Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Oral Argument: Why I Advise Advocates to Practice Without Notes


Book-coffee-copy-34587

If you're looking to gin up controversy in moot court circles, here's one way: raise the topic of arguing without notes. If the moot-court whisper network and this Reddit thread are to be believed, some faculty coaches insist that their student advocates argue without notes. And, whether coaches insist on it or not, quite a few moot court advocates (including a bunch from my school) compete notes free. Hence the controversy. A lot of folks, like Reddit Person, don't see much genuine benefit to arguing sans notes. Sure, it might intimidate opponents or wow easily-impressed judges. But beyond that? Not much.

I would agree that going notes free probably doesn't offer many benefits in the actual oral argument performance. As the notoriously notes-free Paul Clement explains on page 16 of this article, well-prepared advocates mostly bring notes to the podium. And they mostly don't use them. Of course, as the Supreme Court's Guide to Counsel admonishes, "under no circumstances should you read your argument from a prepared script." But having notes to provide security, especially about key statutory language or sharp bits from the record, and making nondistracting use of them on occasion ... often a good thing, and rarely a bad thing.

But I think going notes-free is incontrovertibly great in one context: practice. Why? Science. As I've argued before on this blog, oral argument is a tremendous tool for learning. And doing it without notes can deepen learning. In a study published a few months ago in Applied Cognitive Psychology, researchers built upon a substantial body of literature showing that teaching material to others enhances the teacher's own learning of the materials. They attempted to figure out why. So they split research subjects—a group of undergraduate students—into four learning groups, all of which were given time to study and prepare to teach a lesson on the Doppler effect. Then two groups actually taught the lesson. One group taught from a script; the second taught without notes. A third group didn't teach, and instead took a free-recall test about the Doppler effect. The forth group—the control—simply did arithmetic problems.

One week later, the subjects were tested on their knowledge of the Doppler effect. And the subjects who taught without a script outperformed those who taught from a script.

The reason: teaching without notes forced subjects to engage in retrieval practice. The experiment suggests that teachers learn by teaching largely because—and when—they are required to extract, with effort, information from their brains. So it isn't the act of teaching per se that boosts learning, but the act of retrieving the information that does the trick. Hence this result: the no-notes teaching group performed as well on the test as the group that engaged in retrieval practices without teaching. And the scripted teaching group barely outperformed the control group. 

As I've said here before: prepared oral advocates learn, deeply, then teach, and learn more deeply for having taught. 

Pull the notes, and the learning is richer and deeper.

October 10, 2018 in Appellate Advocacy, Moot Court, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Thinking Thursdays: Using Screenwriting Techniques to Tell More Compelling Stories

Margaret Hannon, guest blogger, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School

***

Storytelling is an integral part of a lawyer’s work, particularly for appellate lawyers. One critical aspect of effective storytelling is structure—and when it comes to structuring an effective story, lawyers can learn a little something from screenwriters.

In Teresa Bruce’s forthcoming article in the Journal of Legal Writing Institute, The Architecture of Drama: How Lawyers Can Use Screenwriting Techniques to Tell More Compelling Stories, Professor Bruce proposes that “lawyers build their stories in the same way Hollywood writers do.” Just as screenwriters follow a formula, lawyers should do the same: as IRAC is to argument sections, SCOR is to fact sections.

Professor Bruce’s article builds on existing storytelling literature, which approaches narrative theory from several different perspectives. The structural perspective uses a pragmatic or pedagogical approach, arguing that “[a] large part of telling an effective story is the order in which the reader presents information.”[i] Scholars in this area argue that an effective story structure helps judges and juries understand and remember information, and the story that flows most logically will be the story that seems most probable. As a result, good story structure can increase a client’s chance of winning.

Professor Bruce’s article takes the structural approach to narrative theory a step further by introducing the SCOR structure. Many lawyers will be familiar with the writing stages identified by Professor Betty Flowers: Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge. The Architect stage is where writers focus on “large, organizational, paragraph-level thinking.” The SCOR template gives writers a “flexible, generally applicable template they can use each time they tackle a new case.” This enables “lawyers to skip the Architecture stage entirely when writing a facts section (as IRAC enables them to do when writing an argument section).” Ultimately, Professor Bruce’s hope is that using SCOR will make it easier for lawyers to write their clients’ stories more coherently, which will result in clearer, more compelling, and more convincing stories.

So, what is SCOR? To explain SCOR, Professor Bruce begins with the classic three-act story structure, “the basis of Western storytelling.” Act I, the Setup, establishes the protagonist’s “status quo.” Act II, the Confrontation, breaks the status quo and takes the protagonist on a journey to a point of climax. Act III, the Resolution, introduces the protagonist’s “new normal” and resolves any unanswered questions. Taking this basic story structure a step further, advanced story structure builds additional milestones into each act to create an overarching “story arc” that provides “rising tension throughout the first and second acts and falling tension during the third.” Professor Bruce illustrates both the basic and advanced story structure through a classic movie, The Wizard of Oz.

Professor Bruce then translates this traditional formula into legal writing: Setup, Confrontation, Outcome, Resolution, or SCOR. As in advanced screenwriting, within each act, additional milestones help to give the story added structure and keep audience members engaged.

First, the Setup, Act I, humanizes the client by establishing the client’s life and status quo before the “bad event” of the litigation. Second, the Confrontation, Act II, is the “meat” of the story—it introduces the client’s antagonist and sets out the pivotal (i.e. outcome-determinative) facts. While the opposing party will often be the antagonist, for some clients, the antagonist will be subtler. For example, for less-sympathetic clients, the antagonist might be “mental-health problems, addiction, childhood trauma, or poverty.”

The third and fourth components of the story are the Outcome and the Resolution, Act III. The Outcome is “the end of the protagonist’s quest,” while the Resolution is “where the audience gets closure.” This is the most difficult section for legal writers because a “lawyer cannot simply resolve her client’s story . . . the way a screenwriter can.” Instead, the lawyer may invite closure by inviting “the judge or the jury to resolve the storyline in a way that favors the client.”

To illustrate how this structure works and why it is effective, Professor Bruce uses the statement of facts in the Petition for Certiorari in Miranda v. Arizona. This statement of facts helps illustrate the SCOR structure, but also shows how the structure “can work even for a largely unsympathetic defendant, one who has been convicted of a violent crime.” In addition, Professor Bruce points out that other landmark briefs use a similar story structure.

I encourage practitioners, legal writing professors, and law students to read Professor Bruce’s article. In the article, she provides a more in-depth discussion of advanced storytelling structure, including the milestones within each act. SCOR provides a practical, accessible, and memorable way to help lawyers incorporate storytelling into their legal writing. And if lawyers can make their clients’ stories more accessible to their audiences, those stories will hopefully also be clearer, more compelling, and more convincing.

Special thanks to Alison Doyle for her help with this blog post.

[i] Brian J. Foley & Ruth Anne Robbins, Fiction 101: A Primer for Lawyers on How to Use Fiction Writing Techniques to Write Persuasive Fact Sections, 32 Rutgers L.J. 459, 475 (2001).

