Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Saturday, July 25, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Guest Post--Caution Ahead: Breakout Groups Can Fail

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

 

Caution Ahead:  Breakout Groups Can Fail

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

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

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

Before

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

During

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

After

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Briefing Beyond Words - by Mark Trachtenberg

Today we have a guest post by Mark Trachtenberg. Mark is a partner with Haynes and Boone, LLP in Houston, Texas. He is board certified in civil appellate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. You can learn more about his practice here.

I.     Introduction

    For decades, trial lawyers have understood the importance of visuals in persuading a jury. Now, appellate lawyers are learning that visuals can be just as powerful a tool for a judicial audience. With an influx of a media-savvy generation of younger lawyers into practice, a revolution in digital technology, the enormous proliferation of photographs and images in social and traditional media, and the explosion of tablets and laptops, the age of visual advocacy has arrived. Before filing any brief in the trial or appellate court, a lawyer should ask herself whether any portion of her argument could be enhanced or simplified through the use of a visual.

II.    How to use visuals effectively.

    To obtain examples of effective visuals, I surveyed my colleagues at Haynes and Boone, other appellate practitioners and a few appellate judges. I also attempted to find examples via Westlaw or other search engines. This survey culminated in an Appendix available here, which is organized by category of visual, including photographs and images, charts and graphs, tables, maps, timelines, flowcharts, diagrams and the like.

    From my survey, I have identified a few overarching lessons about effective use of visuals.

    First, craft each visual with the care you take with the text of your brief. Consider different alternatives. Ask colleagues for their opinions on which format is most effective. Continue to try to edit and improve the visual, as you would the rest of your brief. Ascertain whether the visual advances your argument or is merely decorative and thus potentially distracting. If the visual is misleading in any way, it will harm your credibility with the court, just as an improper record cite would.

    Second, as a general rule, embed the visual in the text of your brief, rather than include it in an appendix. The point is to have the visual reinforce the text and not force a judge or a clerk to toggle back and forth between the body of the brief and the appendix. While stashing a visual in an appendix may have been necessary in the era of page limits, that is not the case today.

    Third, visuals should simplify your argument, not make it more complex. Visuals that have too many words or try to cram in too many concepts are often counterproductive because they distract the reader or divert attention from the flow of your argument.

    Fourth, frame the significance of the visual in the sentence or paragraph immediately preceding it, to prime the reader as to what he or she should be looking for. A good example can be found at Tab A-12 of the Appendix, where attorneys for Apple discuss Samsung’s surge in market share after introduction of a model allegedly copying the iPhone, before that surge is reinforced visually.

Samsung 2

    Fifth, use color in graphs, charts, etc. to help break up long, monotonous blocks of black and white text. Color can be an important tool to show contrasts, similarities, or relevant groupings. In Tab G-4 of the Appendix, for example, the author uses color to show the appellant’s control of key levers of a joint venture.

Chart 2

    Sixth, in deciding whether to include a visual, remember that you are still addressing an appellate court, not a jury. Including a picture of a deceased plaintiff to generate sympathy or outrage is the equivalent of making a jury argument a state’s high court.

    In this paper and powerpoint, I highlight examples of effective visuals from each designated category and offer some thoughts about in which contexts they might be most helpful.

III.    The future of visuals

    While the paper focuses on embedding still images, photos, and graphics in briefs, technology permits much more, and developments in multimedia creation, storage and display continue at a rapid pace.

    Already, litigants have made videos played at trial accessible to appellate courts via a clickable Internet link.[1] But, if megabyte limitations on e-filings can be overcome or are loosened, it will not be long before video and audio files are directly embedded into e-briefs. An advocate could thus prominently feature footage from a security video, a police dashboard cam or body-cam, a surgical procedure, or the like in the heart of a brief, instead of relegating it to an appendix or record cite. Likewise, any key video deposition clips played to the jury could also be embedded in a brief. Audio files—like a 911 call, for example—could easily be embedded too.

    Animations could feature more prominently in appellate briefs, instead of being used only in jury trials. A quick search of the websites of various trial graphics companies illustrates how effective these animations can be.[2] One consultant artfully explains that: “If a ‘picture is worth a thousand words,’ then a computer-generated animation says a thousand words, sings a thousand songs, and paints with a thousand colors all at once.”[3]

Another scholar speculates that other embedded technology in briefs might include, among other things:

  • Graphics Interchange Format, or GIFS;
  • 360-degree panoramas (of accident scenes, etc.);
  • Powerpoint decks that would allow the viewer to scroll through a slideshow composed of images, graphics, or other information; or
  • Rollover/hover states, which would display new information over the existing text or graphic when the cursor hovers over it.[4]

    As a paradigmatic example, the scholar points to an article posted in Medium in which the author weaves together a host of embedded images, screenshots, maps, and audio files to tell a story about a harrowing encounter with the San Francisco police.[5]

    If The New York Times is any indication, change is coming. In the 20th century, that newspaper earned the nickname “The Gray Lady” for its heavy reliance on text and the absence of color (the first cover with a color picture was published in 1997). Now, its website is a “pulsing quilt of video and interactive graphics,”[6] podcast links, and even virtual reality experiences.

    For too long, tradition and inertia have led to a significant underutilization of photos and other images in legal briefs. But those days are over. If 81-year old Justice Stephen Breyer and 70-year old Justice Samuel Alito can effectively embed visuals in their legal writing as they did in opinions issued last week (see below), so can you![7]

 

[1] See Petitioner’s Brief on the Merits, BNSF Railway Co v. Nichols, No. 12-0884, at 3 (Tex. June 19, 2013), available at http://search.txcourts.gov/SearchMedia.aspx?MediaVersionID=9730f55f-c6b0-4408-9b92-afcd8f9d2805&coa=cossup&DT=BRIEFS&MediaID=8f049b10-6caa-45cd-aa2f-f0ba38599a46; see also Tab A-4.

[2] See, e.g., (1) https://courtroomanimation.com/results/, (2) https://www.legalgraphicworks.com/services/animation/, or (3) https://www.decisionquest.com/services/litigation-graphics-consulting/legal-animation/.

[3] Fred Galves, Where the Not-So-Wild Things Are: Computers in the Courtroom, the Federal Rules of Evidence, and the Need for Institutional Reform and More Judicial Acceptance, 13 Harv. J. L. Tech. 161, 190 (2000) (author is a professor and litigation consultant).

[4] See Elizabeth G. Porter, Taking Images Seriously, 114 Colum. L. Rev. 1687, 1749-50 (2014).

[5] Id. at 1750-51 & n.294 (citing https://medium.com/indian-thoughts/good-samaritan-backfire-9f53ef6a1c10).

[6] Id. at 1693.

[7] See June Med. Servs. L.L.C. v. Russo, No. 18-1323, 591 U.S. —, slip op. at 33 (June 29, 2020) (Breyer, J., plurality), https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-1323_c07d.pdf; Espinoza v. Montana Dep’t of Rev., No. 18-1195, 591 U.S. —, slip op. at 4-5 (June 30, 2020) (Alito, J., concurring), https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-1195_g314.pdf

Blog 5
Blog 5

July 7, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 12, 2020

Addressing Bias in Our Briefs and in the Legal Writing Classroom: If You Want Peace, Work for Justice

Like so many of us, I have spent the last few months worrying.  I have been very worried about my law students’ physical and mental well-being.  As a parent, I’m losing sleep over concerns for my high-school and college-aged children.  But for the last two weeks especially, I have been incredibly anxious about the lack of justice in our country. 

As a teen, I loved the statement, “if you want peace, work for justice.”  I did not know then the phrase has roots in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, but I knew it made sense.  See, e.g., Ronald C. Smith, If You Want Peace, Work for Justice, 16 Crim. Just. 1, 2 (ABA Fall, 2001) (using the phrase to call for justice after 9/11 and discussing the role of the criminal justice bar in ensuring freedoms and liberties to bring peace); Samuel J. Levine, The Broad Life of the Jewish Lawyer: Integrating Spirituality, Scholarship and Profession, 27 Tex. Tech L. Rev. 1199, 1206-09 (1996).  To me, one small way we can all start to make changes for more justice is by being more intentional in discussing bias in our writing, practice, and teaching. 

