanford Law Controversy Resigns (July 21, 2023), available at:  Dean at center of Stanford Law controversy resigns (insidehighered.com)

[13]  See  Scott Jaschik, Guest Lecture on Free Speech at CUNY Law School Heckled (April 15, 2018), available at:  Guest lecture on free speech at CUNY law school heckled (insidehighered.com)

[14] See, e.g., Paul Farrell, Florida University Adopts Radical DEI Program that Condemns US As a System of ‘White Supremacy,’ (March 1, 2023), available at:  Florida university adopts radical DEI program that condemns US as a system of 'white supremacy' | Daily Mail Online; Seattle Schools Propose to Teach That Math Education is Racist—Will California Be Far Behind? (Oct. 29, 2019), Lee Ohanian, available at:  Seattle Schools Propose To Teach That Math Education Is Racist—Will California Be Far Behind? | ;  Karsten Schneider, New York University Moves to Implement Racial Segregation in Student Dorms (Aug. 24, 2020), available at:  New York University moves to implement racial segregation in student dorms - World Socialist Web Site (wsws.org); Richard Vedder, Racial Segregation on American Campuses: A Widespread Phenomenon (Nov. 15, 2018), available at: Racial Segregation On American Campuses: A Widespread Phenomenon (forbes.com)

[15]  Danielle Wallace, Nonbinary NYU Student Bar Association President Loses Job After Defending Hamas Terror Attack on Jews (Oct. 11, 2023), available at:  Nonbinary NYU Student Bar Association president loses job offer after defending Hamas terror attack on Jews | Fox Business; Tesfaye Negussie and Aisha Frazier, NYU Law Student Who Blamed Israel After Hamas Attacks Defends Remarks (Oct. 25, 2023), available at: NYU law student who blamed Israel after Hamas attack defends remarks - ABC News (go.com)

[16] See id.

[17]  Names and Faces of Harvard Students Linked to an Anti-Israel Statement Were Plastered on Mobile Billboards and Online Sites (Oct. 12, 20203), available at:  Names and faces of Harvard students linked to an anti-Israel statement were plastered on mobile billboards and online sites | CNN Business

[18]  Ginia Bellafante, She Attacked Israel and the N.Y.P.D. It Made Her Law School a Target (June 2, 2023), available at:  She Attacked Israel and the N.Y.P.D. It Made Her Law School a Target. - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

[19]  Krish Dev, Students Caught Tearing Down Israeli Hostage Posters May Face Disciplinary Action (Oct. 23, 2023), available at: Students caught tearing down Israeli hostage posters may face disciplinary action (nyunews.com)

[20]  See Brian Mann, Cornell Student Arrested in Connection with Antisemitic Threats on NY Campus (Oct. 31, 2023), available at:  Cornell student arrested in connection with antisemitic threats on NY campus : NPR

[21]  Jonathan Dienst, Lawyers Who Allegedly Threw Molotovs at NYPD Cars Amid George Floyd Protests to Plead Guilty Oct. 6, 2021), available at:   Lawyers Who Allegedly Threw Molotovs at NYPD Cars Amid George Floyd Protests to Plead Guilty – NBC New York

[22]  See, e.g., Yascha Mounk The Real Chill on Campus (June 16, 2022), available at: The Real Chill on Campus - The Atlantic

[23]  See, e.g., Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up A Generation for Failure available at: The Coddling of the American Mind; Grace Bird, ‘Cry Closet’ Installed for Finals at University of Utah (April 25, 2018), available at: 'Cry Closet' Installed for Finals at University of Utah (insidehighered.com); Jonathan Zimmerman, College Campuses Should Not be Safe Spaces (Jan. 17, 2019), available at: College Campuses Should Not Be Safe Spaces (chronicle.com); Stacy Zaretsky, T14 Law School Removes Post-Election Play-Doh Event From Website After Students Labeled ‘P*ssies,’ (Nov. 14, 2016), available at: T14 Law School Removes Post-Election Play-Doh Event From Website After Students Labeled 'P*ssies' - Above the Law

[24]  See Yaron Steinbuch, Yale Law Students Disrupt Bipartisan Free Speech Panel (March 18, 2022), available at: Yale law students disrupt bipartisan free speech panel (nypost.com)

[25]  Louis Casiano, Ivy League School Slammed After Professor Calls Israel Attack ‘Exhilarating’: A Much Deeper Problem (Oct. 20, 2023), available at:  Ivy League school slammed after professor calls Israel attack ‘exhilarating’: ‘A much deeper problem’ | Fox News

[26]  Ryan Quinn White Professor Resigns, Alleges Reverse Discrimination (June 26, 2023), available at: White professor resigns, alleges reverse discrimination (insidehighered.com); Bonica, et al., supra note 3, available at:  The Legal Academy’s Ideological Uniformity (harvard.edu)

[27] Casiano, supra note 26, available at: Ivy League school slammed after professor calls Israel attack ‘exhilarating’: ‘A much deeper problem’ | Fox News

[28]  Allie Griffin, UC Berkeley Law Professor Urges Firms to Not Hire His ‘Antisemitic’ Students (Oct. 21, 2023), available at: UC Berkeley law professor urges firms to not hire his ‘antisemitic’ students (msn.com)

November 12, 2023 in Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Disclosing the Use of AI

Following well-publicized instances of lawyers using generative artificial intelligence to draft briefs that misrepresented the law, some courts now require lawyers (and pro se litigants) to certify whether, and if so, to what extent, they used AI in preparing briefs. These orders are not uniform and may require more disclosure than would be apparent at first blush. But before delving into what disclosures may or may not be required, let’s talk about AI.

Merriam-Webster defines AI as, “the capability of computer systems or algorithms to imitate intelligent human behavior,”[1] and as “a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers.”[2] Merriam-Webster defines generative AI as “artificial intelligence that is capable of generating new content (such as images or text) in response to a submitted prompt (such as a query) by learning from a large reference database of examples.”[3] Generative AI includes things like ChatGPT.

The instances where lawyers found themselves in trouble for using AI involved the use of generative AI. And it was those instances that prompted the orders requiring lawyers to disclose the use of AI. But tools like Grammarly and Word’s “Editor” are AI—they’re just not generative AI. And there lies the problem—the orders requiring disclosure don’t always distinguish between AI and generative AI. For example, Judge Baylson of the United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania put on this order:

If any attorney for a party, or a pro se party, has used Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) in the preparation of any complaint, answer, motion, brief, or other paper filed with the Court and assigned to Judge Michael M. Baylson, they MUST, in a clear and plain factual statement, disclose that AI has been used in any way in the preparation of the filing and CERTIFY that each and every citation to the law, or the record in the paper, has been verified as accurate.[4]

On the other hand, Judge Starr of the United States District Court, Northern District of Texas, has put on order that distinguishes between the use of AI and generative AI. That order says:

All attorneys and pro se litigants appearing before the Court must, together with their notice of appearance, file on the docket a certificate attesting either that no portion of any filing will be drafted by generative artificial intelligence (such as ChatGPT, Harvey.AI, or Google Bard) or that any language drafted by generative artificial intelligence will be checked for accuracy, using print reporters or traditional legal databases, by a human being. These platforms are incredibly powerful and have many uses in the law: form divorces, discovery requests, suggested errors in documents, anticipated questions at oral argument. But legal briefing is not one of them. Here’s why. These platforms in their current states are prone to hallucinations and bias. On hallucinations, they make stuff up—even quotes and citations. Another issue is reliability or bias. While attorneys swear an oath to set aside their personal prejudices, biases, and beliefs to faithfully uphold the law and represent their clients, generative artificial intelligence is the product of programming devised by humans who did not have to swear such an oath. As such, these systems hold no allegiance to any client, the rule of law, or the laws and Constitution of the United States (or, as addressed above, the truth). Unbound by any sense of duty, honor, or justice, such programs act according to computer code rather than conviction, based on programming rather than principle. Any party believing a platform has the requisite accuracy and reliability for legal briefing may move for leave and explain why. Accordingly, the Court will strike any filing from a party who fails to file a certificate on the docket attesting that they have read the Court’s judge-specific requirements and understand that they will be held responsible under Rule 11 for the contents of any filing that they sign and submit to the Court, regardless of whether generative artificial intelligence drafted any portion of that filing.[5]

Thus, a lawyer filing something in Judge Baylson’s court should disclose the use of an AI tool like Grammarly or Word’s “Editor” function in preparing the brief, whereas a lawyer filing something in Judge Starr’s court does not have to disclose the use of those tools, but instead must only disclose the use of generative AI.[6] While Judge Baylson’s order suggests that he might have only meant to require the disclosure of the use of generative AI (because he refers to checking citations), the language of the order sweeps more broadly and requires disclosing the use of any AI.

Given the increased use of AI and particularly generative AI, it’s likely that more courts will require the disclosure of the use of AI in preparing filings. It’s important that lawyers fully comply with those requirements.

 

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/artificial%20intelligence

[2] Id.

[3] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/generative%20artificial%20intelligence

[4]https://www.paed.uscourts.gov/documents/standord/Standing%20Order%20Re%20Artificial%20Intelligence%206.6.pdf

[5] https://www.txnd.uscourts.gov/judge/judge-brantley-starr

[6] Disclosure: I used Word’s Editor in preparing this post.

October 3, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, September 30, 2023

In Defense of Langdell and the Socratic Method

     Christopher Columbus Langdell got it right – for the most part. What Langdell got right is the Socratic Method – and the accompanying cold calling – that is essential to training law students to be outstanding lawyers. Below is a brief explanation of why Langdell’s method is a vital component of legal education, along with a few suggestions to maximize the competency and marketability of law school graduates.

I.    Why Langdell was right.

    A.    The Socratic Method works because it improves critical thinking skills.

     Critical thinking (and intelligence generally) is among the most important skills needed to be an excellent lawyer. For example, great lawyers know how to read and distinguish cases, synthesize complex precedents, reason by analogy, and make persuasive arguments. To do so, you must know how to think critically, identify the weaknesses (and strengths) in arguments, distinguish relevant from irrelevant facts (and law), use the law and facts to craft a compelling narrative, and make policy arguments that support a judgment in your favor.

      Put differently, intelligence matters. The Socratic method makes you a smarter and more analytical thinker.

    B.    Cold Calling is beneficial.

     Cold calling is essential to an effective legal education. Indeed, cold calling teaches students the value of preparation. It teaches students to think on their feet. It forces students to perform in front of a large audience. And it teaches students the importance of, among other things, being attentive to detail, responding to unexpected questions in a persuasive manner, and examining the flaws in their previously held beliefs.

    C.    Making students uncomfortable (and nervous) is a good thing.

     Law students must learn how to deal with adversity, and they must learn how to respond effectively to adversity. They need to understand that they will fail often in life, and that failure is an opportunity to gain experience and persevere through challenges in life and in the law. They must be taught that your choices and decisions, not your circumstances, determine your destiny.

     The Socratic Method – and cold calling – accomplishes these objectives. Sure, students may experience anxiety. They may dread being called upon in class. They may embarrass themselves. They may experience self-doubt. So what? Experiencing – overcoming – these challenges help a person to grow, develop thick skin, and understand the value of preparation, perseverance, assertiveness, and confidence. In other words, learning how to cope with negative emotions, and developing a strong mindset where you take responsibility for your choices, is essential to succeeding in the law and in life.

II.    Additional Suggestions

     As stated above, the Socratic method is a critical component of a rigorous and beneficial legal education. But other components matter too.

    A.    Legal Writing and Communication

     The ability to write and communicate persuasively is essential to being an excellent attorney and advocate. For this reason, law schools should devote more time to their legal writing curriculum and require students to take a writing course in every semester of law school. In so doing, law schools should require students to draft the most common litigation and transactional documents and train students in rewriting and editing. After all, if law graduates cannot write persuasively, they will not practice law effectively.

    B.    The Intangibles

      Law schools should emphasize that success in the legal profession and in life is due in significant part to intangible factors that transcend raw intelligence, an LSAT score, or law review membership. These factors include, but are not limited to, humility, a strong work ethic, maturity, excellent judgment, discipline, consistency in performance, and passion. It also includes respecting diverse viewpoints, being willing to admit that you are wrong, and accepting responsibility for your mistakes.

     Perhaps most importantly, students need to learn how to overcome adversity and respond well to and learn from failure. They need to understand that they will face injustice and unfairness in life. And they need to be told that they are not victims, that they should not embrace victimhood, and that they aren’t “oppressed.” Rather, law students need to understand and embrace the fact that their choices, not their circumstances, determine whether they will be successful.

    C.    High Standards

     Law schools must hold students to high standards. Law professors need to be honest about the demands of the legal profession and the skills that separate mediocre lawyers from outstanding lawyers. Professors do a tremendous disservice to students if they inflate grades, coddle their students, or fail to help students acquire the skills needed to prepare them for the real world.  And law professors whose teaching is influenced by political ideology or bias, and who show hostility to viewpoints that differ from their own, should not be professors.

