Justice Ginsburg on Empowering Oral Argument

Posted by:
Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Legal History, Legal Practice, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
1 Comment »

Justice GinsburgAn interview with Justice Ginsburg appears in the October issue of Elle magazine.  In the article, Justice Ginsburg describes her first oral argument before the United States Supreme Court.  Any advocate could relate to her story:

I had, I think, 12 minutes, or something like that, of argument.  I was very nervous.  In those days, the court sat from 10 to 12, and 1 to 3.  It was an afternoon argument.  I didn’t dare eat lunch.  There were many butterflies in my stomach.  I had a very well-prepared opening sentence I had memorized.  Looking at them, I thought, I’m talking to the most important court in the land, and they have to listen to me and that’s my captive audience.

Justice Ginsburg argued on behalf of Sharon Frontiero in Frontiero v. Richardson.  In that case the Court held that the United States military could not differentiate on the basis of gender in how it provides benefits to service members’ families.

In the interview, Justice Ginsburg recounts that as she spoke before the Court during oral argument her confidence grew:

I felt a sense of empowerment because I knew so much more about the case, the issue, than they did.  So I relied on myself as kind of a teacher to get them to think about gender.

 

Read more »

Print Friendly



Daubert Has “Teeth” (and a Pulse)

Posted by:
Category: Legal Practice, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System
Leave a Comment »

The first published case on Wisconsin’s (relatively) new rule on expert opinion testimony has emerged at long last. In 2011 the legislature replaced Wisconsin’s decade’s-old approach with the federal “Daubert rule,” a rule rejected by state appellate courts on several occasions. The old rule left disagreements among experts mostly to the trier of fact, provided the witnesses had suitable specialized knowledge that could assist in fact finding. The current Daubert rule unctuously anoints trial judges as “gatekeepers” responsible for ensuring that only “reliable” expert opinions are put before juries. Many critics, me included, thought the old rule served the same purpose quite well. In State v. Giese, 2014 WI App 92, the court of appeals wisely signals that the new rule is mostly compatible with the older approach.  Read more »

Print Friendly



Judge Catches BP Counsel Sneaking Extra Pages into Its Brief

Posted by:
Category: Environmental Law, Legal Ethics, Legal Practice, Legal Writing, Public
Leave a Comment »

BPIn a new twist on the BP litigation, BP filed a brief in a Louisiana federal court that seemed to comply with the already-enlarged 35-page limit. But the judge in the case, the Hon. Carl Barbier, uncovered BP counsel’s tactic of reducing the line spacing to cram more material into the brief than the page limit would have allowed. In this way, BP was able to fit in an extra 6 pages worth of material.

Judge Barbier had this to say about BP’s brief:

The Court should not have to waste its time policing such simple rules—particularly in a case as massive and complex as this. Counsel are expected to follow the Court’s orders both in letter and in spirit. The Court should not have to resort to imposing character limits, etc., to ensure compliance. Counsel’s tactic would not be appropriate for a college term paper. It certainly is not appropriate here.

Read more »

Print Friendly



Professor Edwards Speaks to the Marquette Legal Writing Society

Posted by:
Category: Legal Practice, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School, Public
Leave a Comment »

Yesterday, Professor Linda Edwards, the Robert F. Boden Visiting Professor of Law, spoke to the Marquette Legal Writing Society about her work and interest in legal writing.

This semester Professor Edwards is teaching a course on the great briefs.  Each week students study a brief to determine what made the brief successful—what made it sing, as she said.  Among her favorite briefs are the petitioner’s briefs in Miranda v. Arizona and in Bowers v. Hardwick.  Professor Edwards recommended reading and studying good briefs as a way for an advocate to advance his or her own persuasive writing. Aside from the briefs she mentions in her book Readings in Persuasion: Briefs that Changed the World, she recommended reading anything written by the Solicitor General’s office and anything written by any of the Supreme Court justices as examples of great legal writing.