As appellate lawyers, we often have a good overview of problems in the trial court, and sometimes we can see racism and bias as well.  While we cannot present something beyond the record in a brief, we can do better at discussing what the record supports, and in having painful conversations with our trial counsel and clients.  Our courts have been increasingly willing to discuss bias, and one recently stressed the need to take “teachable moments” to end bias.  See Briganti v. Chow, 42 Cal. App. 4th 504, 510-13 (2019); Debra Cassens Weiss, “Appeals court sees lawyer's reference to 'attractive' judge in brief as a 'teachable moment' on sexism,” http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/appeals-court-sees-lawyers-reference-to-attractive-judge-in-brief-as-a-teachable-moment-on-sexism (Nov. 27, 2019).   We too should advocate for professionalism, and against bias, in our practice.  Of course, this is easier said than done, and our obligation is to our client, but if we start more conversations about what happened at trial and seize more opportunities to start a dialogue on professionalism, we will be working for justice.

Moreover, as legal writing teachers, we have great opportunities to include discussions of racism in our work.  In doing so, we need not stray from our “assigned” role as writing teachers, since we also have an obligation to teach ethical practice as part of legal writing and analysis.  In fact, we already stress important topics of professionalism in myriad ways.  For example, many of us use cases on disbarment when we teach case briefing, and discuss the results of missed deadlines or failure to follow court rules as part of our teaching for memos and briefs.  Additionally, I used problems on curing attorney errors for my trial brief problems for years.  Now, we can include cases leading to discussions of bias as well.  Using problems based in some legal areas, like Fourth Amendment pretextual stops and Title VII discrimination, will easily lead to discussions of racism and how writers and lawyers can address injustice.  Using problems based in other substantive areas, like false imprisonment or real property, can create wonderful openings for discussing implicit bias and raising awareness, all while teaching crucial legal analysis and writing skills.  I am not suggesting professors should or should not share their own views in these discussions, I am just noting a discussion of bias in the law and legal profession is a logical and important part of the ethical issues we already teach. 

As Ronald Smith said of working for justice to bring peace:  “think of another saying, ‘It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.’ [When] we seek justice each of us lights candles, [and] light[s] the way for others to see how they . . . can light candles and work for justice, too.”   Smith, If You Want Peace, Work for Justice, 16 Crim. Just. at 3.

I wish you all good health and less worry, with hopes for a more just future.

June 12, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Writing Process – Drafting, Rewriting, and Revising

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

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

I.    The Drafting Stage

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

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

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

II.    The Rewriting Stage

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

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

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

III.       The Revision Stage

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Footnoted Citations - Ramos v. Louisiana

Justice Gorsuch’s opinion for the Court in Ramos v. Louisiana,[1] which held that Louisiana’s and Oregon’s laws allowing conviction by non-unanimous juries violated the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, drew much commentary. There were discussions of its holding and the lineup of the majority and minority. And on #appellatetwitter, there was much discussion of Justice Gorsuch’s decision to forego in-text citations in favor of footnoted citations in the majority opinion. Justice Gorsuch’s choice rekindled one of the many debates on style[2] that are always smoldering on #appellatetwitter.

Professor Orin Kerr (@orinkerr) seems to have reignited the #appellatetwitter debate with his tweet of April 21, 2020: “Reading Ramos, I am struck by the citation style: It’s the first Supreme Court majority opinion I recall in which all citations are in footnotes. I find that style annoying, I confess. If citations are important enough to include, put them in the text.”[3] Professor Kerr’s tweet prompted responses from judges, attorneys, other professors, and noted lexicographer Bryan Garner. The following day, Garner, a champion of footnoted citations, devoted an episode of this twitter video log Curious Mind to discussing his thoughts on why it’s better to place legal citations in footnotes.[4]

Garner co-authored Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges,[5] with Justice Gorsuch’s predecessor, Justice Antonin Scalia. There, the authors debated in-text versus footnoted citations.[6] Of course, Garner argued for the use of footnoted citations;[7] Justice Scalia, “disapprove[d] this novel suggestion.”[8] So let’s review some of the pros and cons of both and then you decide which you favor.

But first, let’s take a moment to think about the work citations do in legal writing. Citations serve at least two primary purposes: they tell us how to locate the cited source and they tell the reader the importance of the cited authority, i.e., the weight of the authority.[9] The latter is important because it helps the reader evaluate the relative value of one authority as compared to another.[10] We evaluate the weight of authority by its source. Is it a primary source or secondary source? If it’s a court opinion, what court decided the case? Is it a constitutional provision, a statute, or a regulation? How recently was the case decided or the statute enacted?[11] So, whether one chooses to use in-text citations or footnoted citations, the reader must be able to evaluate the weight of the cited authority. And because appellate advocates respect and value their reader’s time, they want to make it easy for their reader to evaluate the weight of the authority.

Those, like Garner, who favor footnoted citations contend that putting citations in footnotes aids readability while still allowing the reader to evaluate the weight of authority.[12] Those who follow Garner’s approach and footnote citations would write something like, “More than forty years ago, the Court decided Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.”[13] This communicates the relative age of the case and the court that decided the case. The footnote then contains only the part of the citation that tells the reader where to locate the case. If done well, footnoted citations let the reader evaluate the weight of the cited authority without forcing the reader to read—or more likely skip over—the information that tells her where to locate the authority.

Those who favor in-text citations, like the late Justice Scalia, argue that footnoted citations bloat the text with information that could be more easily conveyed in a traditional in-text citation.[14] So the in-text citation would be something like, “In Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S.  209 (1977) . . . .” This conveys the same information as the example above, but now the information is all within the textual sentence.

The in-text citation crowd has one other argument that perhaps carries the day, at least for now. Legal writers and readers are traditionalists and “Judges are uncomfortable with change.”[15] Appellate advocates are unlikely to put off our judicial reader by following the tradition of in-text citation. We risk doing so if we footnote citations. This is particularly true if the writer using footnoted citations isn’t careful to include within the text the information the reader needs to evaluate the weight of authority.

Returning to Justice Gorsuch’s opinion for the Court in Ramos, it was the first majority opinion in which he footnoted the citations. And just three days after Ramos was decided, the Court released its opinion in Romag Fastners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc.,[16] with Justice Gorsuch again writing for the majority. There he used in-text citations. So, while Justice Gorsuch rekindled the #appellatetwitter debate, perhaps he too is unsure which style to prefer.

 

[1] No. 18-5924, slip op. (U.S., April 20, 2020).

[2] Other common debates on style include whether writers should use one space or two after a terminal punctuation mark and the best font.

[3] Tweet by @orinkerr, April 21, 2020, https://twitter.com/OrinKerr/status/1252526810019004418

[4] https://twitter.com/BryanAGarner/status/1253005857035608064.

[5] Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges (2008).

[6] Id. at 132-35.

[7] Id. at 132-33.

[8] Id. at 133.

[9] Alex Z. Chew, Citation Literacy, 70 U. Ark. L. Rev. 869, 879-80 (2018).

[10] See id. at 881.

[11] Id.

[12] Scalia & Garner, supra note 5, at 132.

[13] 431 U.S. 209 (1977).

[14] Scalia & Garner, supra note 5, at  134.

[15] Id.

[16] No. 18-1233, slip op. (U.S., April 23, 2020).

May 5, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Writing, Rhetoric, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Writing a Statement of Facts

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

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

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

1.    Tell a story

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

2.    Don’t be argumentative

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

3.    You can – and should – still advocate

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

4.    Acknowledge unfavorable facts

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

5.    Eliminate irrelevant facts

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

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

                                                                                                  ***                                                                                                                                               

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

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

6.    Describe the record accurately

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Mandamus and the Need for Speedy Clarity

Mandamus is, and should be, a rare remedy. Over my years of practice I have filed mandamus less than twenty times in state or federal courts. Yet I have done so three times, and almost a fourth, in just the last six months. As a result, I have had a chance to ponder the unique nature of this remedy and want to offer a few tips if you find yourself having to file this unique "appeal."

In federal court, the All Writs Act (28 U.S.C. § 1651(a)) grants federal appellate courts the power to issue writs of mandamus. Mandamus is intended to be an extraordinary remedy, used only in exceptional circumstances that arise from emergencies or issues of national importance.  LaBuy v. Howes Leather Co., 352 U.S. 249 (1957). If there is any other remedy by appeal or award (such as a money judgment for damages) the remedy is not proper.Most state courts have similar jurisdiction and follow the same general rules.