September 27, 2018 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Film, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, Television, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Jacobi & Sag on The New Oral Argument

As First Monday approaches, SCOTUS watchers would do well to follow SCOTUS OA, a blog launched in August by Tonja Jacobi of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and Matthew Sag of Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Simply put: Professors Jacobi and Sag are doing fascinating things with a remarkable dataset built around the text of every SCOTUS oral argument since 1955.

Their most recent post, on Judge Kavanaugh and the polarized Court, delves into a topic they explore more deeply in a forthcoming article in the Notre Dame Law Review: the change in the dynamics of SCOTUS oral arguments in the last two decades. As veteran advocates and Court watchers have often observed, oral argument has changed over the last few decades: justices increasingly have dominated, advocates have less opportunity to unspool their arguments free from interruption, justices are engaging with advocates less to gather information and more to persuade their colleagues, and so on. Empirical work comparing oral argument dynamics in the 1960s and 2000s -- this piece by Barry Sullivan and Megan Canty and this by James Carter and Edward Phillips -- has confirmed this. But observation, anecdotes, and well-analyzed slices don't tell a comprehensive story of when and how things changed. And they can't tell us much about why.

Enter the work of Professors Jacobi and Sag. They analyze (as a starting point) more than 1.4 million speech episodes in over 6,000 cases over the last 55 years. And yes: oral argument at SCOTUS has changed. Justices are more active. More judicial advocacy, less judicial inquiry. OK: we know that. But the story the data tell is deep and rich, far more interesting than "Scalia's the reason" or "Breyer started asking a question in 1995 and hasn't finished it yet." For example: the number of questions justices ask per case hasn't varied much from 1960 to 2015. But the justices are saying about twice as many words per argument in the last couple of decades, taking up about 13 minutes more per sixty-minute argument than they used to (and, no, it's not all Breyer). So what's going on? In short: judicial advocacy. Less inquiry, more commentary. Jacobi and Sag develop the point brilliantly. And they demonstrate that the shift in dynamic wasn't simply a gradual evolution or one that can be tied to a change in Court personnel. It happened, they show, in 1995. In happened because, they argue, of political polarization embodied in and brought on by the Contract-with-American Congress

The SCOTUS OA team updates the blog on Monday mornings. I'll be hitting refresh as they do.

September 12, 2018 in Oral Argument, United States Supreme Court, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

When Justices Cite to Oral Arguments

As the Supreme Court's term finishes with a flurry, this is a great time to glue yourself to Adam Feldman's data dives on his outstanding blog, Empirical SCOTUS (cross-posted since March at SCOTUSblog.com). The site is a treasure trove for Court watchers, and Feldman is terrific at collecting, presenting, and analyzing data about an endlessly fascinating institution.

In a recent post, Don't Cite Me Like That, Feldman touches (tentatively, and appropriately so) on issues that keep a lot of us entertained: Does oral argument change outcomes? If so, how? And how can we tell? This debate was raised afresh late last week in the wake of the Court's decision in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, a challenge under the First Amendment to Minnesota's ban on political apparel at polling places. Because polling places are nonpublic fora, governments have considerable latitude to impose even content-based restrictions on speech; those restrictions simply must reasonable and viewpoint-neutral. Writing for a seven-justice majority, Chief Justice Roberts concluded that the ban was unreasonable because the state failed to draw sufficiently sharp lines between permitted and banned political messaging; that is, the Chief says, "a serious matter when the whole point of the exercise is to prohibit the expression of political views."

To illustrate the state's difficulty in drawing lines, the Chief Justice cites to segments of the argument where counsel for the state, like, struggled to draw lines. The key questions came from Justice Alito; Mark Joseph Stern describes the most damning colloquy and provides an audio cut in this piece for Slate. Justice Alito relentlessly presents a chain of hypothetical questions about how a reasonable polling official would apply various bits of expressive apparel: a Colin Kaepernick jersey, shirts displaying rainbow flags or various messages, and so on. Counsel for the state's struggle was real (and understandable). It was also, according to the chief, telling:

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 10.33.12 AM

My intuition is that justices will most often cite to oral argument for the reasons the Chief did here: to oppose the position of the advocate presenting the argument. My sense, too, is that a major subset of such uses would be to expose overbreadth and faulty tailoring by highlighting awkward responses to scope-testing hypotheticals. Characteristically, Feldman doesn't rely on intuition: he pulls the data. This term, justices have cited to oral arguments 69 distinct times in 26 cases (both numbers went up this morning; the justices dropped cites to oral argument in this morning's opinions in Pereira v. Sessions and Lucia v. SEC). And yes: this term, justices' most common purpose for citing oral argument has been to undercut a party's position, either by using the transcript to "create a straw man argument that the authoring justice later deconstructs" or, as in Mansky, to "more directly oppose a party's position" by detailing "miscalculated or erroneous answers," often to questions about hypothetical applications. To be sure, justices use oral argument transcripts for other purposes, and Feldman breaks down and explains those well. This strikes me as a rich area for further study.

Cycling back to the initial question: did the state's struggles in the Mansky oral argument effect the outcome? Obviously, we can't know with the information we have, and given the marginal, late-in-the-game impact of oral argument, a good hypothesis in almost any case would be no. But, as Feldman cautiously explains, Mansky might be different. Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Kagan sided with the majority. But their questioning patterns at oral argument (and, to some degree, the substance of their questions, particularly those of Justices Kennedy and Ginsburg) would suggest that they might have been inclined to rule the other way. And Justice Sotomayor's position in dissent—certify the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court for a possible saving construction—was a modest one. And yet: 7-2, with the oral argument transcript cited six times in the majority opinion (the Court also cited twice to oral arguments in Burson v. Freeman, a 1992 case addressing campaigning restrictions near polling places; see footnote 1 of the Mansky slip opinion).

So perhaps oral argument really mattered here. 

Mostly, though, just add Empirical SCOTUS to your must-read list if you haven't already. 

June 21, 2018 in Oral Argument, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Oral Argument & Betterment

Over the last few weeks, I've worked with a young lawyer as he prepared for his first appellate oral argument in an important federal case. And I experienced what is, at this point in my career as a teacher of advocacy skills, the familiar thrill of watching a good lawyer quickly get better. I hope the oral arguments in the case lead to better results than we'd see in whatever outcome and reasoning the panel would have reached based on the briefing alone. But I know this: preparing for and presenting the argument has made my colleague better.

In the last two posts on this blog, Tessa and Dan discuss recent pieces in the New York Law Journal and the National Law Journal on the steep quantitative decline of oral argument in the federal circuit courts. This decline is, perhaps, inevitable in an era of expanding dockets and technological advances that make briefs relatively cheap to generate and consume (I said relatively; don't @ me). But my reflex is to bemoan the lack of betterment that must accompany this decline. I'm not talking so much about the betterment of case outcomes or of society more generally. The hit to that species of betterment is, no doubt, real and worthy of discussion. And it has been discussed, well and often, on this blog and elsewhere. See, for example, pieces by Jennifer and Tessa discussing a report from the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers on why the decline matters; see also this piece by David Cleveland and Steven Wisotsky. But the benefits of oral argument in bettering outcomes and society are marginal and difficult to quantify; perhaps they're mostly not worth the cost. I don't know.