Professor Edwards also noted that really good briefs speak to the reader and that a legal writer’s own voice should come through the brief.  While structure is important, she said, formulaic writing of briefs is not effective.  She cautioned against doggedly following a set of received “rules” rather than crafting a document for a particular reader or situation.  Good legal writing doesn’t have to sound lifeless or mechanical, she said.

The mission of the Marquette Legal Writing Society is to foster discussion about legal writing.  Elizabeth Oestreich is the president of this year’s organization.

Print Friendly



Chasing Happiness

Posted by:
Category: Education & Law, Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Public
2 Comments »

HappinessA July 2014 article in the Wisconsin Lawyer magazine describes a nationwide study about the happiness of lawyers.  This study shows factors that correlate with lawyer happiness, as well as those that don’t correlate.  Those factors that correlate most strongly are what the article calls internal factors, and the factors that are least likely to correlate are external factors.  The internal factors relate to how well a person is able to communicate and interact with others, and the external factors relate to points largely outside one’s immediate control.

The article highlights the following internal factors, which positively influence lawyer happiness:

•Autonomy, or being authentic and having a sense of control over one’s choices (0.66)
•Relatedness to others (0.65)
•Feeling competent in performing one’s job (0.63)
•Internal motivation at work (0.55) – that is, finding the work itself meaningful, enjoyable, and so on, rather than being motivated by external factors, such as pressure from others or needing to impress others
•Autonomy support at work (0.46)
•Intrinsic values (0.30) – these may include personal growth, helping others, and so on, in contrast to such extrinsic values as power, affluence, and others

 

Read more »

Print Friendly



Rule 18.2: Comments on Bluebook Citation to Internet Resources

Posted by:
Category: Legal Practice, Legal Research, Legal Scholarship, Legal Writing, Public
Leave a Comment »

Rule 18.2 in the Bluebook governs citation to sources and information available on the Internet. Although the rules in the Nineteenth Edition provide significantly more guidance on the subject than the general principles articulated in the Eighteenth Edition, citation to Internet sources remains a source of confusion for many legal writers. Until the editors release the Twentieth Edition and its inevitable alterations to Rule 18.2, here are a few tips and reminders about citation to Internet resources.

Read more »

Print Friendly



Of Trump Cards and Lawyering

Posted by:
Category: Criminal Law & Process, Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Pro Bono, Public, Seventh Circuit
Leave a Comment »

King of SpadesSome of the best and the worst of the legal profession can be seen through Socha v. Boughton, No. 12-1598, decided by the Seventh Circuit this past week. The substance of the case involved the court’s applying — for the first time — the doctrine of equitable tolling to excuse a late filing by a state prisoner in a habeas case. This required a conclusion that the district court had abused its discretion in concluding otherwise, including the catchy characterization that “[t]he mistake made by the district court and the state was to conceive of the equitable tolling inquiry as the search for a single trump card, rather than an evaluation of the entire hand that the petitioner was dealt” (slip op. at 19).

Yet it is the lawyering that I want especially to note. Read more »

Print Friendly



The Importance of Document Design

Posted by:
Category: Legal Practice, Legal Writing, Public
2 Comments »

helvetica-1

Jim Dimitri’s article, WordWise:  Best Practices in Document Design, is a must read for any lawyer interested in taking advantage of document design in drafting legal documents. Dimitri advises that a writer should “use the most readable font” and “use effective vertical and horizontal spacing” in designing a legal document. Dimitri’s article is useful not only for the advice he gives, but because he defines key concepts in document design, such as monospaced fonts (which “use the same width for each letter”) and proportionally spaced fonts (which use “different widths for different letters”). Dimitri suggests that a writer use proportionally spaced fonts because they are easier to read.

Read more »

Print Friendly



Cut It Out

Posted by:
Category: Legal Practice, Legal Writing, Public
1 Comment »

EditingKnow how and when to cut words from your sentences during the editing process?  Here are some links to help.

Bryan Garner’s April 2014 ABA Journal magazine article provides a good list of unnecessary phrases.  Garner recommends “axing” words like “herein” from legal documents.

WordRake is an editing program that allows you to upload a document and receive line edits on concision and clarity.  This blog tested the program on some sample Supreme Court authority with favorable results.  Also check out the WordRake blog for editing advice.