The error challenged must also generally be "clear." This means, in most cases, that only ministerial duties can be challenged. If there is even a hint of discretion in performing the challenged act, mandamus will likely be denied.

In general, the suit is filed against the officer that abused their discretion. You are thus essentially "suing" the judge, clerk, or other official that clearly violated their duty.

Mandamus must also generally be filed quickly. While there is no deadline in most cases, there is a form of laches applied to mandamus by most courts. And mandamus is often used in situations where an injunction or other order has gone into effect or will go into effect in hours or days.

Mandamus thus offers a unique drafting challenge. You must act quickly. In some cases, within hours of the challenged action (or inaction). Yet you must show that the error is clear, and that there is no other remedy than mandamus. And you must provide all of the record information necessary to support the arguments raised, often without benefit of an official record.

This flies in the face of the usual appellate-lawyer temperament. We are, by and large, a careful and deliberate crowd. Mandamus requires us to shoot from the hip, but still hit the target squarely.

To do so, you must be ruthlessly clean and simple in your analysis. String cites, deep-dive  analysis, and policy arguments must often be discarded in order to cut to the point. And subsidiary arguments are often discarded in favor of a clean main point.

To make sure that my point is cleanly delivered, I try to focus in on a clean statement of the issue and on headers that deliver the entire argument in themselves. I know that the court is likely to start with the table of contents, so I want that table of contents to deliver the argument well. If there is a subsidiary issue that is not addressed in the headers, it should be cut or relegated to the footnotes.

Every necessary point is also made explicit. I do not leave to chance that any part of my burden for mandamus will be rejected. So the lack of adequate alternative remedies is a header. So is the timeliness of the challenge. And the error is explained with subheaders parsing out each step of the analysis.

If I am seeking emergency relief in addition to the mandamus that requires immediate action by the court, I state this explicitly in the mandamus, near the beginning. I then file the motion for emergency relief with the mandamus, if at all possible, so that the court has full briefing on why the emergency relief is necessary.

Finally, and this is the most challenging part for me, I try to stop editing when the mandamus is "good enough." Because of sharp time constraints, a few maxims should be kept in mind:

  • Voltaire: “The best is the enemy of the good.”
  • Confucius: "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without."
  • Shakespeare: “Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.”

You must edit and clarify with great care. But you also must know when to quit. In a mandamus, this may mean that you only have a few drafts before you must file.

This is the hardest part of a mandamus. You are already somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that you are filing an "extraordinary writ" with so few rules and procedures to guide you. You are probably uncomfortable with the idea of "suing" a judge you may be appearing before again (although you are always carefully challenging the ruling, not the officer). And now, in doing so, you must act quickly and without the comfort of repetitive drafting over time.

But that is the challenge of mandamus. Quick, accurate, and simplified arguments are key. In learning to do so, you may learn to apply those principles to the rest of your work.

 

 

April 14, 2020 in Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Teaching Legal Writing in the Coronavirus Era

The spread of the coronavirus has resulted in law schools transitioning to online learning. The delivery of legal education online certainly presents challenges for law students and legal writing professors (and professors generally). Below are tips (some rather obvious) that can hopefully contribute to facilitating a reasonably smooth transition to teaching legal writing online, and in a manner that: (1) maximizes students’ attainment of relevant learning outcomes; and (2) creates a supportive learning environment.

1.    Be clear about the requirements and expectations going forward

The spread of the coronavirus – and the transition to online legal education – will cause many students to experience increased stress, uncertainty, and anxiety, the severity of which will vary based on each student's circumstances. Indeed, these effects will impact some students more directly and substantially than others.

To facilitate the transition to online education, professors should communicate clearly to students the requirements and expectations regarding assignments and grading, particularly if assignments or grading policies have been modified. For example, many law schools have decided to transition to pass/fail (or credit/no credit) grading for all courses. As such, professors should explain to students the criteria that distinguish passing from failing grades (e.g., a passing grade is the equivalent of a ‘C’ or better).

2.    Provide students with writing checklists to make them aware of your grading criteria and to help students edit their work

Professors should consider creating a one or two-page checklist that sets forth the criteria (essentially, the rubric) that they will use when assessing the students’ work. Doing so will enable students to focus their writing and editing on the most relevant aspects of an assignment (e.g., effective topic sentences, proper IRAC structure), and help them to produce their best work.

3.    Draft a one or two-page summary each week highlighting the major points of that week's classes

As stated above, the transition to online learning will likely cause many students to experience increased stress and anxiety due to, for example, increased family obligations and financial difficulties. Indeed, students may have less time to devote to their studies or simply struggle to focus on their work, particularly if they are living with family members or home-schooling children. For these and other reasons, students may struggle to complete reading assignments or otherwise dedicate sufficient time to mastering the material.

Drafting a one or two-page summary of the major points covered each week (with examples) will simplify the material and help students focus their attention on the most relevant legal writing skills.

4.    Shorten the remaining assignments

In courses where students are required to write, for example, a pre-trial motion, appellate or trial brief, professors should consider shortening their assignments if the circumstances warrant. For example, professors may consider requiring students to write only the legal argument section of a pretrial motion or appellate brief. And professors can consider incorporating smaller, problem-based assessments to focus on areas that may not be required in a summative assessment.

5.    Consider reducing or even eliminating the research aspect of an assignment

Some students will have reduced access to internet service and to electronic platforms such as Westlaw, Lexis, and Casetext. As such, professors should consider closed universe assignments that provide students with relevant legal authority.

6.    Be as accessible as possible and provide as much feedback as possible

The transition to online learning will significantly impact students’ ability to meet with their professors for individualized feedback and support.

Two approaches may lessen the resulting impact on students. First, professors can hold a few optional classes for the entire class, in which the professor provides generalized feedback on the students’ work and offers suggestions for improvement. Second, professors can, at the outset of online learning, hold 10-minute conferences in which the professor provides support and feedback to each student (based on, for example, prior assignments). And in providing feedback, be mindful that students lack access to some, if not all, of the support services (e.g., a writing center, face-to-face interaction, academic success) that were previously available. This should cause law schools who remain on a grading system to consider adjusting their grading curve upward or permitting students who are particularly disadvantaged the option to take one or more courses on a pass/fail basis.

7.    Consider holding online legal writing classes only once per week

This suggestion may not apply to some law schools, but at law schools where legal writing courses are held two or more times per week, professors should consider switching to a once-a-week format. Doing so will enable law professors to devote sufficient time to discussing the relevant material and reduce the burden on students who may struggle to coordinate their schedule in light of personal circumstances.

8.    Take ten minutes at the end of each class to show that you care

Certainly, this is a difficult time for law students and law professors. One way to help students is to devote ten or fifteen minutes at the end of each class to simply asking the students how they are doing and encouraging them to share their respective experiences. Doing so will help to create a constructive ad supportive learning environment.

9.    Be optimistic and inspire students

Many students will probably rely to some degree on professors and others to provide support during this difficult time. This places professors in a position to offer encouragement, optimism, and inspiration to their students, and to show students that they can succeed despite adverse circumstances.

10.    Balance compassion with rigor

Certainly, this is an extraordinary time that requires compassion and understanding for students. At the same time, compassion should be balanced with rigor. Professors should continue to challenge students to put forth their best effort and reward those who produce the highest quality work. Indeed, just as this is a time for compassion, it is also an opportunity to teach students that, no matter what circumstances they may face in life, they must possess the mindset and coping skills to succeed despite adversity.

11.    Take care of yourself

Law students and law professors should be particularly mindful of their physical and mental health during this period. Exercise. Eat healthy foods (and junk food in moderation). Practice mindfulness techniques. Communicate with friends and family. Do things that make you happy (listening to Elvis Presley’s music is likely to create substantial happiness) and remember that this, too, shall pass.

March 29, 2020 in Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 16, 2020

Excellent Legal Research and Writing Textbooks for Law Students (and Lawyers)

Developing excellent legal research and writing skills is essential to becoming a competent attorney. Below are some of the most outstanding resources for law students (and lawyers); these books provide excellent real-world tips on how to become a persuasive legal writer and excellent legal researcher.