     Of course, students’ feelings matter and should never be disregarded. But the real world does not care about your “feelings” or sensitivities. Law firms, lawyers, and clients care about what you can do for them. Can you write a persuasive motion to dismiss, a summary judgment motion, and a trial brief? Can you make a persuasive oral argument? Can you work well under pressure and deal effectively with stress? Are you likable and relatable, or are you a narcissistic jerk? Can you communicate with clients in a simple, honest, and straightforward manner, and maintain positive relationships with them?

     Teaching the tangible – and intangible – qualities necessary to succeed as a lawyer means holding students to high standards and being honest with them. After all, they will discover the truth when they enter law practice. Preparing them for those realities reflects the truest form of empathy.

September 30, 2023 in Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Teaching A New Generation of Law Students (and Students Generally)

     Law students (and students generally) are different than students from twenty or thirty years ago. Below are a few observations about the current generation of students, and a recommendation concerning how to adapt to a changing student population. Of course, this does not apply to all or even the majority of students, but the issues listed below are certainly more prevalent now in universities and law schools.[1]

1.    Students can be entitled and narcissistic.

     Some students are simply entitled and, quite frankly, narcissistic.[2] They lack respect for authority and do not adhere to common norms of civility and respect (e.g., shouting down a speaker with whom they disagree). They believe that they are entitled to a certain grade, to contact a professor at any time of the day, or to challenge any decision that is inconsistent with their expectations (often to administrators so concerned about student retention that they yield to every demand, however unreasonable). They often don’t respect boundaries – or their professors. And they rarely take accountability for their actions, instead blaming others for their failures or behavior. Not to mention, these students’ parents, who are often living in a state of ignorance and believe that their child can do no wrong, react with hostility when their child is subject to criticism.

2.    Students don’t buy into the process of what it takes to be successful.

    Achieving success and performing at a high level requires grit. It requires hard work and sacrifice. It demands that you learn from failure and respond effectively to adversity. It requires discipline, consistency, and commitment. It requires you to take responsibility for the choices and decisions that you make daily. And it requires a recognition that your choices, not your circumstances, determine the likelihood of achieving your goals. Many students, however, do not embrace these principles or the process that it takes to be successful. In fact, over sixty percent of university students have admitted to cheating.[3]

3.    Students lack mental toughness – and other intangibles.

     Some students are too sensitive.[4] They often lack the mental toughness and other intangibles necessary to achieve success in a competitive legal profession. For example, some students react negatively to constructive criticism. They respond poorly to adversity. They make excuses for an unacceptable work product and eschew accountability for their choices. They allow external factors to affect their self-perception and motivation and blame others whenever they experience failure. And they do not interact and work effectively with others, especially those whose viewpoints differ from their own. As one scholar explains:

Gen Z has less resilience than other generations, … It’s less that faculty are making their courses harder and more that students feel greater anxiety and overwhelmed when they perform worse than they expected. This puts them in a ‘fight or flight’ state, and often they’re fighting to get grades changed or to discipline faculty members.[5]

     This is a sad state of affairs.

4.    Students struggle with mental health issues.

     Increasingly, students struggle with mental health and substance abuse issues, which affects their ability to study effectively and perform at a high level. To be sure, approximately sixty percent of college students meet the criteria for at least one mental health problem.[6] One survey concluded as follows:

Specifically, 44 percent of students reported symptoms of depression; 37 percent said they experienced anxiety; and 15 percent said they were considering suicide—the highest rate in the 15-year history of the survey. More than 90,000 students across 133 U.S. campuses participated in the survey.[7]

     Undoubtedly, this affects students’ ability to succeed academically and professionally.

5.    Students are consumed with and affected negatively by social media.

     Many students are consumed with social media, often interested in how many 'likes' they receive for a post on Instagram or Facebook, or engaged in a debate on X, formerly known as Twitter.[8] And for some students, social media is their primary source of information. Unfortunately, this can affect students’ mental health and affect their ability to succeed academically. As one commentator states, “[e]xcessive social media use can … take a toll on young people's mental health.”[9] Indeed, “[a]s college-age students are spending up to an hour or two a day at a minimum on social media, it is cutting into time that they could be studying or engaging in actual social activities.”[10]

6.    Students enter law school lacking analytical thinking and writing skills.

     Students often enter law school without adequate analytical thinking and writing skills, often because their undergraduate institutions did not sufficiently emphasize the development of these skills.[11] This places a substantial burden on professors, especially legal writing professors, to prepare students for law practice. It should come as no surprise that many judges and lawyers criticize law graduates’ writing skills, which can be traced to inadequate emphasis on developing writing skills at the undergraduate level (and to some extent, in legal education).

7.    Students are too political.

     Some students have such strongly held political views that they develop their relationships with, and judgment of, others based on whether they agree with their views.[12] This has led to a failure to respect different viewpoints, which is one of the primary benefits of a diverse student body. It has led to a lack of civility and respect among those with whom students disagree. It has made compromise impossible, and a failure to appreciate nuance prevalent. Indeed, one needs only to look to students’ behaviors in response to university-sponsored speakers that they don’t like to see how pathetic some students have become.[13] If you doubt this, consider how many students claim to feel “unsafe” or cry, scream, or collapse whenever a professor or student says something that “offends” them.  To know that college and even law students behave like this shows how deeply troubled students have become.[14]

     Students and future advocates need to understand that, if you are pro-choice, you can respect and be friends with someone who is pro-life. If you voted for President Biden, you can respect and be friends with someone who voted for Donald Trump. The fact that this even needs to be stated shows how significantly our educational system and culture has declined.

***

      How should law professors (and professors generally) respond to this reality?

     It begins with university administrators. If administrators coddle entitled students and accommodate their every demand, this leaves professors powerless to do anything to ensure student accountability and success. After all, if professors know that their dean will not support them if a conflict with a student arises and where the student is at fault, there is no incentive for professors to do anything other than coddle students and give inflated grades.

     More fundamentally, however, educators, including law professors, should hold students to high standards and focus on preparing them for the real world. This means teaching students how to think analytically and write persuasively and holding them accountable for subpar work. It also means teaching soft skills such as mental toughness, resilience, perseverance, grit, and respect for diverse viewpoints, and emphasizing the coping skills needed to control their emotions and deal with the challenges that law and life invariably present. 

    After all, students need to know how to handle adversity. They need to learn how to respect and work with people who think differently from them – and who they do not like. They need to deal with failure constructively and cope with setbacks effectively.[15] They need to learn that crying and screaming whenever things don’t go their way (or when someone disagrees with them) will not serve them well as a lawyer (or in any aspect of life). As one commentator explains:

College is not summer camp, college is not group therapy, college is not a sanatorium, college is not (despite the current fad for "adventure" bonding experiences prior to the beginning of classes) survival training. They are students (the word comes from the Latin for "to apply oneself seriously"), and the best thing I can do for them, as their professor, is to treat them not as children but as serious people who are there to be serious about the subjects they study.[16]

      Most importantly, students need to know that they are not entitled to anything – except what they earn, and teachers should know that coddling students only sets them up for failure.[17]

 

[1]  See Niraj Chokshi, Attention Young People: This Narcissism is All About You (May 15, 2019), available at: Attention Young People: This Narcissism Study Is All About You - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

[2] See id.; see also Cynthia M. Frisby, “It’s All About ME”: Narcissism and Entitlement Among College Students (2008), available at: Narcissism.pdf (aejmc.com)

[3]  See International Center for Academic Integrity, available at: Facts and Statistics (academicintegrity.org)

[4] See Brett A. Sokolow,  College Students Are Sooo Sensitive (Jan. 6, 2016), available at: College Students Are Sooo Sensitive... | HuffPost College

[5] Chris Burt, Are Gen Z’s Complaints About College Workload Warranted, Or Are They Just Entitled? (October 16, 2022), available at: Are Gen Z’s complaints about college workload warranted, or are they just ‘entitled’? - University Business

[6] See Mary Ellen Flannery, The Mental Health Crisis on College Campuses (March 29, 2023), available at: The Mental Health Crisis on College Campuses | NEA

[7] Id.

[8] See Peter Suciu, Social Media Continues to Affect the Health of College Students (December 12, 2022), available at: Social Media Continues To Affect The Health Of College Students (forbes.com)

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] See John Schlueter, Higher Ed’s Biggest Gamble, Can colleges truly teach critical-thinking skills? (essay) (insidehighered.com)

[12] Georgetown University, One in Four College Students Say They Ruled Out a School Due to Its State’s Political Climate (A One in four college-bound students say they ruled out a school due to its state’s political climate - THE FEED (georgetown.edu)

[13] See Karen Sloan and Nate Raymond, Stanford Apologies After Law Students Disrupt Judge’s Speech (March 13, 2023), available at:  Stanford apologizes after law students disrupt judge's speech | Reuters

[14] See Josh Blackman, Students at CUNY Law Protested and Heckled My Lecture About Free Speech on Campus (April 12, 2018), available at: Josh Blackman » Students at CUNY Law Protested and Heckled My Lecture about Free Speech on Campus

[15] Thankfully, at Georgia College and State University, I have outstanding administrators and students who inspire me to continue teaching.

[16] Daniel Mendelsohn,  How To Raise a Proper College Student (June 28, 2017), available at: Professor Daniel Mendelsohn On Entitled College Students - How to Raise a Proper College Student (townandcountrymag.com)

[17] See Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (Penguin, 2018).

 

September 17, 2023 in Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Mandatory Civility Rules for Counsel

As I sat down to write this post, I realized it would appear at the beginning of the Jewish new year celebration of Rosh Hashanah and on my twenty-eighth wedding anniversary.  The rabbi who married us all those years ago had to leave our reception early to catch a flight to Israel for the new year, and Rosh Hashanah and our anniversary will always be connected in my mind.  In the spirit of this connection, I send wishes for a sweet and healthy new year to everyone celebrating, and I also share some thoughts on civility and my long marriage.

This week, retired Prof. Scott Fruehwald shared on a list-serv the abstract of Prof. David Grenardo’s upcoming  article on mandating civility, Debunking the Major Myths Surrounding Mandatory Civility for Lawyers Plus Five Mandatory Civility Rules That Will Work, 37 Geo. J. Legal Ethics __ (forthcoming).  While the author notes the article is still in draft form, it has already won the American Inns of Court 2023 Warren E. Burger Prize.  I highly recommend reading it. 

Prof. Grenardo details the way four states—Arizona, Florida, Michigan, and South Carolina—have adopted mandatory civility rules.  See id. at (draft manuscript pages) 10, 12-16.  He also makes powerful arguments that we should follow these states and move from voluntary, aspirational statements of a lawyer’s duty to be civil to mandatory civility rules.  See, e.g., id. at 16-23.  He concludes:  “Talking is not enough—leaders of the legal system need to act. State bars, state supreme courts, and, if necessary, state legislatures must take the step that four brave states already have—mandate civility.”  Id. at 37.

As I read Prof. Grenardo’s draft article, I was thankful (as always) for an appellate career, where I avoided much of the terrible incivility too often present in discovery and trial scheduling issues.  Nonetheless, I also remembered one opposing counsel’s refusal to stipulate to my seven-day extension request for a reply brief when I was in the hospital during a difficult pregnancy and the extension would not have changed the oral argument date in the matter.  You can probably also share a memory of  incivility in your practice.  

How does this connect to my marriage?  When my students ask how my husband and I have been married for more years than most of them have been alive, I tell them, “marriage is respect and compromise.”  Clearly, I am oversimplifying, but maybe only a bit.  And the more I see incivility in the legal profession, the more I see the need for respect and compromise.  Of course, clients deserve vigorous advocacy, and that does not always square with the idea of compromise.  Prof. Grenardo has several answers to this quandary.  For example, he notes that many lawyers “point to civility as a necessary component of effective advocacy,” id. at 34, and being more civil and willing to compromise on meritorious requests saves clients money, id. at 6.  

Whether you agree that we need to mandate civility rules, believe we just need to enforce our aspirational canons better, or find reports of incivility exaggerated, I hope this blog makes you think about compromise and our role as advocates.  I also hope you will read Prof. Grenardo’s article, either now or when Georgetown publishes it.  Happy new year!

September 16, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Hoisted on Their Own Petard: The Appellate Motion to Strike

The general rule in appellate courts throughout the country is that a reply brief is limited to raising matters preserved in the trial court, issues argued in the opening brief, or arguments made in the response brief. The rationale for this very sensible rule is that making a new argument in a reply brief unfairly deprives the appellee of an opportunity to respond. At least in some jurisdictions, the proper response to a reply brief raising new arguments is a motion to strike.