I'm concerned about the betterment of lawyers. It's not just that, as oral argument rates decline, fewer emerging lawyers will develop experience in the art of oral advocacy. After all, if the need for oral argument artisans declines, then bemoaning the loss of opportunities to practice the craft would be like getting upset over the scantiness of job listings for haberdashers. 

It's that doing oral argument makes one a better lawyer. Preparing for oral argument makes one a better lawyer. Deeply. Quickly.

If one prepares properly, appellate oral argument is a nearly perfect pedagogical tool. One basically can't prepare for and present an oral argument without working through virtually all of the techniques recommended by learning scientists (summarized nicely in the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning). Oral argument is an intricate, dynamic exercise in retrieval practice; as such, it leverages the testing effect. It demands elaboration: advocates must explain complex subjects clearly and vividly, show connections, relate the abstract to the concrete, and so on. It requires one to construct and use a network of mental models. As advocates move though disparate bits of the argument, they interleave material. Particularly because advocates naturally spend much of their time at the podium getting tested, through interrogation, about the most challenging aspects of their theory of the case, oral argument produces desirable difficulty. Judges' reactions provide real-time feedback. Post-moot periods promote reflection, a key component of sophisticated learning and skill development. The dynamic of oral argument lends itself to spaced practice. And anyone who has had to perform in oral argument learns quickly that our usual, misguided ways of "learning" material -- reading and cramming, with little retrieval or performative practice -- don't help much. Prepared oral advocates learn, deeply, then teach, and learn more deeply for having taught. The expertise sticks.

Let's say I'm right that doing and preparing for oral argument is an especially powerful way for lawyers to develop expertise and skill. And let's say that oral argument skeptics and realists are correct that oral arguments only rarely affect outcomes in cases and most often aren't worth the cost. Maybe we can agree on this: let's push more oral arguments down to junior attorneys. That'll drop the costs. Maximize the benefit. Make a lot of forward-thinking courts happy. 

June 6, 2018 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 4, 2018

Oral Argument News

Over the past two weeks there have been a few prominent stories on oral arguments.  These stories were featured in the Weekly Roundup, but I wanted to elaborate on them a bit more.

The first story concerns the D.C. Circuit's decision to live-stream the audio of oral arguments.  Danny noted the D.C. Circuit's announcement in the May 25 Weekly Roundup. In short, the D.C. Circuit has provided recordings of oral arguments since September 2013.  However, now they will live-stream arguments (barring any sort of "classified or sealed matters.").  This is great news!  Honestly, the federal courts are way behind on live-streaming.  Nearly two years ago I blogged on state efforts to live-stream arguments.  Many states live-stream more than just audio--they include video as well.  As a teacher of appellate advocacy, having my students watch oral arguments is a great teaching tool.  Those arguments don't always have to be live, but it does add a nice element.  For practitioners, the ability to listen or watch an argument from the office, rather than heading down to the courthouse, saves those precious billable hours.  Kudos to Chief Judge Garland for making this happen!

The second story, which Dan mentioned in the June 1 Weekly Roundup, is a story from the National Law Journal on the decline of oral arguments in the circuits.  While I wasn't able to pull up the NLJ article, on May 31 the New York Law Journal posted an article on the same subject.  According to the article:

The most recent year statistics available from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts—the 12-month period ending Sep., 30, 2017—had just 6,913 arguments out of the 34,561 appeals decided on the merits. That 20 percent is a far cry from the 27.3 percent of all cases a decade ago (8,662 arguments heard), and an even more steep decline from the 40.1 percent of cases (10,357 arguments heard) just 20 years ago—when oral argument data became available from the Administrative Office.

The article does a nice job of highlighting the arguments for and against oral argument.  In a nutshell--oral argument is expensive, time consuming, and not always helpful.  On the other, oral argument is an important bench/bar relationship and can help clarify judicial misperceptions in a case.  

It will be fascinating to see if argument numbers continue to decline. 

June 4, 2018 in Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thinking Thursdays: Know your logical fallacies (Part 1)

Ruth Anne Robbins, Distinguished Clinical Professor of Law, Rutgers Law School

Faulty reasoning undermines the substances of a legal argument as well as the credibility of the advocate. After a quick search of the online briefs available on Westlaw and Lexis, I can safely tell you that several thousand appellate briefs reference logical fallacies—typically as a precursor to a direct refutation of an opposing party’s argument. How many of us these days know our logical fallacies as well as we should?

Beyond calling out opposing counsel for these errors, the wise attorney also tests their own writing to see if they have relied on fallacious thinking. In most logical fallacies, something has gone wrong with the legal syllogism. In a sense, the major premise of a syllogism is a rule, while the minor premise is a fact. The conclusion flows from the application of the rule to the fact. Here is a simple example.[1]

            Major premise:          The speed limit where defendant was arrested is 45 MPH.

            Minor Premise:          The working-perfectly radar gun clocked defendant at 63 MPH.

            Conclusion:                Defendant was speeding

In most logical fallacies, some part of the syllogism fails. There are four major categories of logical fallacies in law. Today’s blog entry goes through the first two groups of common fallacies: the non-sequitur fallacies and the insufficient evidence fallacies. The next Thinking Thursday blog entry will discuss two other categories: shallow thinking and avoidance fallacies.  

Logic 21. Non-sequitur fallacies. In a non-sequitur, the major premise is applied incorrectly to the minor premise. You can recognize these when the conclusion does not logically flow from the premise

1.1  The correlation equals causation fallacy commonly appears with statistical analyses. The arguer claims that because A and B appear together A must have caused B. The argument that the MMR vaccine causes babies to develop autism is a classic example of this type of fallacy. This amusing site shows these fallacies taken to the extreme.

1.2  The post hoc fallacy is closely related to the correlation/causation fallacy. The arguer claims that because A occurrence is followed by B occurrence, A’s occurrence must have caused B to occur. For example, after I ate an apple, I won an award—ergo, eating the apple caused me to win the award. In law, this sometimes shows up this way: When Pat drinks, Pat becomes violent. Therefore, Pat’s violence is caused by alcohol. That is a logical fallacy. Alcohol may lower inhibitions but does not cause violence by itself. 

2. Insufficient evidence fallacies contain faulty minor premises—faulty because they are false or based in inadequate material. There are three major types of these.

2.1  The hasty generalization fallacy happens when lawyers draw big and general conclusions from too small a sample size or from unrelated evidence. “Climate change has been solved because this winter New Jersey saw frigid temperatures in late December and early January, and because it saw two nor’easter storms in March.” In that example, the weather from one three-month period is being used to argue that a decades-old phenomenon is over or never existed. To show this syllogistically:   

Major premise: Climate change is making things warmer

Minor premise (flawed): weather over a three-month period matters to climate change

Conclusion (faulty): Climate change is over or solved.

2.2  The anecdotal evidence fallacy is related to the hasty generalization fallacy. The anecdotal evidence fallacy occurs when there is simply inadequate evidence to support the minor premise.

Major premise:  Some cities offer Segway tours of tourist areas.

Minor premise (flawed): I have never seen people on a Segway tour of Philadelphia.

Conclusion (faulty): Philadelphia does not have Segway tours.