Bryan Garner, The Winning Brief: 100 Tips for Persuasive Briefing in Trial and Appellate Courts, Third Edition (Oxford University Press, 2014)

In The Winning Brief, Bryan Garner offers law students (and lawyers) with practical and real-world tips to maximize the quality and persuasive value of their wring. Garner includes tips on how to organize a brief, capture the reader’s attention, and edit effectively.

Bryan Garner, Legal Writing in Plain English, Second Edition (University of Chicago Press, 2013)

In Legal Writing in Plain English, Bryan Garner uses real-world examples to show students how to write concise, clear, and persuasive prose. Garner also includes valuable exercises and his advice is applicable to a wide variety of legal documents.

Ross Guberman, Point Made: How To Write Like The Nation's Top Advocates, Second Edition (Oxford University Press, 2014)

Ross Guberman’s book is replete with examples of outstanding writing by the country’s top advocates. Using these examples, Guberman provides students with the techniques necessary to draft excellent and persuasive legal documents.

Noah A. Messing, The Art of Advocacy: Briefs, Motions, and Writing Strategies of America's Best Lawyers (Aspen, 2013)

Professor Messing’s book includes numerous examples of excellent writing that are taken from outstanding motions and briefs. The Art of Advocacy focuses on organization, style, and storytelling, and contains annotations that explain to the reader why particular documents are so effective and persuasive.

Mark Osbeck, Impeccable Research, A Concise Guide to Mastering Legal Research Skills (West, 2010)

Professor Osbeck’s book guides students and new attorneys through each step of the research process. Impeccable Research also includes tips on how to avoid common mistakes when researching and discusses how to address specific difficulties that may be encountered in the research process.

Antonin Scalia and Bryan Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges (Thompson West, 2008)

In Making Your Case, former Justice Antonin Scalia and Bryan Garner provide invaluable advice to law students and lawyers regarding how to advocate persuasively before a court. The authors discuss, among other things, principles of legal reasoning, briefing, and how to draft an effective argument.

Steven Stark, Writing to Win: The Legal Writer (Three Rivers Press, 2012)

Professor Stark focuses on how to draft persuasive factual narratives and legal arguments, and includes excellent advice on how to draft a variety of real-world documents, such as complaints, answers, trial briefs, and appellate briefs. Additionally, Professor Stark’s book is replete with real-world examples that demonstrate the essence of outstanding writing.

William Strunck, Jr., and E.B. White, The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition (Pearson, 1999)

The Elements of Style shows students and lawyers how to draft clear, concise, and grammatically correct sentences, and is an invaluable resource.

Eric Voight, Legal Research Demystified: A Step-by-Step Approach (Carolina Academic Press, 2019)

Professor Voight provides invaluable instruction that will help students to become outstanding legal researchers. Additionally, Professor Voight includes interactive research exercises that are available on Core Knowledge for Lawyers. Each exercise guides students through the steps identified in the textbook and teaches them to research on Westlaw and Lexis Advance through screen captures and tips. 

Richard Wydick and Amy Sloan, Plain English for Lawyers, Sixth Edition (Carolina Academic Press, 2019)

In Plain English for Lawyers, Professors Wydick and Sloan offer valuable tips to help students draft clear, straightforward, and persuasive legal arguments. This includes, but is not limited to, using simple rather than complex words, drafting short sentences, writing in the active voice, and ensuring that a legal document is easy to read.

Of course, this list is not meant to be exhaustive. There are many excellent books that will assist students and lawyers in developing their research and writing skills. The books listed above, however, are among the best and will certainly accomplish this objective.

March 16, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Books, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Make the Standard of Review Work for You

Black’s Law Dictionary defines “Standard of Review” as, “The criterion by which an appellate court exercising appellate jurisdiction measures the constitutionality of a statute or the propriety of an order, finding, or judgment entered by a lower court.”[1] But the standard of review is more than that. The applicable standard of review may determine whether a case is appealed and if so, what issues are raised. And the standard of review may determine whether the trial court’s judgment is affirmed or reversed.[2] Judge Patricia Wald of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has said, “Appellate courts have to decide what the ‘standard of review’ is, and that standard more often than not determines the outcome.”[3] Given the importance of the standard of review, appellate advocates should seek to convince the court to apply the standard of review that is most likely to lead to success for their client.

In any appeal, appellate counsel will spend hours deciding whether to appeal and if so, what issues to raise. Appellate counsel will devote considerable time and resources to researching the substantive law applicable to the case, reviewing the record, and drafting the brief. But how much time do we spend thinking about the standard of review and how we can make the standard of review work for our client? Is the standard of review section of the brief just copied from an earlier brief? If so, are we missing a chance to shape the standard of review and find arguments for a less deferential standard of review (or more deferential standard of review if you’re appellee’s counsel) that might help us win our client’s case? What if we could turn an issue that is, at first blush, reviewed for an abuse of discretion into one the court reviews de novo? That’s what happened in West Branch Local School District Board of Education v. West Branch Education Association.[4]

West Branch involved the non-renewal of a teacher’s contract.[5] The West Branch Local School District Board of Education and the West Branch Education Association were parties to a collective bargaining agreement that included a grievance and arbitration procedure.[6] A grievance was defined as a claim that there had been a violation, misrepresentation, or misapplication of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.[7]

The collective bargaining agreement also contained a teacher evaluation procedure that superseded the evaluation procedure in the Ohio Revised Code.[8] In April 2013 the school board notified a teacher that it intended to non-renew her teaching contract and gave her a statement of reasons for the non-renewal.[9] The school board gave the teacher a hearing on her non-renewal and then voted to non-renew her teaching contract.[10]

The Association thought the school board had violated, misrepresented, or misapplied the collective bargaining agreement’s teacher evaluation procedures, so it filed a grievance.[11] The school board's superintendent denied the grievance and the association then submitted a request for arbitration.[12] That prompted the school board to file a lawsuit to enjoin the association from going to arbitration.[13] The trial court granted a permanent injunction in favor of the school board.[14] The association appealed the trial court’s judgment.[15]

The issue on appeal in West Branch was whether the trial court erred in granting a permanent injunction--a decision that would generally have been reviewed for an abuse of discretion.[16] The association, however, argued that the court of appeals should review the trial court’s judgment de novo.[17]  The association contended that the substantive legal issue that led to the permanent injunction involved the application of the terms of a contract—the collective bargaining agreement.[18] The association said that the terms of the collective bargaining agreement were unambiguous, so the application of the contract was a question of law, and questions of law are reviewed de novo.[19] The court of appeals agreed, reviewed the contract issue de novo, and reversed the trial court’s judgment,[20] a result that would have been unlikely had the court of appeals reviewed the trial court’s judgment for an abuse of discretion.

 

[1] Standard of Review, Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).

[2] Timothy J. Storm, The Standard of Review Does Matter: Evidence of Judicial Self-Restraint in the Illinois Appellate Court, 34 S. Ill. U. L. J. 73, 74 (Fall, 2009).

[3] Patricia M. Wald, The Rhetoric of Results and the Results of Rhetoric: Judicial Writings, 62 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1371, 1391 (1995).

[4] 35 N.E.3d 551 (Ohio 7th Dist. Ct. App. 2015).

[5] Id. at 553.

[6] Id. at 552.

[7] Id. at 555.

[8] Id. at 555-58

[9] Id. at 552.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 553.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id. at 554-59.

March 3, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 28, 2020

Consider Doing Initial Oral Argument Preparation As You Finish Your Brief

 Every appellate practitioner knows oral argument rarely changes a case outcome.  See, e.g., Ruggero J. Aldisert, Winning on Appeal: Better Briefs and Oral Argument 305 (2d ed. 2003).   However, whether you are a first-year law student, certified appellate specialist, or advocate between those levels of experience, you probably still spend a great deal of time prepping for oral argument.  This time can be hard to justify to clients, but an advocate must be prepared for oral argument.  See generally Cal. Rules of Ct., R. 1.1, 1.3 (2018).

In my last post, I suggested ways to use off-brief oral argument techniques to improve your brief writing.  For this post, I propose using an early, short, oral argument prep before filing the brief as a way to streamline your oral argument preparation while also improving your brief.  Using this technique can make your oral argument preparation time more useful, shorter, and easier to justify to clients.