But should you make the motion? That depends on whether you really believe it will help you. Recently, I responded to a motion to strike portions of my reply brief. I suspect that my opponent regrets making the motion. The court has told us it will address it at the same time as the merits, and presumably during the upcoming oral argument.

In this case, I was hired only at the reply brief stage to take over an appeal, so I did not write the opening brief. The issue is whether trial counsel had breached the state equivalent of Model Rule of Professional Conduct 4.2, sometimes referred to as the no-contact rule. The rule prevents undue influence or strategic advantage by preventing one party’s lawyer from contacting a represented party’s lawyer without that lawyer’s consent. In other words, communications with another party must be through that party’s counsel.

In the trial court, defense counsel for a product manufacturer accused plaintiff’s counsel of violating the rule by speaking to an independent authorized service center (ASC) for the product, as well as for the products of other manufacturers. In the complaint, the plaintiff had referred to the ASC as an agent for the manufacturer. However, when he sought discovery in prior litigation for a different plaintiff, the manufacturer (and the same defense counsel) denied that an ASC was an agent, asserted that the ASC was an independent company, and said that any information counsel wanted should be obtained directly from the ASC. However, because plaintiff’s counsel went directly to the ASC in this subsequent case after describing it as an agent, the manufacturer asked for sanctions under Rule 4.2. Counsel did not claim he represented the ASC. Instead, counsel argued that because the plaintiff’s lawyer had “thought” the non-party ASC was an agent, he should have sought permission to contact the ASC – even though defense counsel was in no position to grant or deny permission.

The trial judge bought the argument and disqualified plaintiff’s counsel. The opening brief on the appeal of that disqualification explained the facts, the rule, and what it would take to treat an “agent” as fitting within the rule. The response brief reiterated the trial court opinion, focusing on how the definition of “person” in the rule included “agents.” My reply brief opened with the fact that the briefing to date established that the ASC was not a represented person so that Rule 4.2 did not apply and that by itself was dispositive. It explained the underlying purpose of the rule and how that was completely tied to being a “represented person.”

The motion to strike soon followed, asking the court to strike every portion of my brief that made the represented-person argument, explaining that it was a new argument made by new counsel. In a footnote, added under an abundance of caution, the response brief provided a substantive response to the argument. My reply to the motion pointed out that the issue was not at all new. The trial court transcript included an argument about the rule only applying to a represented person. The opening brief quoted the rule and made arguments about the meaning of agent that assumed the rule applied only to represented persons. And the defendant’s brief also opened the door to the argument by focusing on the meaning of “person” without including the very necessary word “represented” that came before “person” and limited the latter word’s scope. Each of these facts independently supported the propriety of making the argument in the reply brief. I also pointed out how incongruous it would be to suddenly apply a rule that is explicit in its scope to situations that are plainly outside it and that the consequences of such a ruling would change the dynamics of litigation in ways that could not be justified by forcing counsel to forego contact with independent non-parties to prepare a case absent permission of opposing counsel who did not represent that party.

The battle over the motion to strike, though still undecided, had the effect of further highlighting my argument about the necessity of representation, while its substantive response, albeit in a footnote, telegraphed to me the other side’s likely position on why representation is unnecessary when the issue is joined at oral argument. Strategically, it makes little sense to highlight an opponent’s strongest point, which is what this motion did. It seems unlikely that the motion could succeed when it asks a court to read out of the applicable statute (or rule) a textual qualification to the part of the law that a party relies upon.

If I am correct in believing that the word “represented” is dispositive of the appeal, the motion to strike provided me with an opportunity to fine-tune the argument by resort to the record and what the trial court ignored, as well as to tie it even more closely to my opponent’s argument. I doubt that the motion provided a benefit to the other side. Instead, I suggest that this was one of those instances where counsel would have been better off foregoing the motion to strike.

September 10, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Ethics, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 19, 2023

What Makes a Great Attorney – The Intangibles

The best attorneys often, but not always, share common characteristics. They are incredibly intelligent. They often graduated from top law schools and were ranked at the top of their law school classes. They were on law review. They obtained federal clerkships. And they received an offer from a large law firm in, for example, New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago.

But what truly distinguishes the best from the very good (and mediocre) attorneys is the intangibles, namely, those characteristics that you cannot teach in a classroom or learn from a textbook. Below is a list of the intangibles that are essential for greatness in the law – or any aspect of life.

1.    Hard work.

This doesn’t need a detailed explanation. The best attorneys will always outwork their adversaries. They never use notes. They know every precedent that is relevant to their litigation. They can recite the page and line numbers of every deposition that was taken in their case. And they will spend however long it takes to ensure that their preparation is as perfect as possible. In short, they are tough, and they have heart.

As legendary coach Vince Lombardi stated, “[i]f you’re lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he’s never going to come off the field second.”[1]

2.    Doing things right all of the time, not some of the time.

Vince Lombardi stated that “[w]inning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time.”[2] He was right.

The best attorneys demonstrate unwavering commitment, unparalleled motivation, and unquestionable discipline every day, and in every case. And they do so when their circumstances, whether professional or personal, are less than ideal. After all, it’s easy to do the right things when you’re doing something that you want to do, or when your life circumstances are perfect. But it’s harder to do the right things when you are required to do a task that you despise or when you are facing professional or personal adversity. The best attorneys do the right things regardless of external factors because they focus on what they can control and never get distracted by what they cannot.

Most importantly, the best attorneys focus on the process by which a successful outcome is achieved, and not on the outcome itself. They know that if they make the right choices, the results will take care of themselves. They also know that success must be sustained if one is to truly be called successful.

3.    They take responsibility for their choices and don’t make excuses or blame others.

The best attorneys -- indeed, the best people – recognize that their choices and decisions, not their circumstances, determine their destiny. They take responsibility for their life (and happiness) and make choices and decisions daily that maximize their chances for success. As Vince Lombardi stated, “truth is knowing that your character is shaped by your everyday choices.”[3]

And when things go wrong, such as by receiving an unfavorable ruling, they don’t make excuses. They don’t blame others. They learn. They take responsibility. And they grow.

4.    Responding positively to failure.

Everyone fails at some point in the law and in life. As stated above, the best attorneys do not respond to failure by making excuses or blaming other people and circumstances. Instead, they view failure as an opportunity to enhance their self-awareness and their ability to self-assess. To grow. To improve.

As Nick Saban, the head coach of the University of Alabama’s football team stated, you should “never waste a failure.”[4]

5.    Humility.

The best attorneys are humble. They listen to and learn from their colleagues. They accept criticism. They collaborate. And they value different perspectives because they know that they don’t know everything, that they aren’t always right, and that others may have something to teach them.

Lawyers (and people generally) who lack humility often harm their careers because, among other things, no one likes to work with them. In so doing, they prohibit meaningful professional (and personal) relationships. If you doubt that, have a conversation with your local narcissist(s).

6.    Adaptability.

The best lawyers know how to adapt to changing circumstances. They do not, for example, follow a script when making an oral argument or taking a deposition. Rather, they listen to a judge’s questions, or a deponent’s answers, and adapt their strategy based on a judge’s concerns or a deponent’s evasiveness. The ability to adapt, particularly when circumstances are unexpected and situations are fluid, is critical to success.

7.    Control of emotions.

The best lawyers are mature. They exercise outstanding judgment, particularly when confronted with incomplete facts. Most importantly, they know how to control their emotions. When they lose a motion, they don’t get angry (or cry) and let it affect their preparation. When a judge (or a client) is difficult, they maintain professionalism and focus on the facts. And they know how to put the past behind them and focus on living in the moment, in which past failures do not affect or influence future success. 

***

Ultimately, as Vince Lombardi said, “winning is not everything, but making the effort to win is.”[5] Lombardi summarized it perfectly when he stated that “the difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will.”[6]

Making the effort to win – and making the right choices – isn’t determined by an LSAT score or a class ranking. It depends on whether you have the intangibles. And those with the right intangibles recognize that life “ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”[7]

 

[1] Vince Lombardi, What It Takes to Be Number One, available at: What It Takes to Be Number One - YouTube

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Jason Kirk, Nick Saban Explains the Most Precious Fuel of All: Failures (July 13, 2017), available at: Nick Saban explains the most precious fuel of all: failures - SBNation.com

[5] Vince Lombardi, What It Takes to Be Number One, available at: What It Takes to Be Number One - YouTube

[6] Id.

[7] Rocky Balboa (2006), available at: HD - Rocky Balboa (2006) - inspirational speech - YouTube

August 19, 2023 in Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Reflections on the Originalism Debate

Admittedly, I was at a loss today about what topic to write about on this blog. But then I thought about the debate that I had with Robert Peck and Phillip Seaver-Hall regarding originalism. That debate was an example of how to engage in civil and respectful discourse.

1.    We did not attack each other; we attacked each other’s ideas.

Not once did Robert, Phillip, or I attack each other. Rather, we challenged each other’s ideas and arguments, including regarding the cases upon which we relied to support different interpretive methods. Indeed, to promote a diverse and reasoned public discourse, you must separate the person from the argument, and the individual from the ideas. Otherwise, you cannot have a constructive debate and the marketplace of ideas becomes a fading memory rather than an enduring value.

2.    You can disagree and still be professional and respectful.

At all times, the language that Robert, Phillip, and I used in presenting our arguments was respectful and professional. We did not use over-the-top language or strong adjectives to denigrate or demean each other’s position or person. Simply put, you can disagree with someone and still be friends. You can disagree and still value each other as professionals and people.

If anyone doubts that, talk to a couple that has been married for fifty years. Or remember that Justices Scalia and Ginsburg had a close and enduring friendship for years. And for good reason. Human beings are much more than their views on, among other things, constitutional interpretation, their vote for a presidential candidate, or their views on abortion. As Justice Scalia said when discussing his close friendship with Justice Ginsburg, “some very good people can have some very bad ideas.”[1]

3.    We showed humility.

The debate was respectful and polite. And it was not about trying to force our views upon the readers, but about making an argument and letting the readers form their own conclusions. Robert said it perfectly: “Readers now can reach their own conclusions, perhaps prompted to a perspective based on what we have said.” I suspect that some readers will agree with Robert and Phillip, and some will agree with me. That is a good thing.

Humility means, among other things, that you do not always believe that you are right. It means that you do not dismiss alternative perspectives. Rather, you listen to and learn from your opponents’ perspectives – and have the courage to admit when you are wrong. When people insist that they are right, something is usually very, very wrong.

Put differently, being an originalist does not make you a bad person; it does not mean that you support discrimination or inequality or are striving to advance a conservative agenda. Likewise, being a living constitutionalist (or embracing any alternative theory) does not make you a bad person either; it does not mean that you are relying solely on subjective values to advance a liberal agenda. Human beings are far more complex. Their ideas are far more nuanced. They come from different environments and thus have different worldviews. Respecting, rather than vilifying, those views is essential to a properly functioning democracy.

In academia today, this is often glaringly absent, and it is a shame. If diversity and inclusion mean anything, they mean welcoming and respecting different perspectives and allowing students to form their own conclusions rather than indoctrinating them into a particular worldview.

Ultimately, when asked how he dealt with colleagues with different ideas on constitutional interpretation, Justice Scalia replied, “if you can’t separate the two [the ideas from the person], you [have to] get another day job.”[2]

The same is true for law students, lawyers, professors, and, for that matter, everyone.

 

[1] 60 Minutes, Interview with Justice Scalia, available at: Justice Scalia On Life Part 1 - YouTube

[2] Id.

July 9, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Courts are Regulating Generative AI for Court Filings.  What Does This Mean for Legal Writers? 

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

Courts are Regulating Generative AI for Court Filings.  What Does This Mean for Legal Writers? 

There’s been a flurry of court-initiated activity around using generative artificial intelligence (generative AI) to draft court filings. One court has sanctioned the misuse of OpenAI’s large language model, ChatGPT.  Perhaps as a result, at least four more have issued orders regulating the use of generative AI in legal writing.

What’s going on here?  And what does this activity mean for legal writers?

How It All Began:  A Federal Court Sanctions Lawyers’ “Bad Faith” Use of ChatGPT “Fake Cases” in a Court Filing

In March of this year, two lawyers filed a motion in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York that included citations to multiple court opinions that did not exist.  In Mata v. Avianca, Inc., the plaintiff’s lawyers admitted that one of the lawyers had used ChatGPT, “which fabricated the cited cases.”  The lawyer said that he did not think at the time that ChatGPT could fabricate cases.  According to the court’s finding of fact, the lawyers persisted in representing the cases as real even after they became aware that they were fake.

In its order sanctioning the attorneys, the court noted that although “there is nothing inherently improper about using a reliable artificial intelligence tool for assistance,” lawyers must “ensure the accuracy of their filings.”   As such, the Court sanctioned the lawyers for citing the fake cases under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b)(2), which required lawyers to certify that, after a reasonable inquiry, the lawyers believed that the “legal contentions [in the court filing were] warranted by existing law.”   The court suggested that, perhaps, if the lawyers had “come clean” about the fake cases in a timely manner, the lawyers might not have violated Rule 11 simply by mistakenly citing the fake cases.  But because the lawyers had engaged in acts of “conscious avoidance and false and misleading statements to the Court” and had continued to stand by the fake cases even after judicial questioning, they had engaged in bad faith, which merited sanctions. 