2.3  Finally, shallow legal research can lead to the Texas sharpshooter fallacy. As a classic example, a person shoots an arrow at a barn wall, and then draws a bullseye around the arrow in the wall. That’s a logical fallacy and happens in the minor premise—i.e. “this is a target with a bullseye.” A Texas sharpshooter fallacy happens when someone builds legal analysis and argumentation around incomplete legal research. Think of this fallacy as related to a confirmation bias—when the legal researcher stops researching when they find a result that demonstrates the governing rule that they want for their client, versus what the rule might actually be.

**********

It is easy enough these days to practice spotting logical fallacies simply by watching television. Many advertisements use fallacious reasoning in the marketing. Politicians will sometimes fall into the logical fallacy trap as well—watching the news for a week or two should net you a few examples. But, most importantly, review your own advocacy for these common errors.

] Thank you to Professor Ken Chestek (Wyoming) and Professor Steve Johansen (Lewis & Clark) for these examples. They come from the upcoming second edition of our co-authored textbook, Your Client’s Story: Persuasive Legal Writing (2d ed. Wolters Kluwer, expected publication date of later this year).

March 15, 2018 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court, Oral Argument, Rhetoric, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thinking Thursday: Lincoln would have owned Twitter

Presidents’ Weekend is upon us. Ten score and nine years ago, one of our most eloquent American writers was born. Per Professor Julie Oseid, it’s hard to pin down President Lincoln’s prowess to just one attribute. He was adept at many skills, “including alliteration, rhyme, contrast, balance, and metaphor.” (From her new book, Communicators-in-Chief) In her chapter on Lincoln, however, Oseid focuses on his ability to express a great deal in an economy of words. He developed that style during his 25 years as a trial attorney riding circuit. Collecting his legal writing became a quest for historians, and as a result Lincoln is now the most documented lawyer that we may ever have. You can see some of the work of The Lincoln Legal Papers project online. Oseid summarizes Lincoln’s strategy as not to waste arguments or words, but to use “just the necessary number of those words for essential matters.”

So many of our presidents are known for their rhetorical style that Oseid is able to build a body of work about the takeaways that we, as legal writers, can learn from our bygone leaders. Essays have appeared in Volumes 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 of Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD. Her new book brings together the rhetorical lessons from these five presidents and does so in a way that is very readable in the gestalt.

Lincoln with pen and paper

Lincoln worked hard for his brevity, pondering and editing mercilessly. He was driven by a need for universal comprehension—something every trial lawyer learns to do. His famous second inaugural address was delivered in six minutes. In 701 words he developed a timeless message of reconciliation—and 505 of the words he used were only one syllable long. His notes of his speech showed emphasis on five words, all verbs.

I asked Professor Oseid, and she agreed that Lincoln would have used Twitter masterfully and eloquently. It is interesting to pause for a few minutes and wonder how he would have used the medium. From what we know of his other writings, I strongly believe that he would have lifted it up, and us up in the process. Lincoln keenly understood that intelligent and powerful communications do not depend on vocabulary, but on conveying a theme with precision and organization.

As I celebrate my favorite presidents this weekend, I will be thinking about those legal writing lessons I can learn from them.

Ruth Anne Robbins, Distinguished Clinical Professor of Law, Rutgers Law School

February 15, 2018 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Books, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court, Oral Argument, Rhetoric, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Thinking Thursdays: The idea of "opportune moments" in advocacy.

Appellate attorneys must choose not only the right arguments, but also the right moment for the argument. By that, I mean the right time in the world, and the right time in the brief. The idea of opportune moments draws upon a less-taught rhetorical concept, that of kairos.[1]

In Greek myth, two spirits represented different aspects of time: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos, often depicted as an aged man, was the spirit representing the sequential and linear passage of time. Kairos, the spirit of opportune moments—of possibilities—is shown as a young man, floating on air in a circuitous path. Francesco_Salviati_005-contrast-detail[2] His wings and the long hair growing only out of his face and not on the top or back of his head, symbolizes the need for people to seize him as he approaches, but not after he passed by. In his whirling travel patterns, Kairos—unlike Chronos—may come around again. Thus, the concept of kairos in rhetoric centers on the “opportune moment.” It is the difference between “being in the right time and place” versus the idea that people cannot go backwards in time.    

The “opportune moment” concept of kairos has been part of rhetoric since the time of Aristotle, who took the view that the moment in time in which an argument was delivered dictated the type of rhetorical devices that would be most effective. The sophists took a different view: Kairos is something to be manipulated by the presenter as part of adapting the audience’s interpretation of the current situation. Kairos assists in molding the persuasive message the speaker is communicating. Modern rhetoricians hold a middle view—that a presenter must be inventive and fluid because there can never be more than a contingent management of a present opportunity.

The Greek word kairos and its translation “opportune moment” embody two distinct concepts communicated through metaphors. The first concept, the derivation of the “right moment” half of the definition, is temporal. Greek mythology concentrated the spirit on the temporal. That is, the right time in the history of the world. For lawyers, that is important to know when making a policy argument. Is this the right moment in the trajectory of chronological time to make a particular policy argument. Will it persuade? Appellate attorneys who write civil rights and other impact-topic briefs will immediately understand what I am talking about. There is a right moment in history to make an argument. Some of the most important cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court depended on the timing of the case—the kairos.  

In an article about creating kairos at the Supreme Court, and published in the Journal of Appellate Practice and Process, Professor Linda Berger has written about the idea of kairos and suggests that temporal metaphors are still useful, because they help explain why today’s dissent in an opinion may become tomorrow’s majority decision. In her analysis, she demonstrates that what may look like a missed or lost opportunity to persuade may still have an impact. A snagged thread in the fabric of the law, which, at an opportune later time, can be pulled to unravel the existing fabric of the legal sky when the opportune moment comes around again.  

Dreamstime now is the right moment teacupBut, the second half of the kairos definition—the opportunity—deals with the spatial. To seize the opportunity at the right time requires one to communicate in the right place and under the right circumstances. Rhetoricians commonly use visualizations of the penetrable openings needed for both the successful passage of the arrows of archery through loopholes in solid walls, and the productive shuttles of weaving through the warp yarns in fabric, as a way to describe the spatial aspect of kairos. Modern rhetoric takes these metaphors and elaborates, defining kairos as “a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved.”The idea is one of force and power.

For appellate attorneys, this represents the “where” an argument is placed in the internal whole of the document. The kairos of the legal writing. That depends, of course, on the overall narrative structure of the argument, the positions of emphasis in the beginnings and closings of sections and paragraphs, and the lasting imagery the writer wants the readers to walk away remembering. It is, as Professor Scott Fraley has noted in his Primer on Essential Classical Rhetoric for Practicing Attorneys, the idea that the writer understands the right moments “at which particular facts or arguments are inserted into the argument or presentation of the case.” He calls kairos, “the art of knowing when . . . to make the winning argument.” In other words, the strategic advocate spends time thinking about the persuasion of time. 