One easy starting point for editing is to look for and eliminate “there is” and “it is” from your sentences.  These phrases add meaningless fluff at the most important point of a sentence—the beginning—and often signal the passive voice and nominalizations.  This blog suggests ways to streamline your writing by eliminating “there is” and “it is” (or the past tense version) or phrases like “given the fact that” or “in light of the fact that.”

Read more »

Print Friendly



Storytelling for Lawyers

Posted by:
Category: Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Public
1 Comment »

An excellent primer on narrative theory for lawyer-storytellers has now appeared. I refer to Philip N. Meyer’s recently published Storytelling for Lawyers (Oxford University Press, 2014), which is available in Kindle, hardcover and paperback versions.

Meyer convincingly makes the point that much of what lawyers do is storytelling. Whether they are presenting cases in the courtroom or representing clients in contract negotiations, lawyers tell stories. Furthermore, a lawyer’s success depends to a surprising extent on his or her skills as a storyteller.

Meyer suggests lawyers’ stories are relatively straightforward and more like those in Hollywood movies than those in literary novels. However, all stories—simple or complex—include a setting, characters, a plot, a point of view, and a narrative voice. Meyer demonstrates how conscious attention to each of these components can improve a story.

I found especially interesting Meyer’s observation that careful crafting of a story’s beginning greatly improves the likelihood of a story’s conclusion being effective and convincing. He illustrates this point with insightful commentaries on the closing arguments offered by Jeremiah Donovan on behalf of Louis Failla and Gerry Spence on behalf of Karen Silkwood.

Overall, Meyer’s book is a great story about lawyers telling stories. He brings his lawyer-storytellers to life and critiques their narrative efforts with great delight. I welcomed his reminder that the best lawyers can be and are artists.

Print Friendly



The Problem of Having Really Good Plaintiff Cases

Posted by:
Category: Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Public
Leave a Comment »

If you handle plaintiff cases your dreams are of what I call the “Holy Trinity” cases: Great Liability, Big Damages, and a Well Insured Deep Pocket Defendant. And, even better, you would think, is one after another of those cases. But, as they say, in every silver lining there is a black cloud.

A recent three-week trial provides lessons for long-term career development for trial lawyers principally handling cases for plaintiffs. Since my practice consists of two-thirds defense and one-third plaintiffs (including one nine figure verdict for a plaintiff) I can give you a view from both sides of the “v”. In this case I happened to be defending.

The injuries were initially catastrophic with the plaintiff having “died” (a bit of exaggeration by plaintiff’s counsel in opening statement, but nonetheless she did have a very low pulse and respiration rate) in the ambulance to the hospital. She had been crushed between my client’s semi-tractor trailer and a stopped car in a sorority car wash taking place in a shopping center parking lot. “Squished” was plaintiff’s counsel favorite word in the trial.

Read more »

Print Friendly



“The King’s Speech” and Trying Cases

Posted by:
Category: Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Public
Leave a Comment »

The King's Speech

“The movie “The King’s Speech” is the story of . . . .”

How do I begin to tell you what it is about?

Do I:

give you the history of which King of England is the subject of the movie, or

tell you it is about a speech problem he had and the unique relationship that he and a speech therapist (who had no credentials) developed to mitigate the problem, or

tell you about the likely problems that caused his stammering or the relationship this has to his brother who abdicated the throne to marry Mrs. Simpson?

With mountains of information, visuals, and audio recordings available, how does an author or screen writer:

pick and choose what tells the story best,

order it in an understandable fashion, and

tell the core of the story (in this case, the character and relationship of a King and a commoner and a speech impediment) in a fashion that connects to the viewer?

With mountains of discovery, investigative reports, photos and video available how does a trial attorney:

pick and choose what tells the story best,

order it in an understandable fashion,

and tell the core of the story (in our cases, how the accident or event occurred, the contract breached or employment wrongfully terminated and the damages that were caused and who is responsible) in a fashion that connects to the juror?

Read more »

Print Friendly