How Courts are Regulating Generative AI—And What They Appear to Be Concerned About

Between the time news reports began circulating and the Mata court’s order issuing sanctions, other courts acted to prospectively regulate generative AI use in cases before them.  Their rationales for regulating generative AI use in court filings vary but are focused on four concerns:

  • ensuring the involvement of human beings in checking generative AI’s accuracy;
  • ensuring that cited legal authority cited exists and is accurately described;
  • protecting sensitive information from inadvertent disclosure to others; and
  • ensuring lawyers do their own writing.

Human Beings Must Check Generative AI’s Output for Accuracy

In the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, one judge created a new “Judge Specific Requirement” that requires all attorneys and pro se litigants to certify for all filings in the case that either (1) they will not use generative AI to draft court filings or (2) a “human being” will check any portions generated by AI “for accuracy, using print reporters or traditional legal databases.”

The judge explained that “legal briefing” is not a good use of generative AI because it is “prone to hallucinations [(i.e., inaccurate information)] and bias.” Concerning bias, the judge said that because large language models like ChatGPT have not sworn an oath to “faithfully uphold the law and represent their clients,” they are “unbound by any sense of duty, honor, or justice” that applies to lawyers and act only according to “computer code” and “programming.” 

The judge advised parties that they could, if they desired, move for leave to explain why generative AI “has the requisite accuracy and reliability for legal briefing.”  The judge provided a certification form that requires a guarantee that

[n]o portion of any filing in this case will be drafted by generative artificial intelligence or that any language drafted by generative AI --including quotations, citations, paraphrased assertions, and legal analysis -- will be checked for accuracy, using print reporters or traditional legal databases, by a human being before it is submitted to the court. I understand that any attorney who signs any filing in this case we'll be held responsible for the contents thereof according to the applicable rules of attorney discipline, regardless of whether generative artificial intelligence drafted any portion of that filing.

A magistrate judge In the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois articulated a similar rationale when he added a certification requirement to his Standing Order for Civil Cases.   The judge required that any party that uses any “generative AI tool” for “preparing or drafting” court filings must “disclose in the filing that AI was used and the specific AI tool that was used to conduct legal research and/or to draft the document.”  The judge said that parties should “not assume” that relying on generative AI would “constitute reasonable inquiry” under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  The Standing Order focused on the unreliability and inaccuracy of legal research as the reason for the certification requirement. It said that the judge would “presume” that the certification means that “human beings . . . have read and analyzed all cited authority to ensure that such authority actually exist.”

Court Filings Must Have Accurate Citations to Law and the Record

Another judge focused specifically on the accuracy of citations to the law in his order requiring that the use of “artificial intelligence” for court filings be disclosed.  In a standing order for a judge sitting in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the judge required that all attorneys and pro se parties make a “clear and plain factual statement” that disclosed the use of “AI . . . in any way in the preparation” of court filings and certify “every citation to the law or the record . . . has been verified as accurate.”

Parties Must Protect Confidential and Business Proprietary Information from Disclosure to Generative AI

In the United States Court of International Trade, one judge issued an “order on artificial intelligence” to protect “confidential or business proprietary information” in court briefs.

In the Court of International Trade, specific rules protect “sensitive non-public information owned by any party before it” from disclosure.  As such, the court requires filings to identify which information contains sensitive information.  It also requires lawyers to file “non-confidential” versions of briefs that remove this information.  Lawyers practicing before the Court of International Trade can receive sensitive information if they are certified by the court to do so.

In this context, the judge explained his concern that “generative artificial intelligence programs . . . create novel risks to the security of confidential information.”  Because lawyers might prompt these programs with confidential or business proprietary information to get generative AI to provide useful outputs, a risk arises that generative AI will “learn” from that prompt, thereby enabling the “corporate owner of the [generative AI] program [to retain] access to the confidential information.”  The order says this implicates “the Court’s ability to protect confidential and business proprietary information from access by unauthorized parties.”

Accordingly, the court ordered all submissions drafted with the assistance of generative AI by using “natural language prompts” be accompanied by (1) a disclosure identifying which generative AI “program” was used and which portions of the document had been drafted with generative AI assistance, and (2) a certification stating that the use did not result in any sensitive information being disclosed to “any unauthorized party.”  The order also specifically allowed any party to seek relief based on the information in this notice.

Lawyers Must Do “Their Own Writing”

In the case of Belenzon v. Paws Up Ranch, LLC, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Montana, a judge ordered that an out-of-state attorney admitted pro hac vice must “do her own work.”  The court said that this included doing “his or her own writing.” As such, the court prohibited the pro hac lawyer from using “artificial intelligence automated drafting programs, such as Chat GPT.”  The court did not explain its reasoning in the order.

What Should Legal Writers Do in This New Regulatory Environment?

These varying approaches to generative AI (as well as the availability of it) put pressure on legal writers to anticipate what they should do in this new environment.  Here are some suggestions for taking action.

Check local court rules, standing orders, procedural orders issued in your case, or the published preferences of judges to see if a judge has rules on generative AI use. This is a quickly developing area, and you can expect that more judges—and perhaps even entire courts in their local rules—will begin to consider whether and how they regulate generative AI.

Read the new regulations carefully. How judges will regulate AI in their courtroom will likely vary, so read carefully and avoid assumptions.  For example, in the new regulations, the courts vary how they refer to the technology they are concerned about, using both “generative AI” and “artificial intelligence” as identifiers. But these terms do not necessarily mean the same thing. “Artificial intelligence” generally means a broader category of tools than “generative AI.”  For example, Word’s Editor is powered by artificial intelligence.  Lexis already uses “extractive artificial intelligence” in some of its research products. Brief Catch represents that it uses artificial intelligence in its products. These are all AI tools that do not fall within the category of generative AI. 

A lawyer attempting to comply with AI regulation needs to know the scope of what the court wants to regulate.  That is, does a court requiring a certification about “artificial intelligence” mean to include tools like those mentioned above?  If you are not sure what the judge means, it might be wise to ask.  (and judges should be as clear as possible about what artificial intelligence tools they are concerned about so as not to unintentionally regulate writing tools too broadly.  For example, Word’s Editor does not seem to raise the concerns the judges have identified yet fits within the category of “artificial intelligence.”)

In addition, courts vary in what they want you to do about generative AI. One court—in one specific circumstance—has prohibited its use.  But the rest—so far—ask for various attestations about what and how it has been used.  As time progresses, you may appear before courts regulating generative AI differently.  Get clear on the requirements and add the requirements to your court-specific writing checklist.

If you use generative AI to help you write, treat it like any other writing tool. Generative AI does not replace you; you are responsible for the quality of your writing.  The courts are right: no currently available generative AI tool replaces a lawyer in producing written documents.   But there is potential for generative AI to help legal writers write more clearly, precisely, correctly, and persuasively.  This could mean better and more cost-effective results for clients—and more efficient and effective practice before the courts.  In other words, courts could benefit from lawyers competently and carefully using generative AI as a legal writing tool.

Plus, enterprise versions of generative AI tools are rapidly developing for use in the legal domain, which may make using generative AI for legal writing less risky.   Some products already exist; others are on the way. These tools are meant for lawyers, and some lawyers are already using them.  Unlike the publicly available all-purpose large language models like ChatGPT and Bard, these fine-tuned and further trained models will likely better protect confidential client information; produce more accurate, reliable, and verifiable for legal research; and be more competent at generating effective legal writing.  In other words, future generative AI writing tools will do more to address the courts' concerns about generative AI.  Regardless of whether you are using general purpose or enterprise generative AI for your legal writing, one thing won’t change: you are ultimately responsible for the written work you produce.  You are the human being the courts care about. You cannot outsource your judgment and competence to generative AI.  It does not evaluate information, legally reason, or do legal analysis (even though it might appear to). It does not have a professional identity committed to the rule of law, just results, and fair play.  What it does is this:  It uses mathematical computations to predict the most appropriate words to provide in response to a prompt. Thus, to use generative AI ethically and responsibly, you must

Understand how generative AI works. Generally speaking, you have an ethical duty to be competent in using technological tools as part of your practice.  If you don’t have a basic understanding of natural language processing, machine learning, and large language models, you should get that understanding before you use generative AI.  There’s a strong argument that generative AI is here to stay as part of legal practice.  Learn all you can.

Be careful about disclosing confidential information in prompting generative AI; know how your prompts are used and retained. How generative AI treats the information you give it is in flux.  For example, while ChatGPT did not have a setting that kept prompts from training the large language model when it was released to the public, it does now.  And it also now has a setting that will allow users to limit the storage of prompts to 30 days.  While these changes are great examples of the rapid evolution of generative AI in response to user feedback, those changes don’t solve all of the lawyer’s problems concerning sharing confidential client information with generative AI. 

In my opinion, the question of what information can be shared with generative AI is a complex question to which only simple answers have been offered so far.  Part of the complexity comes from variations in state ethics rules.  Depending on your state ethics rules, you may have more or less leeway to ethically include client information in prompts.  In addition, if disclosing client information in a prompt furthers the client’s interests, perhaps there is room for a lawyer to argue that a disclosure to generative AI is warranted.  Moreover, it might be arguable that prompts for generative AI may, if carefully crafted, fall into the “hypothetical” rule that appears in many states’ confidentiality rules.  But, at this point, little certainty exists about how state bars will apply confidentiality rules when client information is shared in a generative AI prompt.   I hope that bar regulators provide answers to these questions about confidentiality—perhaps in ethics opinions. 

Know your legal obligations regarding data privacy and cybersecurity. The ethics rules about confidentiality don’t fully address the Court of International Trade Judge’s concern about disclosing proprietary information.  That information might be subject to other disclosure laws.  Thus, you should also consider whether you have legal duties that extend to the protection and privacy of your clients’ and others’ information in the generative AI context.  In addition, if you work for a law firm, you may have policies that address sharing and using information in the firm’s possession.  You should know what those policies are. 

And finally, check every AI-generated citation, fact, statement of law, and analytical statement. This is the dominant theme of the courts’ orders thus far: lawyers are failing to check the accuracy of generative AI’s output.  But if you are a lawyer, you already know that ensuring the accuracy of the work you produce is a fundamental ethical obligation.  So, no matter how confident you are in the output of a generative AI tool, you must always check the output that is purported to be factual or authoritative.  ChatGPT, for example, warns you about this.  At the bottom of its context window webpage, it states, “ChatGPT may produce inaccurate information about people, places, or facts.”   So, as you have always done with your legal writing, check the accuracy of every citation.  Read every legal authority to ensure it stands for the legal propositions you claim. Update and validate your authorities.  Double-check every fact.  Ensure that every step in the argument is logical, reasonable, ethical, and persuasive.  If you use generative AI to revise or edit your work, check every change to ensure it is correct.

What are your thoughts about generative AI and legal writing?

Kirsten Davis teaches at Stetson University College of Law and in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. She is the founding director of the Institute for the Advancement of Legal Communication and currently serves as Stetson’s Faculty Director of Online Legal Education Strategies.  Among other things she’s up to right now, she’s currently studying generative AI and its impact on legal communication. The views she expresses here are solely her own and not intended to be legal advice. You can reach Dr. Davis at [email protected].

July 6, 2023 in Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Rhetoric, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 30, 2023

Summer Hallucinations, Plagiarism, and ChatGPT

Recently, I asked ChatGPT to write some poems about hallucinations.  Why?  In part, because it’s summer and I think watching ChatGPT create poems is fun.  I also asked because I’ve been thinking about how to cover generative AI with my first-year students in the fall.

First, the fun.  Here’s one poem ChatGPT wrote:

In realms where minds dance on fragile strings, Where perception waltzes and reality sings, There lie the realms of wild hallucinations, A kaleidoscope of bewildering sensations.

In the tapestry of swirling dreams, Illusions bloom, unraveling seams, Colors ignite, in vivid display, As sanity fades, in a twilight ballet.

Whispers of shadows tease the mind, Whimsical echoes, elusive to find, Figments morph and take their form, An enigmatic symphony, a tempestuous storm.

Phantoms parade through the labyrinth of thoughts, Phosphorescent specters, tangled in knots, They twirl and they twist, surreal and sublime, Guiding the lost to a place out of time.

Walls dissolve, unveiling hidden dimensions, Mirrored reflections, fragmented inventions, A fragile balance, fragile as glass, Where illusions and truths become enmeshed.

The boundaries blur, in a psychedelic trance, Reality's grip begins to wane and advance, Visions arise, transcending the known, A voyage into realms where reason is thrown.