In my advocacy classes, I tell my students to distill their oral argument points to one piece of paper, or something very similar.  My “one piece of paper rule” forces students to take the main points from their briefs and organize their arguments in one place.  This process requires students, and counsel, to review the briefs and record, reread key cases, and be familiar enough with all aspects of the case to synthesize their points on one page.  Along with the paper, I recommend students have one binder with their case charts, all briefs, copies of any key pages from the record, and extra paper for notes during the opponent’s argument.  The binder should be tabbed and organized for very quick reference.   The process of making the binder is also very useful for both final brief editing and oral argument preparation.

On a practical level, my one piece of paper rule also keeps students from reading from their briefs or reading a longer, prepared statement to the court.  Since most courts either ban or strongly disfavor counsel reading from briefs or papers at argument, this is a good lesson to learn early.  See, e.g., 5 Am. Jur. 2d Appellate Review § 501 (2d Ed. Feb. 2020).  Additionally, an advocate who has organized his or her thoughts well enough to note them on only one piece of paper is unlikely to make the mistake of carting a box of scattered materials to counsel table.  One piece of paper is easy to follow under pressure, and can help counsel get back on track smoothly and confidently when the court’s questions move away from main points.  Advocates also have an organized binder if they do need to check something quickly.

In content, the one piece of paper should include bullet point arguments on each prong, element, or claim, noting the best points for the advocate’s side.  The paper should also have bullet points on counsel’s best responses to his or her opponent’s brief. 

I recommend students create their one sheet by first copying over their point headings from the brief Table of Contents.  Then, students should take the key points from their Introduction or Summary of Argument, and weave these ideas, all with a focus on their theory of the case and key case law, into bullets under each point heading.   I ask my first-year students to make this page before turning in their briefs.  I suggest they then use the paper as an editing checklist for the brief.  The process of distilling the whole case onto one page can reveal holes in the students’ briefing and help with final brief polishing.  Practitioners would reap the same benefit in brief writing from doing an initial oral argument preparation shortly before filing a brief.

In the law school setting, making the oral argument sheet before filing the brief is also efficient.  First-year oral arguments come shortly after the brief writing, and students can easily review the one piece of paper they prepared as a brief editing tool and be ready for oral argument. 

In practice, however, we often wait months after filing a brief for oral argument.  Nonetheless, creating an initial one sheet for argument before filing the brief can still be efficient and helpful in practice.  By creating the one page when most familiar with the record and the law, in the midst of brief polishing, counsel can ensure he or she does not miss any key points for later oral argument.  Also, while attorneys will still need a refresher on the facts and law before oral argument, following an outline created while drafting the brief will streamline the review process, leading to better preparation in a shorter time.  Finally, creating this type of one sheet for the whole appellate case before filing the brief can make final edits of the brief more useful, ensuring the brief is as perfect as possible.     

For all of these reasons, consider taking a quick break from your usual brief editing to create one piece of paper for oral argument, or anything similar that works for you, with an organized binder.  Doing so can show where you have missed something in briefing and can save time later. 

February 28, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Continue Teaching the New Dogs, Old Tricks: The Value of Teaching Appellate Advocacy to Law Students

A majority of U.S. law schools teach persuasive writing and oral advocacy to 1L and 2L students as part of required courses.1 These courses often focus on appellate advocacy. This model has existed for many years, gaining steam especially in the late 1980s after the ABA criticized law schools for failing to properly train law students in appellate advocacy.2 Some law professors and law students question the value of teaching appellate advocacy when we know that many lawyers will not actually engage in writing formal appellate briefs or participate in formal appellate oral arguments during their careers. Through this post I support the continued teaching of the skills required to write an appellate brief and make an appellate argument because the skills taught and tested when doing this kind of work are essential lawyering skills across a wide range of jobs held by lawyers. Lawyers are professional communicators—writing and speaking are essential skills of the profession.

First, writing an appellate brief requires careful, precise, and accurate work. Students must work with and follow procedural and local rules that dictate how to format a particular document, what information must be included, and when and how the document produced must be filed. Students must learn to carefully read a record and research the law to craft legal arguments within parameters set by the rules, including page limits and section requirements that force writers to write and rewrite their work until it is sharp and concise. All of this must be done while the writer is persuasively and accurately explaining to the court why a particular argument has merit when considering the governing law and the facts. The writer must also properly cite the law and the record.  These skills are all skills that are valued in the jobs that lawyers hold, from actually working in a litigation setting as an advocate, to advising and counseling clients in a more transactional practice, to working as a judge or a law clerk, just to name a few settings.

Second, oral communication skills are critical for lawyers. While not all lawyers will choose to engage in a litigation-type practice in which arguing to courts is a part of the work, most lawyers will need to “argue” or explain persuasively in their jobs. Appellate advocacy involves presenting arguments as well as responding to questions; it requires advocates to think on their feet. Lawyers who train in the skills of appellate advocacy will develop skills that will transfer to trial advocacy, negotiation, and other tasks requiring effective oral communication. Transactional lawyers will need to discuss positions with clients, orally communicate terms of a deal or a position, and negotiate terms of contracts. Many of the more formal skills required for oral argument will transfer to this transactional work. Even for those lawyers whose jobs do not include a focus on oral presentations, training to skillfully and thoughtfully respond to questions and clearly present legal and factual analysis is training that is an asset to most everyone in any type of legal job.

Third, developing appellate advocacy skills in law schools introduces students to professional and ethical norms that serve to give these burgeoning lawyers a taste of the legal profession and its traditions. Following rules, extending deference in a professional manner to the court, and showing respect for opposing counsel are all norms that should be learned in law schools and carried into the profession. Participating in the ceremony and discourse required in courses that teach appellate advocacy initiate these soon-to-be lawyers and welcome them into the legal community.

In conclusion, let’s continue to teach the new dogs the old tricks. Let’s strive to improve how we do it. Let’s even consider adding to appellate advocacy instruction, instruction and experiences in a variety of written and oral communication settings, like contract negotiation and drafting, trial advocacy, international advocacy, treaty negotiation and drafting, and other areas where lawyers are called upon to use their communication skills. We can value the foundational skills taught and learned through courses in appellate advocacy and supplement legal education with even more experiences that call on students to learn how to communicate effectively.

 

1 ALWD/LWI Survey 2018, Q. 6.4, https://www.lwionline.org/resources/surveys; Section on Legal Education & Admission to the Bar, Sourcebook on Legal Writing Programs 28, 46 (2006).

2 Michael Vitiello, Teaching Effective Oral Argument Skills: Forget About the Drama Coach, 75 Miss. L.J. 869, 869 (2006).

February 19, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Don’t Make These Mistakes When Writing An Appellate Brief

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

1.    You fail to follow the local court rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.    You overstate the relevance of precedent

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

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

4.    You are not direct with the court

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

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

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

5.    You do not consider the relevant standard of review

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

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

6.    You do not organize your brief effectively

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

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

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

7.    You file an unnecessarily lengthy brief

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

Simply put, less is often more.

8.    You make basic writing or stylistic errors

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Great Writers Know When to Break the Rules

Excellent legal writers (and writers generally) ensure that their documents adhere to basic rules of grammar and style. Indeed, if an attorney submits a document that contains grammatical or stylistic errors, it will undermine the attorney’s credibility and detract from the persuasive value of the attorney’s arguments.

However, in some circumstances, outstanding legal writers break the rules of grammar and style because doing so increases the persuasive value of a particular document. Below are some of the ways in which breaking the rules of grammar and style will likely enhance the quality of your document.

1.    You can end sentences with prepositions

As a general rule, sentences should not end with prepositions. However, in some contexts, adhering to this rule will result in awkward sentences. Consider the following example:

Who are you referring to?

Versus

About whom are you referring?

The first sentence ends with a preposition but certainly sounds more natural, which can be particularly effective where, for example, you seek to personalize your client.

Thus, don’t necessarily avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. Instead, determine when, and under what circumstances, violating this rule will enhance the flow and readability of your document.

2.    You can write a one-sentence paragraph

Generally, a paragraph should be approximately three to five sentences. It should also include a topic sentence and never occupy an entire page.