 -----------

[1] Some of this entry relies on language I wrote in an article on a different topic. Ruth Anne Robbins, Three 3Ls, Kairos, and the Civil Right to Counsel in Domestic Violence Cases, 2015 Mich. L. Rev. 1359 (2015). For the background on Kairos and kairos, I rely on these works: Carolyn R. Miller, Kairos in the Rhetoric of Science, in A Rhetoric of Doing: Essays on Written Discourse in Honor of James L. Kinneavy 310, 312–13 (Stephen P. Witte, Neil Nakadate & Roger D. Cherry eds., 1992); James Kinneavy & Catherine Eskin, Kairos in Aristotle’s Rhetoric, 17 Written Comm. 432, 436–38 (2000); and Eric Charles White, Kaironomia: on the Will-to-Invent 13–15 (1987).

[2] Francesco Salviati, Kairos (1552-1554) (fresco); picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFrancesco_Salviati_005-contrast-detail.jpg

January 18, 2018 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court, Oral Argument, Rhetoric, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 23, 2017

Is Oral Argument Dying in the Circuits?

 

1200px-New_York_Court_of_Appeals_hearing_oral_arguments

Yes, at least according to a recent study by the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers. Jennifer posted an excellent summary of the report last Thursday.  I won't repeat her discussion, but I wanted to focus on a few other points.

The Academy, concerned with both the decline in cases listed for oral argument and the time allotted for oral argument in federal appellate courts, sent their report to Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and the chief judges of the federal appellate courts.  As Academy member James Martin told the National Law Journal, more oral argument could shed light on the role of judges: "Oral argument is a very unique piece of the civics lesson and one that I personally believe puts the courts in a very good light and is its own almost best explanation of what the third branch does and is all about."

According to the report, there are four federal circuits with oral argument rates in the teens.  The Fourth Circuit is the lowest, with only 11% of cases being scheduled for oral argument.  The D.C. Circuit, with 55% of cases being scheduled for argument, has the highest rate of oral argument.  According to the research I did along with my co-author for the third edition of Winning on Appeal, only 18.6% of federal appellate cases were scheduled for argument in 2015.  In 1990, 44.8% of cases received oral argument, with the Second Circuit granting argument in 76.4% of cases.  And, as we noted in Winning on Appeal, these numbers don't take into consideration the litigants who do not ask for oral argument in circuits that require such a request. So why the decline?

Some of the decline can be attributed to the rise in cases appealed.  In 1969 the federal appellate courts terminated 9,014 appeals. In 2015, that number was 52,881, or an increase of 586%.  It would be incredibly difficult for judges to hear argument in every case given the large number of appeals.  Furthermore, in surveying judges for Winning on Appeal, we found that most judges found the briefs to play a highly significant, if not dispositive, role in helping them resolve the appeal. 

Still, oral argument has its purposes.  In chapter 3 of Winning on Appeal, we set out some of these purposes.  For judges, oral argument allows them to (1) question the legal and factual positions in the briefs, (2) clarify the issues, (3) consider the impact of the positions taken, (4) lobby other members of their court, and, at times, (5) help the advocate present the case.  For attorneys, on the other hand, oral argument allows them to (1) face the decision makers, (2) emphasize or simplify positions in the brief, (3) address the issues that trouble the court, (4) correct misimpressions, and (5) show the logical soundness of their position.  In observing oral arguments, I have found that many attorneys fail to capitalize on these opportunities.  While, as Mr. Martin noted, oral argument puts judges in "a very good light," it doesn't always do the same for attorneys. Perhaps the answer to more oral argument is to ensure that the quality of oral argument is excellent and beneficial to judges and the disposition of cases.

 

October 23, 2017 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The advocacy of "the greatest lawyer of the 20th century"

22499011_10155074358482825_4019653763382361093_o

My law school was fortunate to welcome Elena Kagan earlier this week. (The artist's rendering above is the work of Professor Evelyn Brody.) During a delightfully wide-ranging conversation with Professor Carolyn Shapiro, Justice Kagan took a firm stand on one point: her former boss Thurgood Marshall was "the greatest lawyer of the twentieth century."

No one argued with that.

Marshall

As Justice Kagan noted, we mostly remember Thurgood Marshall, attorney at law, as an appellate advocate, though that might change with the release of the film Marshall, which focuses on his trial work. He is, of course, most celebrated for his work in the Brown v. Board of Education cases. And his advocacy led to key victories in the decade-plus before Brown: in Murray v. Pearson, a groundbreaking Maryland desegregation case; in Shelley v. Kraemer, a landmark case striking down racial covenants; in the Brown precursors Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents; in dozens of other cases.

To spell out the obvious: there is substance to Marshall's legend. The records of his appellate oral arguments provide ready confirmation of this. It's worth reading in full the transcripts of his oral arguments in Briggs v. Elliott, one of the consolidated Brown cases.  In the original 1952 argument and rebuttal (pdfs), Marshall elegantly handles active questioning from skeptical justices (Reed and CJ Vinson, who reportedly favored upholding the school boards' practices)  and genuinely torn justices (Frankfurter and Jackson, who were sympathetic to the claimants but true believers in judicial restraint). In the 1953 reargument, Marshall offers a rich oral treatise on the Fourteenth Amendment. And his rebuttal is a remarkable closing argument. I won't paste an excerpt here because an excerpt won't do it justice. Trust me: click here; scroll to page 20; start reading the paragraph at the bottom of the page that begins "[t]he argument of judicial restraint has no application in this case"; keep going until you hit "[t]hank you, sir." Ethos, logos, pathos.  

I'd also recommend listening to Solicitor General Marshall's oral argument in United States v. Price, the Mississippi Burning case. Unlike in Briggs/Brown, he's not addressing skeptical or torn justices: he draws only two soft questions from a Court that ultimately ruled unanimously in his favor. So he generates his own momentum: in key segments of his argument, he serves as his own interlocutor, asking sharply-composed questions and offering sharply-composed answers. It works remarkably well; his assurance and comfort in his own skin are a palpable force.

None greater. 

October 18, 2017 in Appellate Advocacy, Oral Argument, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Oral argument in Gill v. Whitford: big questions, well-composed answers

In yesterday's oral arguments to the Supreme Court in Gill v. Whitford, the closely watched partisan gerrymandering case, Justice Breyer uncorked a doozy of a question. As he winds up, he promises to take "exactly 30 seconds." Then he, like, does not.

The question spans three pages and 57 lines in the transcript. According to Josh Blackman, who tracks the length and volume of Justice Breyer's questions so you don't have to, this appears to have shattered the justice's previous record, which I naively thought was the Article III equivalent of Joe Dimaggio's hitting streak

Here's the whole thing. Start scrolling:

Breyer1

Breyer2-669x1024

Breyer3

(Hat tip: Josh Blackman & Adam Feldman)

Like a lot of Breyer's long questions, this one had a pretty simple, IRAC-y structure and goal. First, he identifies a sticking point around which the Court would have to work to rule for one party or the other. Here, that's whether there are judicially manageable standards for evaluating claims of that partisan redistricting violates the Constitution. Second, he spins out his ideas about a solution (or, in other cases, his ideas about why the sticking point means the Court might be stuck). Here, that's his multi-step control > asymmetry > persistence > outlier > justification approach. And third, he asks the question. It's usually a 50+ word version of "so what do you think?"