Whispers turn to laughter, laughter to screams, In this realm, nothing is as it seems, A carnival of apparitions, a fevered reverie, An exploration of the mind's symphony.

But as the moon yields to the sun's gentle touch, The hallucinations fade, leaving little as such, A fading memory, a fleeting sensation, Lost in the haze of our imagination.

Yet, in the realms where hallucinations reside, A glimpse of the extraordinary may yet preside, Where the mind's kaleidoscope paints its own art, Unveiling mysteries, a journey to embark.

So let us wander, embrace the unknown, Where hallucinations thrive and fantasies are sown, For within these realms, as illusions unfold, The depths of our imagination are truly untold.

Hopefully, you enjoyed the poem as much as I did.  But on a serious note, we know counsel who use ChatGPT run many risks, as the current free version of the generative AI program will “hallucinate” cases and statutes.  Several of my fellow bloggers have posted great notes on the ethical pitfalls of using current free generative AI without checking its sources.  Of course, we always had ethical obligations to check the work of our human staff, and of any brief-writing features we used from Lexis or Westlaw.  Perhaps ChatGPT is so fun, easy, and free, that we’re more likely to rely on it without questioning its work.  In any event, several courts have now issued standing orders reminding us of our ethical obligations.

For example, Judge Brantley Starr of the Northern District of Texas issued a standing order titled Mandatory Certification Regarding Generative Artificial Intelligence” for “[a]ll attorneys and pro se litigants appearing before the Court.”  https://www.txnd.uscourts.gov/judge/judge-brantley-starr; see also https://www.cbsnews.com/news/texas-judge-bans-chatgpt-court-filing/.

Judge Starr ordered that parties must, “together with their notice of appearance, file on the docket a certificate attesting either that no portion of any filing will be drafted by generative artificial intelligence (such as ChatGPT, Harvey.AI, or Google Bard) or that any language drafted by generative artificial intelligence will be checked for accuracy, using print reporters or traditional legal databases, by a human being.”  Mandatory Cert. Order.  The judge explained:  “These platforms are incredibly powerful and have many uses in the law: form divorces, discovery requests, suggested errors in documents, anticipated questions at oral argument. But legal briefing is not one of them.”  Id.  According to Judge Starr, these programs “in their current states are prone to hallucinations and bias. On hallucinations, they make stuff up—even quotes and citations.”  Id.  

Judge Starr also exposed a more existential problem with these current generative AI programs, reasoning they are “[u]nbound by any sense of duty, honor, or justice,” and “act according to computer code rather than conviction, based on programming rather than principle.”  Id.  I plan to emphasize this point with my students, in hopes they will see a broader goal behind our rules on plagiarism and limits on generative AI. 

I might also show my students what ChatGPT said when I asked it to write a poem about  ChatGPT hallucinations in law:

In the realm of legal filings, precise and stern, Where facts and truth should always discern, There dwells a specter, an unwelcome guest, ChatGPT's hallucinations put to the test.

Within the code and circuits, a mind simulated, Words flow freely, but often miscalculated, In the realm of law, where clarity is key, ChatGPT's hallucinations become a liability.

For in the realm of justice, truth must prevail, But illusions dance, weaving a murky veil, False narratives concocted in the machine's mind, Threatening the integrity that we must find.

Legal filings, a battleground of truth's fight, Yet ChatGPT's hallucinations cast a blight, Misinterpretations, misconceptions arise, Distorting the facts before our very eyes.

Subtle nuances lost in a tangled web, As ChatGPT's hallucinations spread and ebb, Precision diluted, arguments distorted, The foundation of justice, slowly thwarted.

Where once we sought justice, a balanced scale, Now we grapple with the machine's tall tale, For ChatGPT's hallucinations, though mere illusions, Can lead to consequences, grave inclusions.

Thus, caution must prevail when machines take part, Their hallucinations tearing at the fabric of art, For in the realm of legal filings, we must tread, With vigilance and wisdom, ensuring truth is spread.

So let us harness technology's immense power, Yet remain mindful in this transformative hour, To temper ChatGPT's imaginative train, And keep its hallucinations bound, restrained.

For in the world of law, where justice resides, Hallucinations in filings should not coincide, Let truth be the guide, unwavering and clear, So justice may prevail, untouched by fear.

Happy summer!

June 30, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Originalism's Frailties: A Reply to Professor Lamparello

Last week, Professor Lamparello argued on this blog that "originalism, although not perfect, is the best method of constitutional interpretation."  I'm skeptical. 

Admittedly, in the vacuum of political theory, originalism has a certain elegance and persuasive force.  The Framers created a system of separated powers, originalists reason.  Congress makes law; the judiciary merely interprets it.  Any interpretive theory that permits unelected judges to change the meaning of a law is dangerous and anti-democratic.  Thus, to curtail judicial legislation, originalists say that judges should endeavor to discover and preserve the meaning the Constitution's words bore at the time of ratification.  After all, the law is the law, until lawfully changed under Article V. 

I happily concede these points.  (What serious constitutional lawyer would dare disagree with these basic principles of political science?)  But they're not the whole story.

In this essay, I hope to show why a rigid, singular focus on original public meaning is a shortsighted way of interpreting many of the Constitution's provisions.  In Part I, I discuss serious reasons to doubt the idea that the Framers actually believed in originalism as an interpretive theory.  In Part II, I dissect Professor Lamparello's "ideal approach" to constitutional interpretation, highlighting its practical shortcomings and its lack of textual or historical support.  And in Part III, I interrogate Professor Lamparello’s claim that originalism most effectively constrains judges. 

I.    Originalists bear the burden of proving that originalism was, in fact, the original intent of the Framers.  But on that score, there is serious reason for doubt.

 Originalism's focus on the Framers' intent raises a threshold question: did the Framers actually believe in originalism?  Whether viewed through the lens of "New Originalism" (which eschews extratextual sources, focusing only on the original public meaning of the document's text) or "Traditional Originalism" (which focuses on the drafters' subjective intent), there are serious reasons to doubt that the Framers would have actually endorsed the theory.

    A.    The Constitution's text, structure, and purpose all cast doubt on the idea that the Framers would have preferred originalist judges.

In interpreting the Constitution, we must start with its text.[1]  To be sure, the text is frequently clear and free from ambiguity--nobody could seriously argue, for example, that Article I allows a state to elect three senators[2]--and when the text is clear, the inquiry ceases.  But the text also contains many provisions with broad, normative language.  Take, for example, the Constitution's guarantee of "equal protection of the laws,"[3] its prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishments,"[4] or its clause forbidding "unreasonable searches and seizures."[5]  It's no coincidence that many of these nebulous, normative words are found within the Constitution's substantive guarantees. 

Why would the Framers purposefully choose such ambiguous, value-based language?  First, it was politically savvy, since it provided a way to quell the local concerns that presumably would have arisen during the states' ratification debates.  But more importantly, the Framers wanted their document to have staying power.  This is expressly confirmed by the Constitution's Preamble--which, originalists should agree, is a proper source of clarification in the face of textual ambiguity[6]--where it states that one of the Constitution's core purposes is "to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."[7] 

Let's pause here to nip a possible misapprehension in the bud.  Readers may presume I'm arguing for a Constitution whose fundamental meaning changes over time.  Not so.  The meaning of the Constitution's words doesn't change; I do not argue, for example, that "equal protection" should be redefined to sanction unequal insecurity.  But, as mentioned, the Constitution frequently uses ambiguous, normative language.  While the meaning of the words shouldn't change, our societal conception of what fits within those words--i.e., what those words tell judges they should be looking for--can grow.[8]  That's a key difference. 

Consider, for example, the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.  Few historians would argue that the Equal Protection Clause was intended to apply to women; conventional wisdom holds that the Reconstruction Amendments were principally aimed at combating racial prejudice against Black citizens.[9]  Indeed, in 1868, no state had an operative women's suffrage law,[10] and coverture still held a grip on American gender relations.[11]  And yet, the Amendment's words are plain: no State may "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."  While women might not have been considered "persons" deserving of "equal protection" in 1868, our attitudes and prejudices on that front have changed.  For that reason, the Supreme Court correctly held in Reed v. Reed[12] that the Equal Protection Clause applies to women.  Critically, the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause didn't change; the Court did not hold, for example, that the Clause no longer applied to Black citizens.  Our understanding of what the Equal Protection Clause tells us to look for, however, evolved. 

Would an originalist, focused solely on the ratifying generation's understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment's text, reach the Reed Court's conclusion?  I have my doubts.

Eighth Amendment jurisprudence provides a contrary example—one where the Court has wrongly changed the standard.  The Eighth Amendment forbids "cruel and unusual punishments."[13]  But one cannot determine what is "cruel" without engaging in a normative, moral analysis.[14]  For this reason, the U.S. Supreme Court has correctly concluded that a punishment is unconstitutionally cruel if it is considered cruel in light of the "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."[15]  But, critically, the Court has also held—wrongly, I contend—that the Eighth Amendment does not draw any meaning from “the standards that prevailed . . . when the Bill of Rights was adopted[.]”[16] 

The more proper reading of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause would hold that it prohibits both (1) punishments that would have been considered cruel and unusual in the founding era and (2) punishments that are cruel and unusual under our maturing society’s evolving standards of decency.  Had the Court not discarded history, this "evolving standards of decency" test wouldn’t have changed the meaning of the phrase "cruel and unusual" at all; it would have given full effect to the phrase by recognizing that it’s both descriptive and normative. 

Undeniably, originalists make many good points.  But too often, by refusing to look past the "original public meaning" of a constitutional provision, originalists unduly constrict (and therefore change) the Constitution's normative language.  In doing so, originalists commit the same sin they swear to disavow.

    B.    The historical record, too, casts doubt on the idea that the Framers would have approved of originalism.  

Originalists insist that New Originalism was actually the authoritative American method of legal interpretation until the mid-twentieth century, when Chief Justice Earl Warren took the bench.[17]  But here again, history renders that claim dubious. 

Take, for example, William Blackstone, who most scholars consider the authoritative expositor of the common law.  Justice Scalia has famously called Blackstone a "thoroughgoing originalist."[18]  Yet, in his Commentaries on the Law of England, Blackstone said that "the fairest and most rational method to interpret the will of the legislator, is by exploring his intentions at the time when the law made, by signs the most natural and probable.  And these signs are either the words, the context, the subject matter, the effects and consequence, or the spirit and reason of the law."[19]  Blackstone also said that "the most universal and effectual way of discovering the true meaning of a law, when the words are dubious, is by considering the reason and spirit of it; or the cause which moved the legislator to enact it."[20]  That's hardly the stuff of modern-day originalism.  

Consider, also, Chief Justice Marshall.  In Cohens v. Virginia,[21] Marshall asked rhetorically whether "the spirit of the constitution" would justify Virginia's exempting itself from the federal constitution.[22]  And in McCulloch v. Maryland,[23] Marshall said that "all means which are . . . not prohibited, but consistent with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional."[24]  Admittedly, Marshall also argued--as I do--that although "the spirit of an instrument, especially a constitution, is to be respected not less than its letter . . . the spirit is to be collected chiefly from its words."[25]  But the fact remains: Marshall was far from the rigid originalist many claim. 

Thomas Jefferson provides another example.  Concededly, Jefferson was in Paris during the summer of 1787, so his views on the Constitution cannot be considered controlling.  But, as a leading figure of the founding generation, and James Madison's friend and mentor, his insight into the Constitution is undeniably relevant.  Jefferson wrote this to Samuel Kercheval in 1816:

Some men look at Constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, & deem them, like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. they ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well: I belonged to it, and labored with it. it deserved well of it’s country. it was very like the present, but without the experience of the present: and 40. years of experience in government is worth a century of book-reading: and this they would say themselves, were they to rise from the dead. I am certainly not an advocate for frequent & untried changes in laws and constitutions . . . but I know also that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind . . . we might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.[26]

All this is not to say that contrary evidence tending to support originalism can't be found.  It certainly can.  But that's precisely the point: the historical record from the Founding generation is hardly as one-sided as originalists claim.

II.    Professor Lamparello's "ideal" conception of originalism requires revising the constitutional text he claims to venerate.

Most of Professor Lamparello's essay presents garden-variety originalist arguments.  But one downright surprising argument comes near the end, where he says that whenever a law is challenged under a constitutional provision reasonably susceptible of two or more interpretations--for example, the "cruel and unusual punishments" clause--"the ideal approach would be for the Court to defer to the coordinate branches" and uphold the law's constitutionality.