In some situations, however, you should break this rule, particularly where you are emphasizing a strong fact or argument that is critical to your case. After all, it should come as no surprise that your audience may not read every word in your document. Thus, using a one-sentence paragraph to emphasize a relevant fact or argument can enhance your prose and the persuasiveness of your document.

3.    You can use the passive voice

The conventional rule is that you should write in the active voice. Sometimes, however, using the passive voice is effective, including where you want to de-emphasize facts that are unfavorable to your client. Consider the following example:

The rule was violated.

Versus

The Defendant violated the rule.

If you are representing the defendant, wouldn’t you rather use the first sentence to acknowledge that your client violated a rule?

Ultimately, in some circumstances, passive voice can be effective, although it should be used sparingly and mostly when you want to de-emphasize an unfavorable fact.

4.    You can use sentence fragments

A complete sentence must include a subject and a verb. Importantly, though, in limited circumstances, using sentence fragments can maximize the persuasiveness of your argument because it is an effective way to emphasize important facts. Consider the following example:

Upon arriving at the crime scene, it was immediately clear that the victim was murdered in a cruel and heinous manner. Bloodied. Dismembered. Fear still in her eyes.

The above example demonstrates how sentence fragments can paint a vivid picture of the underlying events and effectively emphasize important facts.

5.    You can start a sentence with “and” or “but” (or other conjunctions)

Generally, you should not begin a sentence with “and” or “but.”

But doing so can be quite effective in some circumstances. For example, beginning a sentence with “and” or “but” can increase the persuasive force of a sentence and enhance the flow of your narrative. Consider the following example.

The defendant claims that the plaintiff’s not entitled to damages. But the defendant signed the contract. And the defendant admits to doing so.

Versus

The defendant claims that the plaintiff’s not entitled to damages. However, the defendant signed the contract. Additionally, the defendant admits to doing so.

Which do you prefer? The first example both reads and flows better.

6.    You can split infinitives

Some writers – or English teachers – may cringe at the notion that you can split infinitives in your writing. But doing so often makes your writing sound and read better. Consider the following famous phrase:

To boldly go where no man has gone before.

Versus

To go boldly where no one has gone before.

The first example sounds and reads better.

7.    You can use “you” instead of “one”

Sometimes, it is effective to use “you” instead of “one.” Consider the following example:

If one prefers, one may appeal the committee’s decision within ten days.

Versus

You can appeal the committee’s decision within ten days.

The second example sounds better and thus results in more readable prose.

8.    You should frequently use profanity and vulgar language in your legal writing

I’m just kidding. Don’t ever do this!

Ultimately, grammar and style rules are vitally important and should be followed in many circumstances. However, rather than rigidly adhering to these rules, pay close attention to how your writing flows and sounds. Consider the context. Consider your audience. Consider what language maximizes the persuasiveness of your argument. And realize that, sometimes, breaking the rules is the key to excellent writing.

January 12, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Tips to Immediately Improve Your Writing Skills

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

1.    Eliminate the B.S.

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

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

2.    Outline your argument

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

3.    Write shorter paragraphs and focus on only one point

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

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

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

4.    Use headings and subheadings

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

A.    Duty

B.    Breach of Duty

C.     Causation

        1.    Direct Causation

        2.   Proximate Causation

D.    Damages

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

5.    Write shorter sentences

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

6.    Vary sentence length

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

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

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

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

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

9.    Don’t change tenses

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

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

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

10.    Be simple and straightforward

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

11.    Use Grammarly or another reputable editing service

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

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

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

13.    Read excellent writing

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

 

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

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

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Writing an Outstanding Appellate Brief

The most critical factor that influences an attorney’s likelihood of succeeding on appeal is the quality of the appellate brief. Indeed, the appellate brief is, in the vast majority of cases, far more important than oral argument. Thus, drafting a well-written and persuasive appellate brief is essential. Below are tips on how to draft an outstanding appellate brief.

1.    Frame the issue to maximize the persuasiveness of your argument

One of the most important aspects of writing an outstanding appellate brief is to frame the issue (or question presented) in a manner that makes the court want to rule in your favor. Of course, when framing the issue, do not be dishonest or hyperbolic. Instead, carefully present the issue so that it supports the remedy you seek. For example, assume that you represent a client who suffered injuries after slipping on ice in the parking lot of a Whole Foods supermarket and the lower court dismissed your case via summary judgment. When drafting the question presented, consider the following examples:

“The case involves whether the Appellee is liable for negligence”

                                                            versus

“Is Whole Foods liable for injuries that a customer suffered after slipping on ice that Whole Foods failed to remove from its parking lot?”

The second example is far more persuasive than the first because it includes part of the factual background, particularly that Whole Foods failed to remove a dangerous condition from its parking lost that resulted in injuries to a customer. The first example does nothing but merely present the legal issue without any context whatsoever.

2.    Simplify the issue and argument

Regardless of the complexity of a case, attorneys should always try to simplify the issue and arguments for the court, and thus present them in an understandable and relatable manner. Judges (and clerks) are extremely busy; they read many briefs, some of which are quite voluminous, and will appreciate – and thus think favorably of – attorneys who present the issue and arguments in a clear and straightforward manner.

3.    Have an outstanding introduction

An outstanding introduction sets the tone for the entire brief. If you impress and persuade the court at the beginning of your brief, you will make an excellent first impression, gain credibility, and enhance the persuasive value of your arguments. To draft an outstanding introduction, include the following:

  • Draft a powerful opening sentence that explains why you should prevail
  • Tell the court exactly what you want (i.e., the remedy you seek)
  • Briefly present the most persuasive facts and legal authority that support your position
  • Include a theme that connects all of your arguments

Finally, in the introduction, tell the court what you are going to say in your brief and thus provide the court with a roadmap of your legal argument.

4.    Tell a story

Boring briefs, like boring books or movies, will not persuade your audience (the judges). Like everyone else, judges appreciate and will view favorably briefs that use narrative techniques to describe the characters, the setting, and the theme. In so doing, you give context to your arguments, humanize your clients, and provide the court with a realistic portrait of the facts. In other words, don’t simply recite the relevant facts and law. Tell a good story. Otherwise, judges may merely skim your brief. When that happens, your chances of succeeding diminish substantially.

5.    Don’t argue the facts (unless absolutely necessary)

Appellate judges defer to the lower court’s factual findings – and for good reason. The lower court is in the best position to evaluate the evidence and make an informed decision regarding the facts. Thus, in your brief, do not argue the facts unless your issue involves a factual determination. But that should be the exception, not the rule. The most successful appellate briefs typically focus on attacking an issue of law, not fact.

6.    Know the standard of review

Be sure to know the standard of review that the court will use to decide your case (e.g., abuse of discretion, de novo, clear error). The standard of review is critical because it provides you with the criteria upon which the court will evaluate your arguments, such as the level of deference that will be afforded to the trial court’s findings. As such, your arguments should always be drafted in light of the relevant standard of review.

7.    Be honest and acknowledge unfavorable law and facts

Don’t make the mistake of concealing unfavorable law or facts. The court (or its clerks) will find the law or facts that you omitted, and your credibility will diminish substantially when questioned about the omission. Instead, acknowledge unfavorable law or facts and explain why they do not affect the remedy you seek. In so doing, you will garner credibility with the court and have the opportunity to address issues that your adversary will surely raise in the opposing brief.

8.    Only present strong legal arguments

Be selective regarding the legal arguments that you include in your brief. Weak arguments detract from the credibility of your brief and the strength of your arguments. Thus, do not “throw in the kitchen sink” and hope that the court will support one of your arguments. For the same reason, be careful about arguing in the alternative. If you do, make sure that your alternative argument is sufficiently strong to merit inclusion in the brief.

9.    Write, re-write, and edit your brief

Appellate briefs should be well-written and avoid the common mistakes that are characteristic of poor writing. For example, don’t be repetitive. Avoid block quotes. Eliminate unnecessary words and adjectives. Don’t use over-the-top language, or attack your adversary or the lower court. Avoid long sentences (i.e., those over twenty-five words) and long paragraphs. Delete complex or esoteric words. Be concise. Avoid footnotes. Make sure that your brief is well-organized and flows logically. And remember that, no matter how strong your legal arguments, bad writing will detract from the persuasiveness of those arguments, which can result in losing the appeal.