I was impressed with the choices made by Wisconsin Solicitor General Misha Tseytlin -- an outstanding advocate -- in his answer. The question marked a shift in the direction of the argument from a conversation about one potential justiciability obstacle (standing) to another (political question). After the inevitable (laughter) that accompanies almost every Breyer mega-question, Tseytlin signaled, quite succinctly, to which of Justice Breyer's cues he would respond and how he had already touched on another earlier in the argument. And then he deliver a sharply composed, concrete multi-part answer: 

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 8.15.44 AM

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 8.16.32 AM

He's then interrupted by Justice Kagan, who asks a question that's Breyerian in scope but relatively pointed:

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 8.22.15 AM

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 8.22.32 AM

Tseytlin delivers another well-composed response, using the Rule of Three rhetorical device:

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 9.45.05 AM

I'm looking forward to hearing the audio later this week.

October 4, 2017 in Appellate Advocacy, Oral Argument, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 2, 2017

First Monday

Happy first Monday!  Today kicks off the start of the Supreme Court's term.  The term last year was something of a snooze-fest as we all waited for the presidential election and the nomination of Justice Scalia's successor on the Court.  This term will likely be much more exciting with union dues, religious liberty, immigration, and sports gambling on the Court's agenda.  Check out this NY Times article and this Washington Examiner article for summaries of some of the key cases.

First Monday also means the start of the FantasySCOTUS season.  By this point, you have an idea of how your Fantasy Football season is going.  Maybe your key draft picks have been injured or just aren't playing up to expectations. Well, it is time to cut your losses and focus on FantasySCOTUS! Created by Professor Josh Blackman and now run by LexPredict, FantasySCOTUS allows anyone to predict how the cases before the Supreme Court will be decided.  User predict how individual justices will vote on cases, as well as the how the case will ultimately be decided.

I have used FantasySCOTUS as a teaching tool in the past, offering incentives for my students to participate in the contest and stay current on what the Court is doing.  The program allows you to create your own league, or you can participate in a law school specific league. There are even prizes for the top predictors! FantasySCOTUS also features {MARSHALL}+, a "revolutionary algorithim that can accurately predict Supreme Court cases."  Created by LexPredict, "{Marshall}+ was able to predict every case decided since 1953 at 70% accuracy."

Although my Fantasy Football team seems to be doing pretty good for the first time in years, I look forward to seeing how my FantasySCOTUS predictions go this term.  Good luck to all of the participants.

October 2, 2017 in Current Affairs, Oral Argument, Sports, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Oral Argument: Lisa Blatt & the Power of Knowing Your Client's Business

I'm thrilled to join the team at the Appellate Advocacy Blog. I am, literally, a professor of appellate advocacy; I teach and direct the Ilana Diamond Rovner Program in Appellate Advocacy at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. I will post about oral argument, psychology and persuasion, snappy legal writing, and other things that fascinate me about appellate courts and the stuff lawyers do to move them.

In an especially excellent episode of the always-great First Mondays podcast, Dan Epps and Ian Samuel interview Lisa Blatt of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer (the interview begins at about the 33:30 mark). The interview is full of useful insights about appellate advocacy, particularly oral argument preparation. And it helped me wrap my mind around Blatt's 33-2 record in argued SCOTUS cases; she is brilliant and self-aware, and she has crafted an advocacy style and preparation process that play to her strengths.

 The coolest exchange in the interview is about a snippet in the Supreme Court's Guide for Counsel (pdf):

Know your client's business.... For an excellent example of a counsel who was intimately familiar with her client’s business, see the transcript of argument [pdf link] in United States v. Flores-Montano, 541 U. S. 149 (2004). The case dealt with the searching of vehicle gas tanks by customs agents at an international border. Government counsel had a total grasp of why and how the agents conducted the searches and provided convincing explanations to all questions posed by the Court.

The Guide nails it. In the interview, Blatt details how and why she acquired such expertise: she traveled to a U.S. Customs facility in Virginia to immerse herself in the nitty-gritty of border searches; she worked with agents as they took a gas tank apart; she learned reams of out-of-record information touching on the issues of drug trafficking and border searches; she does this to develop deep empathy with—and to better channel—her client. It's a great story.

And speaking of story: Blatt's command of the information lets her tell a full and convincing story to the Court. As the audio recording of the Flores-Montano oral argument makes clear, her well-packaged explanations of gas-tank searches and border crossings and "wonderful pieces of equipment" that let officers probe upholstery without leaving a mark do more than establish her credibility as a Knower of Many Obscure Things. They help vividly tell the legal story that matters in the case. The issue, after all, was whether customs officers must have reasonable suspicion to remove, disassemble, and search a vehicle's gas tank for contraband. In the all-things-considered Fourth Amendment stew, the details matter. The details linked to law persuade (and one detail made it into Justice Breyer's concurring opinion). And the whole package makes for a nifty object lesson in world-class advocacy. Listen if you can.

September 20, 2017 in Appellate Advocacy, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Chief's Advice to Young Graduates

Chief Justice John Roberts made headlines last week.  It wasn’t a hot-button 5-4 opinion at the end of the SCOTUS term that caught the media’s attention this year.  But, it was a piece of writing that the Washington Post called “[t]he best thing Chief Justice Roberts wrote this term.”  So, what was it?  Well, it was a graduation speech delivered to the graduating class at Cardigan Mountain School, where the Chief’s son Jack was graduating ninth grade.

It is hard to believe that the Chief’s son is graduating ninth grade.  I remember seeing him “dance” at the press conference in July 2005, when President Bush announced John Roberts’ nomination to the SCOTUS.  You can watch the video here.  Apparently, young Jack was impersonating Spiderman.

What makes this speech so great? It is certainly funny (see this line:  “You’ve been at a school with just boys. Most of you will be going to a school with girls. I have no advice for you.”). But that is not what makes the speech stand out.  What makes the speech so unique, and what has drawn attention, is the section of the speech where Chief Justice Roberts tells the students that he hopes that they will be “treated unfairly” and have “bad luck.” He says:

Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

Chief Justice Roberts does offer the students some advice that I think relates to appellate advocacy.  He reminds the students that, although they are “privileged,” they should not act like it.  Rather, when they get to their new schools, they should “walk up and introduce [themselves] to the person who is raking the leaves, shoveling the snow or emptying the trash. Learn their name and call them by their name during your time at the school.” He also told them to smile and say “hello” to people that they do not recognize when taking walks.  He said, “[t]he worst thing that will happen is that you will become known as the young man who smiles and says hello, and that is not a bad thing to start with.”

This exhortation to treat others with kindness is a lesson that many attorneys could stand to learn.  When I was clerking, there was a story told around the courthouse about some attorneys looking for a courtroom.  One of the judges, who was not in his robe, stopped to help them.  But, when he told them that he only knew the courtrooms by carpet color (which is how all the judges, clerks, and court staff referred to the courtrooms) and not number, the attorneys were quite rude to him.  He wasn’t on their panel, but I do believe that he spoke to the judges who were.  A little kindness to the clerk’s office, the marshals, the janitorial staff, and the unknown person offering help, goes a long way!

The Chief offers some other great advice, so I encourage you to read his full remarks here.