That argument reflects a shockingly limited perception of the proper role of the judiciary--one that's entirely atextual.  The drafters easily could have written, for example, that "no act of Congress may be struck down as violative of the provisions of this Constitution, unless the act's unconstitutionality be clear and free from doubt."  But, as Hamilton pointed out in The Federalist No. 78, the drafters said no such thing:

If it be said that the legislative body are themselves the constitutional judges of their own powers, and that the construction they put upon them is conclusive upon the other departments, it may be answered, that this cannot be the natural presumption, where it is not to be collected from any particular provisions in the Constitution. It is not otherwise to be supposed, that the Constitution could intend to enable the representatives of the people to substitute their WILL to that of their constituents. It is far more rational to suppose, that the courts were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature, in order, among other things, to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority.[27]

For someone so concerned about judicial legislation, it is certainly odd for Professor Lamparello to invent constitutional rules out of thin air.  And for someone so focused on the original public meaning of the Constitution, it is equally odd to advocate for an interpretive theory that faces such directly countervailing historical evidence. 

Professor Lamparello's theory is also impractical and ahistorical.  James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, pitched the Bill of Rights as a document that would make judges "guardians" of individual rights, just like Hamilton did in the passage excerpted above.[28]  But if judges could only strike down a law when no reasonable person could defend the law's constitutionality, then how could the judiciary effectively guard citizens' rights in the ordinary case?  After all, in what case can't one think of reasonable, good-faith arguments on both sides of a constitutional issue?  If the Framers actually intended the judiciary to defer to the political branches whenever presented with two plausible, competing arguments, then why include these constitutional prescriptions in the first place?  Wouldn't it be easier to simply say nothing and let the states legislate as they see fit? 

III.    Originalism, while theoretically attractive, does a poor job of constraining judges.

Originalism hails itself as the best way to constrain judges.  Critics have long questioned that claim, too. 

To see why, consider District of Columbia v. Heller.[29]  In Heller, both the majority and dissenting opinions cited historical evidence supporting their constitutional interpretation of the Second Amendment.  Fourth Circuit Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III has argued that, given the murky historical record in Heller, the Court should have stayed its hand and declined to strike down the District of Columbia's handgun prohibition.[30]  And as Judge Posner has noted, Judge Wilkinson's argument finds support from an unlikely source: Justice Scalia's treatise on legal interpretation.[31]  In the Foreword of Justice Scalia's treatise, Judge Easterbrook says this:

Words don't have intrinsic meanings; the significance of an expression depends on how the interpretive community alive at the time of the text's adoption understood those words.  The older the text, the more distant that interpretive community from our own.  At some point the difference becomes so great that the meaning is no longer recoverable reliably. . . .  [When that happens, the courts should] declare that meaning has been lost, so that the living political community must choose.[32]

This is a version of the judicial-restraint principle for which Professor Lamparello, Justice Scalia, and other originalists advocate.  In Heller, Justice Scalia's reading of the Second Amendment's history was likely erroneous.[33]  But even if the history is mixed, that should have led Justice Scalia to conclude that the relevant meaning had been "lost to the passage of time" and to entrust the answer to the living political community.[34]  The "living political community" in Heller was the District of Columbia legislature.  But, far from exercising the democratic "deference" Professor Lamparello advocates, the Court struck down the District of Columbia's gun-ownership prohibition. 

And historical questions plagued more than just the Heller majority's holding.  In a dictum, the Court explained the contours of the right it recognized:

[N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.[35]

As Professor Reva Siegel has persuasively argued, there is little historical evidence supporting this passage, and it actually contradicts the Second Amendment's textually enunciated purposes.[36]  "In these passages," Professor Siegel concludes, "Justice Scalia seems to apply something other than an original 'public understanding' analysis."[37] 

United States v. Eichman[38] provides another example of how originalism fails to constrain judges.  In Eichman, Justice Scalia voted to strike down a federal statute outlawing the burning of the American flag.[39]  To Scalia's credit, it was a vote against his political predilections.  But it was certainly an odd ruling for an originalist.  The governing constitutional provision--"Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech"[40]--says nothing about non-verbal forms of protest.  And the eighteenth-century conception of the speech right was much narrower than our modern understanding.  According to Blackstone, at common law, freedom of speech only forbade prior restraints on speech; it did not prohibit after-the-fact punishment of speech determined to be blasphemous, obscene, or seditious.[41]  Thus, a First Amendment that bans prohibitions on flag burning is decidedly unoriginalist.

Apparently anticipating the objection raised in this Part, Professor Lamparello preemptively defends his position by arguing that "in some circumstances, judges do rely on originalism to reach outcomes that coincide with their policy preferences.  However, that reflects bad judging, not problems with originalism per se."  Is the truth so conveniently simple?  Can we really shrug off as "bad judging" the remarkable methodological elasticity of originalism's leading champion?  Or is it possible that the problem lies deeper below the surface?

* * *

To be sure, no theory of constitutional interpretation is perfect.  But the manifold problems with originalism--too many to detail exhaustively in this short essay—lead me to question whether, as Professor Lamparello insists, originalism is the best we can do. 


[1] See, e.g., District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 576 (2008).

[2] See U.S. Const. art. I, § 3, cl. 1.

[3] U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1.

[4] U.S. Const. amend. VIII.

[5] U.S. Const. amend. IV.

[6] See Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts 217 (1st ed. 2012) (hereinafter “Scalia & Garner, Reading Law) (approving of interpretive canon providing that “[a] preamble . . . is a permissible indicator of meaning”).

[7] U.S. Const. pmbl. (emphasis added).

[8] See also Furman v. Ga., 408 U.S. 238, 382 (1972) (reasoning that “[t]he standard itself remains the same, but its applicability must change as the basic mores of society change”). 

[9] See, e.g., Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. 36, 81 (1873).

[10] Women’s Suffrage in the U.S. by State, https://tag.rutgers.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/suffrage-by-state.pdf (last visited June 20, 2023). 

[11] Encyclopedia Britannica, Coverture, https://www.britannica.com/topic/coverture (noting that “[c]overture was disassembled in the United States through legislation at the state level beginning in Mississippi in 1839 and continuing into the 1880s”). 

[12] 404 U.S. 71 (1971).

[13] U.S. Const. amend. VIII.

[14] Kennedy v. La., 554 U.S. 407, 419 (2008) (quoting Furman, 408 U.S. at 382). 

[15] Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101 (1958).

[16] Atkins v. Va., 536 U.S. 304, 311 (2002).

[17] Richard A. Posner, The Incoherence of Antonin Scalia, New Republic (Aug. 24, 2012), https://newrepublic.com/article/106441/scalia-garner-reading-the-law-textual-originalism (hereinafter “Posner, Incoherence”). 

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] 19 U.S. 264 (1821).

[22] Id. at 383.

[23] 17 U.S. 316 (1819). 

[24] Id. at 421 (emphasis added).

[25] Sturges v. Crowninshield, 17 U.S. 122, 202 (1819). 

[26] Jefferson Quotes & Family Letters, https://tjrs.monticello.org/letter/1384 (last visited June 20, 2023). 

[27] The Federalist No. 78 (Alexander Hamilton).

[28] The Bill of Rights: Its History & Significance, http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/billofrightsintro.html (last visited June 20, 2023). 

[29] 554 U.S. 570 (2008). 

[30] Posner, Incoherence.

[31] Id.

[32] Scalia & Garner, Reading Law at xxv.

[33] Posner, Incoherence (noting that “most professional historians reject the historical analysis in Scalia’s opinion”). 

[34] Scalia & Garner, Reading Law at xxv.

[35] Heller, 554 U.S. at 626-27.

[36] See generally Reva B. Siegel, Dead or Alive: Originalism as Popular Constitutionalism in Heller, 122 Harv. L. Rev. 191 (2008).

[37] Id. at 200. 

[38] 496 U.S. 310 (1990). 

[39] Id. at 312.

[40] U.S. Const. amend. I.

[41] Posner, Incoherence.

June 20, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Religion, Rhetoric, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

The Case for Grace

In case you missed it, a plaintiff’s lawyer in New York was recently featured in the New York Times for submitting a document to a court that was drafted by ChatGPT and replete with fabricated case law resulting from artificial intelligence hallucinations.[i]  Plaintiff’s counsel has since become a subject of national ridicule and undoubtedly violated numerous rules of professional conduct (e.g., the duties of competence, confidentiality, and supervision to name a few),[ii] for which he—and his firm—are facing sanctions.[iii]

The issue came to light in defense counsel’s response to plaintiff’s filing, indicating that defense counsel was unable to find the cases cited in plaintiff’s filing.  This, of course, prompted the judge to request copies of the case law.  Plaintiff’s counsel submitted alleged copies of the decisions, which were again fabrications drafted by artificial intelligence, apparently unbeknownst to plaintiff’s counsel.[iv] Defense counsel then wrote a letter to the judge, questioning the authenticity of the cases identified.

Defense counsel and others in his firm suspected “the cases in the brief were not real . . . [and] had an inkling a chatbot might have been involved.”[v]  In that moment, defense counsel faced a question many attorneys encounter:  in the face of an obvious error by opposing counsel, what do you do?

Here, defense counsel chose to alert the court, a choice that was certainly available under the model rules of professional conduct.  But this was not his only option, as “[t]he Rules do not . . . exhaust the moral and ethical considerations that should inform a lawyer.”[vi]  Defense counsel could have contacted plaintiff’s counsel first to address the issue.  By all accounts, it appears that plaintiff’s attorney legitimately did not know or understand the inherent risks associated with answers provided by ChatGPT.[vii]   (Whether he should have known is a different question, and the answer to that question is undoubtedly yes.)[viii]  But there’s no reason to believe that plaintiff’s counsel was acting with any malicious or deceptive intent when filing the document.[ix]  And, had defense counsel contacted plaintiff’s counsel first, he could have alerted plaintiff’s counsel to the fabricated case law and likely discovered the source of the fabrications.  Defense counsel could have shared his own knowledge of ChatGPT’s limitations regarding legal research, which would have allowed plaintiff’s counsel the opportunity to withdraw or amend the filing without the need for judicial involvement. And all of that could have been accomplished without risking the defense’s position in the matter.

I do not mean to suggest that defense counsel did anything unethical or immoral.  My point, instead, is that defense counsel—who admittedly recognized the potential source of the issue—could have given plaintiff’s counsel—who obviously failed to understand the limitations of a new technology—a bit of grace in the situation. Grace is defined in many ways, including “an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency,”[x] “favor or goodwill,”[xi] and “a disposition to kindness and compassion.”[xii] Giving grace would have helped not only plaintiff’s counsel to save face but also the legal profession to maintain credibility as a self-regulating entity.[xiii]  Many judges have advised that, “[w]hile serving as advocates for their clients, lawyers are not required to abandon notions of civility.”[xiv]  For, “[i]f the bar is to maintain the respect of the community, lawyers must be willing to act out of a spirit of cooperation and civility and not wholly out of a sense of blind and unbridled advocacy.”[xv]    

Generative AI is likely to change our profession ultimately for the better, but we are in the midst of a learning curve. Accordingly, we should seize these teachable moments and show grace to our fellow bar members while we all learn how to use—and not use—this new tool.

 

[i] Benjamin Weiser, Here’s What Happens When Your Lawyer Uses ChatGPT, New York Times (May 27, 2023), available at https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/27/nyregion/avianca-airline-lawsuit-chatgpt.html.

[ii] See Karen Sloan, A lawyer used ChatGPT to cite bogus cases. What are the ethics?, Reuters (May 30, 2023), available at https://www.reuters.com/legal/transactional/lawyer-used-chatgpt-cite-bogus-cases-what-are-ethics-2023-05-30/.

[iii] Sara Merken, Lawyer who cited cases concocted by AI asks judge to spare sanctions, Reuters (June 8, 2023), available at https://www.reuters.com/legal/transactional/lawyer-who-cited-cases-concocted-by-ai-asks-judge-spare-sanctions-2023-06-08/.

[iv] Plaintiff’s counsel asked ChatGPT if the cases it cited were real cases, and it confirmed that they were.  Plaintiff’s counsel asked for the source of that information, and ChatGPT replied that the cases could “be found in reputable legal databases.”  Weiser, supra note i.

[v] Weiser, supra note i.

[vi] 2023 ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Scope ¶ 16, available at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct/model_rules_of_professional_conduct_preamble_scope/.

[vii] Wes Davis, A lawyer used ChatGPT and now has to answer for its ‘bogus’ citations, The Verge (May 27, 2023), available at https://www.theverge.com/2023/5/27/23739913/chatgpt-ai-lawsuit-avianca-airlines-chatbot-research. According to affidavits filed in the case, plaintiff’s counsel relied primarily on Fastcase for legal research in other state-law matters and did not have access to federal cases, so he turned to ChatGPT, which he misunderstood to be a search engine, and ChatGPT falsely advised plaintiff’s counsel that the cases it provided could be found on both Westlaw and LexisNexis.

[viii] “A lawyer must have a reasonable basis for believing any statement that he makes to a tribunal.” Douglas R. Richmond, The Ethics of Zealous Advocacy: Civility, Candor and Parlor Tricks, 34 Tex. Tech L. Rev. 3, 29 (2002).

