Judge Catches BP Counsel Sneaking Extra Pages into Its Brief

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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.

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Professor Edwards Speaks to the Marquette Legal Writing Society

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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.

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Rule 18.2: Comments on Bluebook Citation to Internet Resources

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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.

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Commonly Confused Words: A Couple, A Few, Some, Several, or Many?

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In three previous posts (here, here, and here), I’ve addressed some commonly confused words and how to choose the one that expresses what you really mean. Talking about those posts with some friends prompted this one: what’s the difference between a couple, few, some, several, or many? For example, if someone tells you have a few options, how many do you have? Three? Four? More?

 

A couple: Everyone seems to agree that “a couple” means two. If you have a couple of options, you can safely assume that you will have to choose between A and B, and only A and B.

 

A Few: Here’s where things tend to get confusing. Read more »

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The Importance of Document Design

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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.

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Cut It Out

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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.”

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Storytelling for Lawyers

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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.

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Even More Commonly Confused Words

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Below are just a few more commonly confused words, with those post adding to this one and this one on the same topic.

Although/while – A former student recently asked me about this combination. There isn’t, as far as I can tell, a hard and fast rule on when to use each of these terms, but there may be preferred usage, and that’s what I’ll explain here.  “Although” tends to mean “in spite of the fact that.” According to Mignon Fogarty, also known as Grammar Girl, “although” is called a concessive conjunction, which means that it expresses a concession. For example, Although he admits he saw her in the crosswalk, he drove through the intersection anyway.

“While” can also mean “in spite of the fact that,” but it can also mean “at the same time.” The same sentence with the word “while” instead of “although” now has one of two different meanings. While he admits he saw her in the crosswalk, he drove through the intersection anyway. In that construction, the sentence could mean that in spite of the fact that he saw her in the crosswalk, he chose to keep driving through the intersection. This sentence might imply some indifference on the driver’s part, which may (or may not) matter to the meaning of the sentence. This same sentence could also mean that at the same time that he saw her in the crosswalk, he drove through the intersection. Perhaps there’s less driver indifference with that construction.  “While” meaning “at the same time” is more clearly illustrated in this sentence: While Patrick raked the lawn, I cleaned the windows. In that sentence, the reader more clearly gets the sense that Patrick and I are each doing two separate tasks at the same time.

The difference between “although” and “while” may be slight, but when you’re striving for precision in your writing, you might be wise to choose “although” when you’re making a concession and “while” when you really mean “at the same time.”   Read more »

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MULS to Welcome Professor Linda Edwards in Fall 2014

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faculty_lindaedwards2014-04Marquette University Law School’s legal writing professors are pleased to announce that Professor Linda Edwards, E.L. Cord Foundation Professor of Law at University of Nevada Las Vegas, will be joining us as a Boden Visiting Professor for the fall semester of 2014.

Professor Edwards is a leading scholar and leader in the field of legal writing.  She has authored five texts, three of them focused on legal writing, and has written numerous scholarly articles on legal writing, rhetoric, and law. Her recent book, Readings in Persuasion: Briefs that Changed the World (Aspen Law & Bus. 2012) will serve as the basis for the advanced legal writing seminar she will be teaching at MULS next fall. The book discusses why some briefs are more compelling than others and covers briefs written in some of the law’s most foundational cases: Muller v. Oregon (the Brandeis Brief), Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona, Furman v. Georgia, Loving v. Virginia, and others. Professor Edwards says the course will build on what students learned in Legal Analysis, Writing & Research 2, but from a more advanced perspective.

Professor Edwards practiced law for 11 years before becoming the coordinator of NYU’s Lawyering Program. She then spent 19 years at Mercer University School of Law, where she was the director of legal writing and taught legal reasoning and advanced legal writing, as well as property, employment discrimination, and professional responsibility. In 2009, she joined the faculty at UNLV.  Also in 2009, Professor Edwards was awarded the Association of Legal Writing Directors and Legal Writing Institute’s Thomas Blackwell Award for her lifetime achievements and contributions to the legal writing field.

We are very excited to welcome Professor Edwards next fall.

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More Commonly Confused Words

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Nearly two weeks ago, I posted about some commonly confused words and how to choose the right one. Since then, I’ve had a few people ask about other commonly confused words, so I’ve compiled another list with suggestions for choosing the right word.

A/An/The – These three little words are called articles.  Some languages do not have articles, so when speakers of those languages learn to write in English, they also need to learn when to use each of these articles.  “A” and “an” are indefinite articles; that is, the noun that appears after them could refer to any ol’ thing, nothing definite. “The,” on the other hand, is a definite article. When a noun appears after “the,” the writer means for you to know that that noun is something specific.  For example, if I write, A court would hold the defendant liable, I’m saying any court, not a specific court, would hold the defendant liable. But if I write, The court would hold the defendant liable, I mean that a specific court would hold him liable, and which court that is would likely be clear from the context of the sentence in a larger document. As well, in both examples above, I’ve used the defendant, meaning a specific defendant about whom I am writing.

One other thing to note: “An” is used before nouns that begin with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) or words that sound like they begin with a vowel, even if they don’t. An example would be: An honest person would return an item she found that didn’t belong to her. In that sentence, “honest” gets an “an” before it, even though it doesn’t begin with a vowel, but it sounds like it does. “Item” does begin with a vowel and gets an “an.” Conversely, some words that begin with vowels get “a” before them because they sound like they begin with consonants. E.g., There’s a one-hour delay for my flight.

Counsel/Council – In short, law students will become “counsel” when they become lawyers. This is because they will counsel their clients. They may also be called “Counselor.”  “Council” is a governing body of some sort, like a city council. A member of that governing body would be a councillor. Read more »

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Congratulations to the 2014 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition Winners

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Congratulations to the winners of the 2014 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition, Jennifer McNamee and Elizabeth Oestreich. Congratulations also go to finalists Amy Heart and Frank Remington, as well as Brian Kane and Amanda Luedtke, who won the Franz C. Eschweiler Prize for Best Brief.  Amy Heart won the Ramon A. Klitzke Prize for Best Oralist.

The competitors argued before a packed Appellate Courtroom. Presiding over the final round were Hon. Diurmuid O’Scannlain, Hon. Annette Ziegler, and Hon. Anne Burke.

Many thanks to the judges and competitors for their hard work, enthusiasm, and sportsmanship in all the rounds of competition, as well as to the moot court executive board and Law School administration and staff for their work in putting on the event. Special thanks to Dean Kearney for his support of the competition.

Students are selected to participate in the competition based on their success in the fall Appellate Writing and Advocacy class at the Law School.  Here is a link to the video of the competition.

 

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Congratulations to the 2014 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition Finalists

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Congratulations to this year’s Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition finalists: Amy Heart, Jennifer McNamee, Elizabeth Oestreich, and Frank Remington. All the competitors presented strong oral arguments tonight.

Thank you to the judges of the semifinal round: Hon. Michael Bohren, Hon. G. Michael Halfenger, Hon. Donald Hassin, Hon. Nancy Joseph, Hon. Joan Kessler, Hon. JoAnne Kloppenburg.

The final round will be held on Wednesday, April 2 at 6:00 p.m. in the Appellate Courtroom. The teams will be matched as follows:

Team 2, Jennifer McNamee and Elizabeth Oestreich v. Team 8, Amy Heart and Frank Remington.

Best of luck to the finalists.

 

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