July 10, 2017 in Appellate Advocacy, Oral Argument, Rhetoric, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 20, 2017

To "Um" or Not--A Discussion of Disfluencies for Lawyers, Professors, and Students

As a moot court coach, I teach my students to not use disfluencies like "um" or "uh" in their oral arguments. According to Prof. Barbara Gotthelf's article, A Lawyer's Guide to Um, my dislike of these disfluencies is not unique, but it might be wrong.  After hearing a moot court judge critique an advocate for her use of "uh" and "um," Prof. Gotthelf "began consulting books on public speaking, including texts written specifically for lawyers, and they all gave the impression that using uh and um might be the single worst thing any speaker could do." Having previously heard from a psycholinguist that "using uh and um was not only 'perfectly normal,' but also helpful in furthering effective communication," Prof. Gotthelf dug even further into the literature and found "a body of scientific literature that supports Dr. Shriberg’s views and demonstrates that, contrary to public perception, uh and um are not only inevitable, but actually useful bits of communication."

Prof. Gotthelf's response to the "um fixation" is expressed in the article, which was published by Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD and is available here.  I haven't had a chance to review it in depth, but I look forward to doing so soon (at least in advance of the below event).

In addition to publishing the article, Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD is holding a live Facebook discussion of the article.  Below is the announcement that I received regarding the event.  I am sure that it will be, uh, a great discussion.

Gearing up for spring oral argument competitions? Join Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD for a live Facebook chat-based discussion of Professor Barbara Gotthelf’s article, The Lawyer’s Guide to Um. This article about disfluencies like “um” and “uh” should be of particular interest to moot court advisors, practitioners, law students, and anyone who teaches oral argument. Should verbal fillers be vilified? Read the article and come weigh in!

The chat will take place on Thursday, April 6 at 3pm Eastern. Professor Jennifer Romig of Emery University School of Law will moderate. To participate in the discussion, join the LC&R Discussion Group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/304595676586667/. You may join at any time in advance of the chat. When you join, you can check out the archives of our previous discussions.

 Professor Gotthelf’s article can be found here on the Journal’s website: https://www.alwd.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/01-Gotthelf_Web.pdf

The Group invites participation by lawyers, law professors, professors from communications and other fields, legal professionals, law students, and anyone with an interest in law and legal communication. It is a forum for the free exchange of ideas with civility and mutual respect.

 

March 20, 2017 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Moot Court, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 19, 2016

President-Lawyers as Communicators and Writers

It is the "most wonderful time of year" for law professors--grading season!  So, the blogging may be a little light over the next few weeks. Still, I wanted to blog on what I have been reading when I am not reading exams.

I have been on a mission to read a biography of every president. I was inspired by Stephen Floyd, an investment banker who has been reading and reviewing presidential biographies since 2012. The Washington Post also has a list of good presidential biographies. Reading presidential biographies has added a lot to my teaching, especially in constitutional law. I was thinking the other day, however, about our early president-lawyers and effective communication.

Three of our four first presidents were trained in the law--John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.  These three men were gifted writers and credited with drafting (or playing a significant role in drafting) our country's most foundational documents. Jefferson (with Adams' help) drafted the Declaration of Independence, and Madison is often called the "father of the Constitution." Madison is also well-known for his writings related to Virginia politics.  

Of these three men, however, only Adams was a gifted speaker. Jefferson, Madison, and Washington, were all terrible public speakers.  When they delivered public addresses to Congress people often had to strain to hear them.

With the advent of radio and television, we put much greater emphasis today on our presidents being excellent public speakers.  Bill Clinton--another president-lawyer--was known as the great communicator.  President Obama too is effective at pubic speaking.  While these men have written books as well, as have many past presidents, these books tend to be more of the autobiographical genre, rather than the political philosophy that our early president-lawyers wrote on.

In law school we focus heavily on teaching our students to be effective legal writers. Sadly, this task is getting more difficult each year. Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and the like are changing how our students think about writing and communicating. However, we must not got weary in our task. So, grade on law professors, grade on!

December 19, 2016 in Books, Legal Writing, Oral Argument, Rhetoric | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 4, 2016

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup

WeeklyRoundupGraphic

Here are a handful of tidbits on appellate practice from around the web this past week.  As always, if you see something during the week that you think we should be sure to include, feel free to send Dan a quick email atDReal@Creighton.edu or a message on Twitter (@Daniel_L_Real).

#AppellateTwitter Threads of the Week:

BobLoeb, of Orrick's Supreme Court and Appellate Litigation practice, started a thread on Twitter this week asking for training or advice tips that were useful to appellate practitioners when they first got started.  Lots of great appellate advocates weighed in with some great tips.

While the #AppellateTwitter hashtag has really started to take off, one of its contributors, UNC Law Professor Gurvich, announced plans to start a #PracticeTuesday hashtag for weekly conversations about discussions related to best practices and tips for effective appellate practice.  Readers of this blog will surely want to look for that hashtag and tune in.

SCOTUS:

Just before this past week (Friday, October 28), the Supreme Court announced that it would hear a challenge to a Virginia school district's anti-transgender restroom policy.  The case, Gloucester County School Board v. G.G.,  arises out of a school district policy mandating that students use the restroom matching their biological sex.  A transgender student sued, with the support of the ACLU.  The trial court ruled in favor of the school district, but the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the student's favor.  More information available at the ACLU website and at SCOTUSBlog.

The Miami Herald reported this week on an interesting case where the United States and Venezuala are joining on the same side against a U.S. oil company.  The case, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuala v. Helmerich & Payne International, was heard on Wednesday of this week.  In the case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit determined whether U.S. courts have jurisdiction over a lawsuit against a foreign government by looking only at whether the claim was insubstantial or frivolous. More at SCOTUSBlog.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal for Alabama death row inmate Bill Kuenzel.  The case involved Kuenzel's claims that evidence was withheld by prosecutors, and gained some national attention when former Attorney General Edwin Meese weighed in and suggested that Kuenzel is "very likely actually innocent."  The AP reported.

Finally, Billboard magazine reported this week that the Supreme Court has asked for the U.S. Solicitor General to provide the government's view about a nearly decade-old dispute between a mother who posted a 29-second video clip on YouTube of her toddler dancing to the Prince hit, "Let's Go Crazy." She received a takedown notice, and the mother sued and raised misrepresentation of copyright and fair use issues.  Neither side was satisfied with the mixed opinion of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  The Supreme Court has not yet granted review in the case, but the request of the Solicitor General suggests there is a possibility that such a grant could be forthcoming.

Obama's Judicial Legacy:

Law.com ran a feature this past week, including lots of graphics, analyzing how President Obama's judicial appointments have shaped the federal courts and where changes have started to be evident. Charleston Law professor  Jennifer North wrote about that topic right here at the Appellate Advocacy Blog earlier this week.

 

November 4, 2016 in Appellate Practice, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Oral Argument, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 26, 2016

To Swear or Not to Swear, that is the Question....

Should judges and lawyers quote profanity in their opinions, briefs, and oral arguments?  Zoe Tillman tackled this touchy issue in a recent article on Law.com.  The article, aptly entitled "In Quoting Profanity, Some Judges Give a F#%&. Others Don't," Tillman includes several quotes from federal judges on the use of profanity in judicial opinions.  Well some try to avoid it at all costs, others don't mind including it, especially if it is relevant to the case.