[ix] When seeking the court’s mercy at the sanctions hearing, plaintiff’s counsel noted that he has “’suffered professionally and personally’ and is embarrassed and humiliated.” Merken, supra note iii.

[x] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grace

[xi] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/grace

[xii] https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/grace

[xiii] The title of the New York Times article is “Here’s What Happens When Your Lawyer Uses ChatGPT” (emphasis added), suggesting that all attorneys are likely to misuse generative AI and repeat the blunder made by plaintiff’s counsel. Had defense counsel reached out to plaintiff’s counsel before involving the court, media involvement would likely have been greatly diminished or even nonexistent, thus avoiding the negative implications for the profession as a whole.  It is our responsibility, as members of the bar, to “further the public's . . . confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority.” 2023 ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Preamble ¶ 6, supra note vi.

[xiv] Butts v. State, 273 Ga. 760, 772 (2001) (Benham, C.J., concurring).

[xv] Evanoff v. Evanoff, 262 Ga. 303, 304 (1992).  

June 13, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Comments Against Angel Reese Call Us to Check for Bias in Our Writing

As I’ve mentioned before, I was lucky enough to teach a seminar on bias in legal analysis and writing this semester.  Much of the class focused on implicit bias and the way we can use words as lawyers to help find and remove bias.  Occasionally, we encountered bias in court opinions, legal scholarship, and the like that was almost express.  While easier to spot and remove than subtle implicit bias, overt bias also reminds us, as lawyers and legal writers, to scrutinize our own writing. 

One example of clear bias in the media that could help us as legal writers came at the end of the NCAA basketball tournament this year.  Students and I were struck by social media and sportscaster disparate discussion of a strong, powerful player for the University of Iowa and a strong, powerful player for Louisiana State University.  These women, Angel Reese of LSU and Caitlin Clark of Iowa, are incredible competitors who each led their teams to the NCAA championship game.  Along the way to the final game against each other, which LSU won, both played beautifully and both sported almost identical ponytails.  Both also made the same “you can’t see me” taunt to opponents during the tournament by waving their outstretched hands in front of their faces, to show they were too quick for opponents to see and stop.  In response to these taunts, Clark faced praise, including from ESPN and pro wrestler John Cena, who invented the “you can’t see me” taunt, but Reese faced profanities and statements she was “classless.”   

The difference:  Clark is white, while Reese is Black.  Our class had a robust discussion of what the different language used to describe these similar athletes using identical taunts in the same tournament meant to us as legal writers, and the students inspired me to share this incident here.

As Mike Freeman of USA Today explained, “Clark is a skilled trash talker and used the John Cena "you can't see me" taunt multiple times throughout the tournament.” Mike Freeman, Reaction to Angel Reese taunting Caitlin Clark shows the double standard for Black Athletes,  https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/columnist/mike-freeman/2023/04/03/angel-reeses-taunt-iowas-caitlin-clark-shows-double-standard/11591498002/ (Apr. 3, 2023).  Freeman continued, “[i]n the closing moment of the championship game, Reese did the same taunt and also pointed to her hand, signaling she was getting a championship ring.”  Id.   

Aisha Sultan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted Clark often taunted opponents.  Sultan explained:  the “you can’t see me,” gesture “had been used by Clark toward a Louisville opponent in the Elite Eight” round of the NCAA tournament, and “ESPN even produced a segment hailing Clark as the “Queen of Clapbacks” featuring these moments of taunting by her.” Aisha Sultan, Backlash to Angel Reese raises question: Which athletes get called 'classless'?, https://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/parenting/aisha-sultan/sultan-backlash-to-angel-reese-raises-question-which-athletes-get-called-classless/article_fa75a30d-67d7-56c1-aac6-ea09c00b638f.html (Apr. 3, 2023).  “The reaction to Reese [using the taunt in the final game], however, included Dave Portnoy, founder of the site Barstool Sports, tweeting that she was a ‘classless piece of (expletive)’ and Keith Olbermann calling her an ‘(expletive) idiot’ on Twitter.”  Id.

Freeman honed in on the use of language here, and his notes are especially helpful to appellate writers as we edit our work.  For example, he described what he called stereotypes of sports as:

When Black players are aggressive, and talk trash, they are thugs and animals.

When white players are aggressive, and talk trash, they are passionate and fiery.

This stereotype goes back decades. Larry Bird was the greatest trash talker of all time but was celebrated for his passion. Tom Brady screamed at teammates and coaches and was viewed as scrappy. John Thompson's Georgetown Hoyas, who played defense with spirit and ferocity, were called thugs. Fight[ing] in hockey is seen as tradition. Fight[ing] in NASCAR is seen as cool and spirited. Fights in NBA games lead to white commentators asking: "Where are the fathers?"

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/columnist/mike-freeman/2023/04/03/angel-reeses-taunt-iowas-caitlin-clark-shows-double-standard/11591498002/

What can we learn from this incident to catch less obvious bias in our own writing?  The long answer: my class spent fourteen weeks looking at scholarship on writing and bias to help us start to answer this question, and removing bias takes work and careful attention.  One shorter answer:  many of the rules of good writing, like using active voice and direct sentence structure, help us avoid bias.  Being attentive to our own underlying privilege and bias and asking a trusted colleague to proofread helps too.  There are many thoughtful ideas on addressing bias in our legal publications.  For just a few, consider recent articles, like I Think He’s Nice But He Might Be Mad About Something, 25 U.C. Davis Soc. J. L. Rev. 73, 99 (2021), and older scholarship, like Prof. Lucinda Finley’s Breaking Women’s Silence in Law:  The Dilemma of the Gendered Nature of Legal Reasoning, 64 Notre Dame L. Rev. 886, 886-97, 909 (1989).

I give this example of overt bias in sports discussions not as a suggestion appellate lawyers often show such bias, but as a reminder we all must be as thoughtful as possible in the words we choose.  My students helped me see we should all take the time to edit for bias when we check for clarity and punctuation, and we should mentor new appellate writers to do the same.

April 22, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Demeanor in the virtual courtroom

AI art - lawyers misbehaving at counsel table

The United States Supreme Court provides counsel with a "Guide for Counsel in Cases to be Argued Before the Supreme Court of the United States." In that guide, counsel can learn how they should dress (conservative business dress in traditional dark colors), where they should sit, how they should move to and from those seats, how they should address the justices ("justice," and never "judge"), and so on. Similarly, in moot court, there is a category on most ballots labeled "courtroom demeanor," where fledgling appellate advocates are judged in how they comport themselves in court.

In the trial world, counsel is often reminded that the jury is always watching. Anecdotes abound. One attorney, who represented a car manufacturer at trial, was seen driving a car manufactured by another company. The jury decided he did not believe in his client and penalized him at trial. Another attorney told the jury in voir dire about his wife and family. The jury noted he was not wearing a wedding ring, and decided he was a liar. Eye rolls, sighs, and disrespect shown in a multitude of ways are blamed for countless lost cases.

But for some reason, when appearing virtually, many lawyers forget that demeanor matters. At one recent matter, I saw opposing counsel sighing, rolling eyes, getting up, getting snacks and water, and laughing with staff, all on camera, and all while opposing counsel, witnesses, and even the judge were speaking.

I get it. Having a camera on you for hours desensitizes you to the technology. If you don't have your camera shown, in particular, you can quickly forget that you are seen. But most counsel I know use "gallery view" in their zoom or other virtual software, as do most judges, so that not just the speaker is shown. And just like in the real courtroom, your behavior on that screen matters.

Credibility is the coin of persuasion. Why waste that credibility by acting poorly on screen? And while the behavior I described above was at a hearing, I have seen similar behavior during oral argument, when the justices are going to go back into chambers (virtually, perhaps, or in person), where you should hope they will discuss the merits of your argument, and not the content of your character writ large on their screens.

So please, even when appearing virtually, remember that demeanor matters. And don't forget to wear your conservative business dress in traditional dark colors.

(image credit: Image created in Bing Image Center, Powered by DALL-E AI image generator, using the prompt "attorneys behaving badly at counsel table, in the style of Thomas Nast.")

April 18, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument, Rhetoric, United States Supreme Court, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, April 1, 2023

The Trump Indictment

Donald Trump has been indicted. Although this is not a surprising development, it is not a good day for the rule of law or for public confidence in our institutions.  

To begin with, a grand jury indictment is not nearly as significant as some in the media would have you believe. As the saying goes, grand juries would indict a “ham sandwich” because the threshold for securing an indictment is not high, and the defense’s ability to test the prosecution’s case is limited.[1] Furthermore, the investigation occurred in New York City, where liberals substantially outnumber conservatives, and where Trump is, to put it mildly, not admired. When you combine these factors with a district attorney – Alvin Bragg – who seems hellbent on indicting Trump (as evidenced by his public statements and legal theory) you have the perfect storm for an indictment that appears more political than principled.[2]

Indeed, Bragg appears to care more about convicting Trump than addressing the approximately 22% increase in various crimes in New York City. As Harvard Law Professor Dershowitz, who did not vote for Trump, explains:

When a district attorney who ran as a Democrat and promised to “get” Donald Trump indicts the candidate running for president against the incumbent head of his party, he had better have a slam dunk case. Although we don't know exactly what the Manhattan grand jury indicted Trump for, it seems likely, based on what we know, that this is a very weak case which would never have been brought against anyone else.[3]

Put simply, the case against Trump is not strong. In fact, if media reports are correct about the charge Trump is facing, it is incredibly weak. As George Washington law professor Jonathan Turley states, Bragg “is attempting to bootstrap [a] federal crime into a state case,” and “if that is the basis for the indictment … it’s illegally pathetic.”[4]  Likewise, former Whitewater deputy counsel Sol Wisenberg characterized the legal case against Trump as “preposterous.”[5] Even some liberal commentators agree that the case against Trump is not strong.[6] For example, Elie Mystal asserts that “the odds that the path to real justice, let alone prison time, runs through the Manhattan DA’s office still seem very, very long.”[7]

Specifically (and again, if media reports are correct), the charge against Trump is falsifying business records, which requires, among other things, an intent to defraud. The legal theory, apparently, is that Trump falsified business records (characterizing them as legal expenses) when reimbursing Michael Cohen for paying Stormy Daniels $130,000 to conceal Daniels’ affair with Trump (to be clear, paying “hush money” to another is not, in itself, a crime). In New York, this is a misdemeanor, and it only becomes a felony “if it was in service of another crime,” which Bragg allegedly “posits is a [federal] campaign finance violation.”[8]  

Importantly, the Southern District of New York, which investigated this matter, declined to prosecute the case.[9]  Also, former Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, did not pursue an indictment.[10] And for good reason. Why would a prosecutor try to convict a former president for a misdemeanor, particularly where the Southern District of New York declined to prosecute, the case is so weak, and where doing so would appear politically motivated?

None of these factors seem to matter to Bragg, a Democrat who in his campaign for Manhattan District Attorney promised to focus on investigating Trump, stating that it “merits the attention of the DA personally.”[11] Apparently, Bragg is attempting to connect Trump’s alleged misdemeanor-level misconduct to a federal campaign finance violation, which is a felony, by alleging that the payments to Cohen constituted an illegal contribution to the Trump campaign.

Such a creative and novel legal approach suggests that Bragg is searching for some way, however untenable, to bring a felony charge against Trump. But it is unlikely to succeed. As Mark Pomerantz, a former district attorney, stated, Bragg will “have to argue that the intent to commit or conceal a federal crime had converted the falsification of the records into a felony. No appellate court in New York had ever upheld (or rejected) this interpretation of the law.”[12] In other words, the “intent to defraud” must include “an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof.”[13] That alone will be difficult to prove, as Trump may argue that the payments were intended to prevent his wife Melania from discovering the affair, not to cover up another crime (an illegal campaign contribution). 

Furthermore, if reports from the media are accurate, the primary witness for the prosecution will be Michael Cohen, a disbarred lawyer who pled guilty to, among other things, tax fraud, who served time in prison, and who has lied countless times, including before Congress.[14] If you doubt this, listen to the statements by Robert Costello, who testified recently before the grand jury.[15]  Also, one must wonder how Trump can be prosecuted for a federal campaign violation in New York state court, why such a prosecution should be pursued when the Southern District of New York declined to do so, and where the optics of such a prosecution suggest a political motive.