10.    Don’t overwhelm the court with needless legal authority

Be sure not to include unnecessary or repetitive legal authority. Thus, do not include string cites that have little or no persuasive value unless you intend to discuss the facts of those cases and explain why they are relevant. For example, when citing well-settled legal propositions (e.g., the negligence standard), there is no need to cite ten cases. Cite one or two cases and make sure that, in the cases you cite, the courts reached outcomes that are consistent with your position. Additionally, unless your case involves a truly unsettled legal issue, be careful of reasoning by analogy because courts will often easily distinguish cases from a different area of the law. The best approach is to discuss the cases most relevant to your issue and explain why they support the outcome you seek.

11.    Don’t use boilerplate conclusions

Make sure that the conclusion of your brief is as powerful as the introduction because you want to leave the court with a favorable impression of your argument. For example, do not simply state, “For the foregoing reasons, the district court’s decision should be reversed.” This says nothing. Instead, in a few sentences, provide the strongest factual and legal bases for granting the relief you seek

12.    Put yourself in the adversary’s and court’s shoes

When drafting an appellate brief, attorneys can become so convinced of the merits of their argument that they lose sight of the opposing arguments, unfavorable facts, or competing policies that the adversary and court will likely raise. Consequently, be sure to objectively evaluate your brief. For example, consider how the court might react to your arguments. What questions might it ask? What weaknesses might it find? What legal or policy arguments might it raise? Viewing your brief objectively enables you to find weaknesses in your argument and revise your brief to effectively address those weaknesses.

13.    Read great appellate briefs

If you want to become an outstanding brief writer, read excellent briefs before you write. For example, read Chief Justice John Roberts’s brief in Alaska v. Environmental Protection Agency, which Roberts drafted when he was a partner at Hogan & Hartson, LLP (now Hogan & Lovells). Roberts’s brief is truly outstanding and demonstrates how narrative and persuasive writing techniques can be used to create a cogent legal argument. You can read the brief at the following link: https://www.findlawimages.com/efile/supreme/briefs/02-658/02-658.mer.pet.pdf.

December 15, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 14, 2019

This Holiday Season, All Our Appellate Courts Want Is Good, Civil Writing

In this season of giving, we have the gifts of two new scathing appellate opinions on poor persuasion and civility to remind us all our courts really want for Christmas (and any holiday) is clear, ethical writing.  While we have plenty of past examples of appellate courts taking poor writers to task, in November, we gained two more published opinions building on past decisions and reminding us truly persuasive writing is both straightforward and civil.

The blogosphere has already discussed the November 7, 2019 Seventh Circuit opinion in McCurry v. Kenco Logistics, where the court explained:  “Bad writing does not normally warrant sanctions, but we draw the line at gibberish.”  942 F.3d 783, 792 (7th Cir. 2019).  For a fun review of McCurry listing the many biting phrases the court used, including the new signal “(all errors in original),” see Kevin Underhill’s November 8, 2019 blog.  https://loweringthebar.net/2019/11/seventh-circuit-we-draw-the-line-at-gibberish.html.

The McCurry court cited Stanard v. Nygren, 658 F.3d 792, 801–02 (7th Cir. 2011), a Seventh Circuit decision ordering an attorney to should show cause why he should not be disciplined for poor writing and lack of civility.  Counsel in Stanard first gained notoriety representing alleged repeat wife-killer Drew Peterson in civil litigation, and faced criticism for his past litigation tactics.  See Howard Posner, “Mind Your Grammar,” Cal. Lawyer (Nov. 2012).  In Stanard, the court chastised counsel for “Lack of punctuation,” “Near incomprehensibility,” “Failure to follow basic directions,” “Grammatical and syntactical errors,” and incorrect statements of fact and law.  658 F.3d at 797-800.  According to Judge Sykes, who also authored McCurry:  “At least 23 sentences [in the Stanard brief] contained 100 or more words. This includes sentences of 385, 345, and 291 words.”  Stanard, 658 F.3d at 798.   Moreover, counsel’s refusal to follow court orders and lack of respect for the trial court hindered his representation of his landowner client in StanardId. at 800-02.

For years, I have used Stanard in appellate advocacy teaching to support the idea truly persuasive writing is accurate and precise.  I also use the case to show how lack of civility to the court and others inhibits persuasion. 

Now, we can also point students to McCurry, and we have a new case from California expressly saying lack of civility is unpersuasive.  On November 22, 2019, the California Court of Appeal issued its opinion in Briganti v. Chow, ___ Cal. App. 4th __, 2019 WL 6242111, *1 (Nov. 22, 2019), and ordered the opinion published “to draw attention to our concluding note on civility, sexism, and persuasive brief writing.”  See Debra Cassens Weiss, “Appeals court sees lawyer's reference to 'attractive' judge in brief as a 'teachable moment' on sexism,” http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/appeals-court-sees-lawyers-reference-to-attractive-judge-in-brief-as-a-teachable-moment-on-sexism (Nov. 27, 2019).

Briganti involved, in part, an anti-SLAPP motion regarding claims based on Facebook posts.  2019 WL 6242111, *2-4.   In the trial court, then Superior Court Judge Feuer, now a Court of Appeal Justice, made several rulings for and against defendant Chow, and the Briganti court affirmed those rulings.  Id.  After discussing the merits, the court added an opinion section titled “A Note on Civility, Sexism, and Persuasive Brief Writing,” explaining:  “we would be remiss if we did not also comment on a highly inappropriate assessment of certain personal characteristics of the trial judge, including her appearance, [in] Chow’s reply brief. We do so not to punish or embarrass, but to take advantage of a teachable moment.”  Id. at *4.   

This “teachable moment” was a chance to remind us all sexism, in any form, is unprofessional, unpersuasive, and uncivil.  Chow’s reply brief began with comments Justice Feuer was “an attractive, hard-working, brilliant, young, politically well-connected judge on a fast track for the California Supreme Court or Federal Bench,” noting “[w]ith due respect, every so often, an attractive, hard-working, brilliant, young, politically well-connected judge can err! Let’s review the errors!”  Id. at *4.  When questioned at oral argument, Chow’s counsel “stated he intended to compliment the trial judge.” Id.  Nevertheless, the appellate court concluded the brief “reflect[ed] gender bias and disrespect for the judicial system.”  Id.  According to the court:  “Calling a woman judge — now an Associate Justice of this court — ‘attractive,’ . . . is inappropriate because it is both irrelevant and sexist. This is true whether intended as a compliment or not.  Such comments would not likely have been made about a male judge.”  The court cited the California Code of Judicial Ethics, which compels judges to require lawyers “to refrain from” bias based on gender.  Id. at *5.  As the Briganti court explained, “as judicial officers, we can and should take steps to help reduce incivility,” by “calling gendered incivility out for what it is and insisting it not be repeated.”  Id.

The court ended its opinion:  “We conclude by extending our thanks to the many talented lawyers whose excellent briefs and scrupulous professionalism make our work product better and our task more enjoyable.”  Id  According to Briganti,  good brief-writing “requires hard work, rigorous analysis, and careful attention to detail.”  Thus, while courts “welcome creativity and do not require perfection,” Briganti “simply did not find the peculiar style and content of [Chow’s] brief’s opening paragraph appropriate, helpful, or persuasive.”  Id.

Counsel for Chow appears unrepentant, telling the Metropolitan News-Enterprise the court “totally missed the boat on this one, attacking the messenger . . . for using one generally descriptive word ‘attractive’” and exclaiming “Shame on the DCA! Shame on the DCA!” regarding what used to be called the District Court of Appeal.  MetNews Staff Writer, “Reference in Brief to Female Judge as ‘Attractive’ Is Sexist:  Justice Currey Says Note Is Made of Inappropriateness of Conduct for Instructional Purpose,” http://www.metnews.com/articles/2019/attractive112519.htm (Nov. 25, 2019).  While the Briganti court noted the case did not warrant sanctions, the California State Bar has sanctioned Chow’s counsel in the past.  Id.