Tillman notes:

Profanity has become increasingly prolific in court opinions. Since 2006, the word “fuck” was quoted in approximately 445 federal appeals court opinions, according to a search of court records. That’s nearly as many as the preceding four decades combined.

While judges may have the freedom to quote profanity in an opinion, what should an attorney do in writing a brief or in oral argument?  With respect to oral argument, one option is to call the court in advance and notify the court that you plan on using profanity.  According to First Circuit Judge Bruce Selya, who was interviewed for the article, his court always gives permission when attorneys ask.

With respect to briefs, I think that calling the court to ask how these issues have been handled in the past is always a good option.  It also doesn't hurt to do your homework and know the tenure of the court that you will appear before.  Finally, ask yourself if it is truly relevant to use the profanity in the brief.  

Apparently the Washington Redskins included a fair amount of profanity in their brief to the Fourth Circuit over the team's trademark.  According to a post on the Business Law Basics blog,

In support of the latter argument [that the Patent & Trademark Office arbitrarily enforces offensive trademarks], the team provides extensive lists of wildly offensive trademarks that the PTO has issued.  Certainly many of the issued trademarks mentioned in the brief are so salacious, crass, sexist and/or racist that we hesitate, on this family-friendly blog, to list them here.  Indeed, this opening brief is notable in being one of the most [not inappropriately] profanity-laden court filings we have ever seen, and is worth a look for that reason alone. 

 

 

August 26, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Costs and Benefits of Oral Argument: Benefits

So I've appreciated some of the discussion on this blog about the importance of appellate oral argument and arguments for a more robust oral argument docket.  But as a full-time appellate public defender, I have wondered if this analysis is different depending on the type of appeal and litigant.  In that light, I thought I would break down the costs and benefits of oral argument and then see if they are different for different types of appeals and litigants. If they are, it may lead to more nuanced policy recommendations.  Let's start with benefits.

Judges.  As aptly noted elsewhere, there are a lot of tangible and intangible benefits for appellate judges stemming from oral argument. They (hopefully) are able to ask questions that allow them to craft their decisions better (even if not affecting the disposition). It allows them time to sort through potential ramifications of decisions that might be lost without discussion at oral argument. They may be able to hold parties accountable in different ways (i.e. verbally embarrassing a prosecutor for improper argument or causing a lawyer discomfort for procedural missteps).  Oral argument may be the only time some appellate judges sit together in a room, so it may foster collegiality.  And it is an opportunity for extremely isolated judges to interact with lawyers and an opportunity to act "judgey."  So from the point of view of judges, there are many benefits, regardless of the type of case or litigant.

Lawyers.  Do lawyers (not their clients) benefit from oral argument?  Retained counsel (or even appointed counsel who bill by the hour) would seem to benefit financially from oral argument.  These lawyers would get to bill for the preparation, travel, and argument itself, which would seem to be beneficial for most lawyers who value billable hours.  For public defenders like me, there is no financial benefit to oral argument.  I would get exactly the same pay if I had two oral arguments a year and if I had twenty.  There are intangible benefits for lawyers too.  Practice at oral argument can help lawyers get better at their craft (both brief-writing and subsequent oral arguments) and enhance their professional reputation (if they are competent anyway).  And for full-time appellate lawyers, it is also an opportunity to interact with judges and act like lawyers.  So from the point of view of lawyers, there are at least some intangible benefits for all appellate lawyers, but the direct financial benefits only attach to lawyers who are able to bill for the oral argument time.

Media/public.  The media and public benefit from oral argument because it is the only time that the "outside world" gets to see the appellate process at work.  Without oral argument, appellate litigation would be a largely faceless and mysterious process.  The intermediate appellate court in which I practice (the Kansas Court of Appeals) travels around the state, conducting oral argument in community colleges, high schools, and local courthouses.  Part of the benefit of these dockets is that they allow local students and the public the opportunity to attend an appellate case and see a little more of how appeals works.  Every opportunity to enhance confidence in the judiciary is beneficial, regardless of the case or litigant.  I don't know if oral argument actually benefits the media.  It sometimes gives them a story to report, which I guess is beneficial (although, except for Nina Totenburg, I rarely find reporters that do a good job of really reporting on the essence of oral arguments).  Certainly for high profile cases, being able to report on the oral argument would enhance the completeness of the reporting about the case.

Clients.  Do clients benefit from oral argument?  Systemically, this is probably the most important question and it, in some part, turns on the related perennial question, does oral argument matter?  I love hearing different judges answer this question, ranging from an unequivocal "no" to an ambiguous "often."  I think it is important to be precise in this question, though.  The question shouldn't be "does oral argument matter?" or "does oral argument ever change the opinion?"  It should be "does oral argument ever change the disposition of a case?"  That is the most pressing issue for most clients: "Do I win or not?"

Notwithdstanding many judges' response to the question, I am pretty skeptical that oral argument changes the disposition in any significant number of cases.  Why do I think that?  How many legal malpractice or ineffective assistance of appellate counsel cases do you know of that turn on poor oral argument or even missing oral argument? About nine months ago, Kendall blogged about a Seventh Circuit case where a lawyer missed oral argument, apparently lied about it,  and was  chastised by the court.  But if there was a reasonable probablity that oral argument mattered to the outcome of the case, why did the appellate court proceed to decide the case (as opposed to appointing new counsel and resetting the oral argument after enough time to prepare)?  And would that client have been able to sustain an ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim?  He would have been able to show deficient performance; but I can't imagine how any similarly situated client would be able to show a reasonable probablity that the outcome would be different.  I did a cursory review and could not find any cases finding ineffective asssistance of appellate counsel or legal malpractice (leading to damages) based on poor or missing appellate oral argument.  Maybe some readers can comment if they are aware of any such cases.

Admittedly, this is an nuance that can vary depending on the client. Some institutional clients are not just worried about winning a particular case.  Actually, the particular case may be of very little interest. But the law that evolves from the case may be very important.  For those litigants, oral argument that leads to a refined legal decision may be quite beneficial.  But most of my indigent clients don't really care about the evolving state of the law--they only care about whether or not their appeal will be successful.  I'm not an issue advocate--I'm a client advocate. 

Finally, there may be some intangible benefits for clients from oral argument.  Even if it doesn't matter, it can make a client feel like he or she has had a "day in court" in a way that summary disposition probably does not.  So, from the point of view of clients, aside from the intangible, whether clients particularly benefit from oral argument can depend on the type of litigant.  Institutional litigants are probably more likely to receive a benefit than a case-specific litigant, for whom there is no reasonable possibility of a different outcome.

There may be other actors/institutions that stand to benefit from oral argument.  But when considering the benefits, it seems that institutional litigants (and the lawyers that represent them billing by the hour), likely benefit much more than case-specific litigants and litigants that are primarily interested in the disposition of the case (rather than the development of the law).  The judiciary and the public benefit from oral argument in both types of cases about equally.

Next month.  Costs.

January 8, 2015 in Appellate Practice, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)