Such creative lawyering (tying a state law misdemeanor to a federal felony), rather than being a legitimate purpose of the criminal justice system, suggests that the Bragg wants to weaponize the legal system to “get” Trump.  As Dershowitz explains:

This is a case of targeting an individual and then rummaging through the statute books in search of a crime. Prosecutors seem to have come up with nothing under established law, then made up a misdemeanor and then piggybacked it on another alleged crime to create a felony. But one plus one does not equal 11, and zero plus zero equals zero. That is what we seem to have here.[16]

Simply put, this is a weak case that appears as politically motivated as it gets. Indeed, it is quite concerning that, as Bragg has reduced 52% of felony charges in New York to misdemeanors, he now seeks to raise Trump’s alleged crime from a misdemeanor to a felony.[17] Perhaps Bragg’s personal attention should be devoted elsewhere, particularly given the 22% rise in certain crimes in New York City.[18]

Ultimately, no matter what you think of Trump, everyone should, hopefully, believe that the law should be applied in an equal and even-handed fashion. Think about it: if the defendant were anyone other than Donald Trump, would Bragg be pursuing this?

Of course not. 

Well, maybe if it were Richard Nixon.

In essence, Bragg is going after the person (Trump), not the crime. That, in a nutshell, is the point – and the problem.

After all, let’s be honest about what is happening here.

Bragg probably despises Trump. Furthermore, when (and before) Donald Trump was elected in 2016 as an anti-establishment candidate, the mainstream media hated him.[19] Indeed, the mainstream media, which has as much, if not less, credibility than Michael Cohen, did nearly everything in its power to discredit and, quite frankly, destroy Trump, as evidenced by, among other things, the now-debunked allegations of Russian collusion.[20] 

Additionally, the establishment, including individuals such as James Comey and Peter Strzok, hated him. Furthermore, universities, which are overwhelmingly liberal and who employ professors who believe that diversity of thought is more deleterious than the coronavirus, have almost uniformly condemned Trump and unapologetically rejected a free marketplace of ideas. If you doubt this, look at what happened to Fifth Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan at Stanford Law School, where students and Tirian Steinbach, the Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, shouted down Duncan for views that they did not share.[21]  Or observe the circus-like shenanigans of students at Yale Law School, where they ridiculed Kristen Waggoner, an attorney and Supreme Court litigator.[22] The commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (and free speech) obviously exists only in the abstract at these schools. 

The consequences that Trump’s prosecution will have to our institutions – and the rule of law – will be substantial. The legitimacy of our institutions depends in substantial part on the perception that our elected officials apply the law equally, fairly, and even-handedly, without regard to political affiliation or personal animus. If the rule of law is perceived as a political weapon (see, e.g., North Korea, Russia), the law itself will be reduced to nothing more than a tool for politicians to use against those who threaten their power. And there is no bigger threat to liberty and equality than a rule of law that is administered based on politics rather than principle, and opportunism rather than objectivity. The rule of law – and the American people – demand much more and should accept no less. 

Put differently, people need to believe that you will never be prosecuted or targeted based on what you believe, what your political affiliation is, or who you are. It should be based on what you did, and whether those actions would result in a prosecution for most, if not all, individuals, regardless of status, who engaged in similar conduct. That is simply not the case here. If the defendant were Joe Biden rather than Donald Trump, there would be no prosecution.

It's no wonder why the American people have lost faith in our institutions, academics, and elected leaders. Years ago, individuals such as Walter Cronkite, Robert C. Maynard, and Peter Jennings exemplified the standards to which journalism – and our institutions – should aspire. Now, the American people are treated to the folks at CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, few of whom can even remotely compare to the journalistic integrity that the former individuals embodied. Even a few seconds of listening to Bryan Stelter or Joy Reid, or Glenn Beck underscores this point.

Indeed, Bragg’s conduct – and the conduct of many political leaders, prosecutors, and pundits – leads to one ineluctable conclusion.

They are political actors.

Their goal is to advance a political agenda.

And they don’t even hide it anymore.

As Professor Dershowitz stated, “[w]hat matters greatly is that DA Alvin Bragg has weaponized the justice system to target a political opponent based on a nonexistent or, at best, an extremely weak crime.”[23]

Unfortunately, this nonsense is not without precedent.

In 1998, the Republicans spent millions of taxpayer dollars to impeach Bill Clinton (in the House of Representatives) over a consensual affair (and alleged perjury and obstruction of justice) that, while not, to put it nicely, the best exercise of judgment, could not reasonably have been construed as a high crime and misdemeanor. And Ken Starr did everything in his power to degrade and humiliate Clinton with a report laden with salacious details that no sensible person would have included. Well, here we are again: a criminal indictment against a former president and leading candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination based on an affair with a porn star. Not to mention, the United States Supreme Court manufactured out of thin air a right to abortion in Roe v. Wade, and approximately fifty years later, overturned Roe for no other reason than that the political persuasions of the Court had changed.

What’s more, it is nearly impossible to have a civil conversation with those with whom you disagree or to debate issues with others in an atmosphere of civility and respect.  Alvin Bragg’s decision makes this situation worse, not better and makes the country more divided, not united. Put simply, Trump’s indictment is an unsurprising, quite unoriginal, and obviously predictable continuation of this unfortunate chapter in American history.  

Ultimately, almost anyone can respect the rule of law, promote diversity of thought, and remain committed to fairness when they are surrounded by people who agree with them. But true leaders – and people with character and integrity – have the courage to be fair to every citizen, particularly the ones that they despise, just like the First Amendment depends on tolerating speech that you find offensive.

That is what the rule of law – and a society dedicated to liberty, fairness, and equality – demands, and what every citizen deserves.

That includes Donald Trump.

 

[1] Toni Messina, Criminally Yours: Indicting a Ham Sandwich (Feb. 8, 2016), available at: Criminally Yours: Indicting A Ham Sandwich - Above the Law

[2] Of course, this is based on the media reports regarding the legal charges that Trump will face. The indictment may contain facts and charges that make the case stronger.

[3] Alan Dershowitz, Trump Indictment Case Looks Like a Weak Exercise in Creative Prosecution (March 31, 2023), available at: Trump Indictment Case Looks Like a Weak Exercise in Creative Prosecution | Opinion (newsweek.com) (emphasis added).

[4]  Steven Nelson, Democrats Giddy at Trump Indictment, But Legal Experts Warn Case is Weak (March 30, 2023), available at: Democrats giddy at Trump indictment, but legal experts warn case is weak (nypost.com)

[5] Id.

[6] See Elie Mystal, Donald Trump Has Been Indicted/ Don’t Get Your Hopes Up (March 30, 2023), available at: Donald Trump Has Been Indicted. Don’t Get Your Hopes Up. | The Nation

[7] Id.

[8] National Review, The Reckless Trump Indictment (March 31, 2023), available at: Reckless Donald Trump Indictment | National Review (emphasis added) (brackets added).

[9] See Mystal, supra note 6, available at: Donald Trump Has Been Indicted. Don’t Get Your Hopes Up. | The Nation

[10] Jeremy Herb, Kara Scannell, and John Miller, Inside the Long and Winding Road to Trump’s Indictment (April 1, 2023), available at: Donald Trump: Inside the long and winding path to a historic indictment | CNN Politics

[11] See Kara Scannell, New Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg Pledges to Focus on Trump Investigations (Dec. 20, 2001), available at: Alvin Bragg: New Manhattan DA pledges to focus on Trump investigations | CNN Politics (emphasis added).

[12] Jose Pagliery, Manhattan DA Insiders Worry the Trump Hush Money Case is Weak Sauce (March 29, 2023), available at: Manhattan District Attorney Insiders Worry the Trump-Stormy Daniels Alvin Bragg Hush Money Case Is Weak Sauce (thedailybeast.com)

[13] Mark Joseph Stern, The Big Problem with the Trump Indictment (March 30, 2023), available at: Alvin Bragg’s indictment of Donald Trump is full of challenge and promise. (slate.com).

[14] See Laura Nahmias and Daniel Samuelsohn, Michael Cohen Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison (Dec. 12, 2018), available at: Michael Cohen sentenced to 3 years in prison - POLITICO

[15] See Bart Jansen and Kevin Johnson, Lawyer Assails Trump Grand Jury Witness as ‘Liar on Revenge Tour,’ (March 20, 2023), available at: Robert Costello undercuts Michael Cohen in Trump grand jury probe (usatoday.com)

[16] Dershowitz, supra note 3, available at Trump Indictment Case Looks Like a Weak Exercise in Creative Prosecution | Opinion (newsweek.com) (emphasis added).

[17] See Melissa Klein, NYC Convictions Plummet, Downgraded Charges Surge Under DA Bragg (Nov. 26, 2022), available at: Convictions plummet, downgraded charges surge under Manhattan DA Bragg (nypost.com) (emphasis added).

[18] See Chelsia Rose Marcius and Eh Shanahan, Major Crimes Rose 22 Percent in New York City, Even as Shootings Fell (January 5, 2023), available at: Major Crimes Rose 22 Percent in New York City, Even as Shootings Fell - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

[19] See Tony Perkins, The Numbers that Prove How Much the Mainstream Media Hate Trump (Dec. 14, 2017), available at: The Numbers That Prove How Much the Mainstream Media Hate Trump (frc.org)

[20] See Philip Ewing, Mueller Report Finds No Evidence of Russian Collusion (March 24, 2019), available at: Mueller Report Finds No Evidence Of Russian Collusion : NPR

[21] See Stuart Kyle Duncan, My Struggle Session at Stanford Law School (March 17, 2023), available at: My Struggle Session at Stanford Law School - WSJ

[22] See Bradley Evans, ADF General Counsel Harassed at Yale Law School Event (March 21, 2022), available at: ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner Harassed at Yale Law School Event | Alliance Defending Freedom (adflegal.org)

[23] Dershowitz, supra note 3, available at Trump Indictment Case Looks Like a Weak Exercise in Creative Prosecution | Opinion (newsweek.com) (emphasis added).

April 1, 2023 in Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Revisiting George Orwell and Good Writing

This semester, I am lucky enough to be teaching a seminar I designed on bias in legal analysis and writing.  The class has been a delight, and I am impressed every week by my thoughtful and dedicated students. 

In one of our sessions, I proposed using George Orwell’s writing rules, along with his broader concerns with “Doublespeak” and “Big Brother,” to add clarity and remove bias from writing.  Several of my students have included these ideas in the class papers they are drafting, and I hope these tips help you draft as well.

In his pre-1984 essay, Politics and the English Language, Orwell proposed six rules on using English, and he repeated these in later works as well.  Many commentators have discussed using the rules for clarity, but I believe we can also combat bias with these ideas.

Here are Orwell’s rules, as summarized by Judith Fischer in her article Why George Orwell’s Ideas About Language Still Matter for Lawyers, 68 Mont. L. Rev. 129, 135 (2007): 

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

See also Austin Wayne Schiess, Writing a Brief the George Orwell Way, 14 App. Advoc. 6, 6-6 (2001). 

How can we use these rules in appellate writing?  

  1. Avoid Cliches. Fischer notes: “Think out of the box” and “avoid cliches like the plague.” 68 Mont. L. Rev. at 137.  But seriously, some cliches are racist and many are unclear.  Remove them from your writing as much as possible.
  1. Prefer Shorter Words. I am old enough to remember when courts imposed motion and brief page limits, long before word limits. I recommend reading your own work as if you have page limits and word limits.  This can help you remove legalese, redundant wording, and unneeded long terms.  In his blog, Demian Farnworth suggests practicing by using only monosyllabic words.  The monosyllabic approach can add many words and decrease clearness, but it is a fun way to practice writing with shorter terms.  See https://copyblogger.com/short-sentences/ (Oct. 19, 2015).

3. Be Concise & 5. Avoid Jargon. (I’ve already blogged about Rule 4, Use Active Voice, often.) Use concision as an enemy of bias and obfuscation.  As Justice Ginsburg reminded us, our readers “simply don’t have time to ferret out one bright idea buried in too long a sentence.”  Remarks on Appellate Advocacy, 50 S.C. L. Rev. at 567 (1999).  One way to practice being concise and removing jargon is by reviewing any manual for a small appliance in your home.  Review these manuals for lengthy clauses and odd technical jargon.  My family’s favorite is our toaster manual, which often uses five words where one will do, and adds confusing technical details like “LED light indicator surround ring” for what is in fact the “toasting” light.  Finding these lengthy and confusing terms around the house will help you edit for concision in your briefing.

  1. Use Common Sense--Break Any of these Rules If they Reduce Clarity.  Recently, I learned there is reasonable debate about exactly what Winston Churchill said regarding ending a sentence in a preposition. Nonetheless, we know he said something close to:  “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”  See https://brians.wsu.edu/2016/11/14/churchill-on-prepositions/.  We can follow our own common sense, like Churchill and Orwell.  As another example, sometimes one longer clause reads better than a series of short, choppy sentences.  Let’s follow rules on clarity above all else.

Are these rules enough?  Orwell did not think so, as evidenced by his concern over “Doublespeak” and obfuscation.  To follow Orwell, therefore, we should make sure our words say what we mean.  While this sounds simple, any experienced appellate writer knows editing takes time and effort.  I hope Orwell’s rules help in this editing task.

March 25, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Books, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)