Despite the Briganti counsel’s rejection of the opinion, the rest of us can add Briganti to McCurry and Stanard, among others, on our personal lists of cases reminding us all courts really want is clear, honest writing that helps them reach proper decisions.  And for those of us teaching and mentoring new legal writers, these November gifts from appellate courts help us remind young attorneys true persuasion is civil and thoughtful.  Happy holidays!

December 14, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Genealogy of Law

In Portage County Board of Developmental Disabilities v. Portage County Educators' Association for Developmental Disabilities,[1]  the Ohio Supreme Court held that a court of appeals should review de novo a trial court judgment confirming, modifying, vacating, or correcting an arbitration award.[2] This case resolved a split among Ohio’s intermediate appellate courts, some of which had held that abuse of discretion was the appropriate standard of review.[3]

But why had the split occurred? What support had the lower courts relied upon to conclude that abuse of discretion was the proper standard of review?

It turns out, there wasn’t any reasoned support for the abuse of discretion standard. The split occurred because courts and advocates had failed to trace the genealogy of the law they were citing or had simply said that abuse of discretion applied without explaining why. This shows the need for both advocates and courts to research the origin of the law being cited to ensure well-reasoned arguments and decisions.

Before the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Portage County Board of Developmental Disabilities, three of Ohio’s twelve appellate districts, the Eighth, Tenth, and Twelfth, had held that abuse of discretion was the appropriate standard of review when an appellate court reviewed a trial court’s decision confirming, modifying, vacating, or correcting an arbitration award.[4] So let’s trace the genealogy of the abuse of discretion standard in these three districts.

Ohio’s Eighth District Court of Appeals

Cleveland State University v. Fraternal Order of Police said that abuse of discretion was the appropriate standard of review.[5] The court in Cleveland State cited Citibank, N.A. v. White,[6] which said that abuse of discretion was the appropriate standard but the White court didn’t cite any support for that conclusion or explain why abuse of discretion was the proper standard.

An earlier Eighth District case, Miller v. Management Recruiters International, Inc.,[7] had also applied the abuse of discretion.[8] Miller relied on an Eighth District case, Motor Wheel Corporation v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.[9] But the court in Motor Wheel hadn’t said that abuse of discretion applied; instead, Motor Wheel had recognized that the applicable standard of review was unclear, so the Motor Wheel court reviewed the trial court’s decision under both the abuse of discretion standard and the de novo standard.[10]

Ohio’s Tenth District Court of Appeals

In Dodge v. Dodge,[11] Ohio’s Tenth District Court of Appeals said that abuse of discretion was the appropriate standard of review and cited MBNA American Bank, NA v. E. Paul Jones as support.[12] But the E. Paul Jones court didn’t cite any support or explain why it applied the abuse of discretion standard.[13]

The Tenth District also used the abuse of discretion standard in State of Ohio Department of Administrative Services, Office of Collective Bargaining v. Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, Inc.[14] That case relied on Licking Heights Local School District Board of Education v. Reynoldsburg City School District Board of Education,[15] which in turn cited MBNA American Bank, NA v. E. Paul Jones.[16] The court in Licking Heights, in citing E. Paul Jones, said that E. Paul Jones cited another Tenth District case, Endicott v. Johrent to support the abuse of discretion standard.[17] While E. Paul Jones had cited Endicott, it did not use Endicott to support the abuse of discretion standard.[18] And Endicott did not say that abuse of discretion was the proper standard of review.[19]

Ohio’s Twelve District Court of Appeals

The Twelve District’s adoption of the abuse of discretion standard appears to stem from the decision of the Ohio Eleventh District Court of Appeals in Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. v. Masek.[20] Masek held that abuse of discretion was the correct standard of review[21] and cited an Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals decision, Herrendeen v. Daimler Chrysler Corp.,[22] to support the abuse of discretion standard. But Herrendeen didn’t say that abuse of discretion applied—Herrendeen didn’t even discuss the applicable standard of review.[23]

The Masek court also relied on its earlier decision in Rossi v. Lanmark Homes, Inc.[24] The Rossi court did not explain or cite support for its conclusion that abuse of discretion was the appropriate standard of review.

In Buchholz v. W. Chester Dental Group,[25] the Twelfth District cited the Eleventh District’s decision in Masek to support the abuse of discretion standard of review. In re Hamilton cited Buchholz for the same standard.[26]

These cases show the need to trace the genealogy of the law you are relying on. Doing this will allow advocates to develop arguments to support the continued application of precedent or the overruling of precedent. It will also promote the well-reasoned, consistent application of the law.

[1] 103 N.E. 3d 804 (2018).

[2] Id. at 805.

[3] Id.

[4] Dodge v. Dodge, 95 N.E.3d 820, 822 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. 2017), abrogated by Portage County Bd. of Developmental Disabilities v. Portage County Educators' Assn. for Developmental Disabilities, 103 N.E. 3d 804 (Ohio 2018); In re Hamilton v. Intl. Union of Operating Engineers, Loc. 20, 69 N.E.3d 1253, 1255 (Ohio App. 12th Dist. 2016), cause dismissed sub nom. In re Hamilton v. Internatl. Union of Operating Engineers, Loc. 20, 150 Ohio St. 3d 1413 (2017), abrogated by Portage County Bd. of Developmental Disabilities v. Portage County Educators' Assn. for Developmental Disabilities, 103 N.E. 3d 804 (Ohio 2018); and Cleveland State Univ. v. Fraternal Or. of Police, Ohio Lab. Council, Inc., 50 N.E.3d 285 (Ohio App. 8th Dist. 2015), abrogated by Portage County Bd. of Developmental Disabilities v. Portage County Educators' Assn. for Developmental Disabilities, 103 N.E. 3d 804 (Ohio 2018).

[5] Cleveland State Univ., 50 N.E. 3d  at 289.

[6] 99868, 2014 WL 346740, at *3 (Ohio App. 8th Dist. Jan. 30, 2014).

[7] 906 N.E. 2d 1162 (Ohio App. 8th Dist. 2009).

[8] Id. at 1166.

[9] 647 N.E. 2d 844 (Ohio App. 8th Dist. 1994).

[10] Id. at 849.

[11] 95 N.E.3d 820, 822 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. 2017).

[12] Id. at 826, citing MBNA Am. Bank, NA v. E. Paul Jones, 05AP-665, 2005 WL 3485512, at *3 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. Dec. 20, 2005).

[13] MBNA Am. Bank, NA v. E. Paul Jones, 05AP-665, 2005 WL 3485512, (Ohio App. 10th Dist. Dec. 20, 2005).

[14] 89 N.E. 3d 103, 108 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. 2017).

[15] 996 N.E. 2d 1025, 2018 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. 2013).

[16] Id. (“Typically, our review of a trial court decision to confirm an arbitration award is conducted under the abuse of discretion standard. See MBNA Am. Bank, N.A. v. Jones, 10th Dist. No. 05AP–665, 2005-Ohio-6760, 2005 WL 3485512, ¶ 10, citing Endicott v. Johrendt, 10th Dist. No. 97APE08–1122, 1998 WL 212770 (Apr. 30, 1998).”).

[17] 97APE08-1122, 1998 WL 212770, at *1 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. Apr. 30, 1998).

[18] MBNA Am. Bank, NA v. E. Paul Jones, 05AP-665, 2005 WL 3485512, at *2 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. Dec. 20, 2005).

[19] Endicott v. Johrendt, 97APE08-1122, 1998 WL 212770 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. Apr. 30, 1998).

[20] 2006-T-0052, 2007 WL 1395360, at *2 (Ohio App. 11th Dist. May 11, 2007), overruled by Portage County Bd. of Developmental Disabilities v. Portage County Educators' Assn. for Developmental Disabilities, 86 N.E.3d 580 (Ohio App. 11th Dist. 2017).

[21] Id.

[22] L-00-1268, 2001 WL 304843 (Ohio App. 6th Dist. Mar. 30, 2001).

[23] Id.

[24] 94-L-046, 1994 WL 738800, at *6 (Ohio App. 11th Dist. Dec. 30, 1994).

[25] CA2007-11-292, 2008 WL 4541954, at *2 (Ohio App. 12th Dist. Oct. 13, 2008).

[26] In re Hamilton v. Intl. Union of Operating Engineers, Loc. 20, 69 N.E.3d 1253, 1255 (Ohio App. 12th Dist. 2016).

 

 

December 10, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)