Enhancing Credibility in Brief Writing by Using Oral Argument Techniques

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This semester in Professor Susan Bay’s Advanced Legal Writing course, Rhetoric and Persuasion, our class discussed the means of persuasion: logos, pathos and ethos. Ethos immediately intrigued me because I could not grasp how to employ ethos in brief writing. One legal scholar, Professor Kirsten K. Davis, explains ethos as “classically considered the ‘persuasive force of a person’s character.’” In one word, ethos can be defined as credibility. Reading articles from legal scholars like Professor Davis helped, but I still was missing a connection. And then it occurred to me that I had been familiar with credibility, just in a different branch of advocacy: oral arguments.

My understanding of oral arguments stems from my participation in Moot Court. I am proud to be a Moot Court enthusiast. I did not know about it until Professor Rebecca Blemberg recommended that my 1L Legal Writing, Analysis and Research classmates and I attend the semi-finals and finals of the Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition. I was awestruck by the oralists. I vividly recall standing with Professor Blemberg, telling her that I could never recite law or formulate an oral argument the way those students did. To my great surprise, one year later, I competed in the Jenkins Competition.

Through participating in the Appellate Writing and Advocacy course as a student and as a student coach, the Jenkins Competition as a competitor and a student coach, and the National Moot Court Competition as a competitor, I have received and shared advice about how to be a credible advocate at the podium. Here are some ideas about credibility that transcend oral arguments, and that you can apply to your own brief writing.

Respect Your Audience.

Respecting your audience is one way to earn credibility. Just as an oralist does in oral arguments, use proper form when addressing courts in your brief (i.e. the court you are writing to is written as “This Court should,” and a court you are writing about should be written as “The court in Smith”). You can also show respect for your reader and earn your reader’s respect by being respectful to others. Address strong counterarguments or, if you are responding, then the opposing counsel’s strong arguments, and provide specific reasons why those arguments are flawed whether it be because of logic, fact, or policy. Read more »

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Congratulations to Marquette’s 2015 Giles Sutherland Rich Moot Court Teams

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Category: Intellectual Property Law, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School, Public
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Congratulations to 3Ls Ariel Dade and Keith Reese-Kelly for reaching the quarterfinals of the Giles Sutherland Rich Memorial Moot Court Competition regionals in Atlanta. 3Ls Brian Brockman and Nathan Cromer also competed, and Professor Kali Murray served as the teams’ faculty advisor. The teams were coached by Attorneys Ryann Beck, Garet Galster, and David Hanson. This year’s competition problem involved two issues: first, the proper definition of a claim, and second, the public availability status of a printed publication.

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Congratulations to the 2015 Jenkins Competition Winners

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Jenkins 2015 2Congratulations to the winners of the 2015 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition, Larissa Dallman and Nicole Ways. Congratulations also go to finalists Mary Ellis and Natalie Schiferl, who additionally won the Franz C. Eschweiler Prize for Best Brief.  Nicole Ways won the Ramon A. Klitzke Prize for Best Oralist.

The competitors argued before a large audience in the Appellate Courtroom. Presiding over the final round were Hon. Albert Diaz, Hon. Pamela Pepper, and Hon. Timothy Greeley.

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Want to Be a Better Writer? Then Read

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reading-a-bookGood writers are good readers. And they’re readers of more than just internet posts; good writers read a variety of books, from fiction to nonfiction and from classics to contemporaries.

It is through all of this reading that we can see what words other writers use and, importantly, how they use them. We can absorb certain turns of phrases that we may later find useful, and we can “hear” the different voices writers use to speak to us. If we’re moved by some particular writing, we can try to figure out why and learn how to incorporate those ideas into our own writing. Reading also improves our vocabulary. It’s easy, when you’re reading, to gloss over an unfamiliar word, but the better thing to do is to look up any word you don’t know. But perhaps one of its biggest and best perks: reading is great stress relief. Read more »

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Congratulations to the 2015 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition Finalists

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Congratulations to this year’s Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition finalists: Larissa Dallman, Mary Ellis, Natalie Schiferl, and Nicole Ways. All the competitors presented strong oral arguments tonight.

Thank you to the judges of the semifinal round: Hon. William Callahan, Hon. Patricia Gorence, Hon. Nancy Joseph, Hon. Joan Kessler, Hon. JoAnne Kloppenburg, and Hon. Paul Reilly.

The final round will be held on March 31 at 6:00 p.m. in the Appellate Courtroom.  The teams will be matched as follows:

Mary Ellis and Natalie Schiferl v. Larissa Dallman and Nicole Ways.

Best of luck to the finalists.

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Congratulations to the 2015 Marquette Wagner Moot Court Competition Team

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Category: Labor & Employment Law, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School, Public
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2015WagnerCongratulations to 3Ls Angela Harden, Amanda Luedtke, and Samuel Weinberg for reaching the quarterfinals of the 39th Annual Robert F. Wagner National Labor & Employment Law Moot Court Competition in New York this past weekend.  The team also took second place for its Respondent’s brief.  This year’s competition was comprised of 41 teams.

Professor Paul Secunda served as the team’s faculty advisor, and Attys. and Marquette Law alumni Jesse Dill and Tony Flint coached the team.  This year’s Wagner problem involved application of the WARN Act to a plant closing of an oil company (Fazal Oil) after a coup de etat occurred in the country where the oil company was located (San Marcos). Specifically, the problem asked whether the Liquidating Fiduciary, Unforeseeable Business Circumstance and Faltering Company exceptions were able to be claimed by Fazal Oil after they closed the San Marcos oil plant without giving the employees the 60 day notice of closing required under the WARN Act.  Congratulations, again, to our Marquette Law School team for their tremendous effort in tackling these complex employment issues.

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Congratulations to the 2015 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition Semifinalists

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Congratulations to all who competed in the 2015 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition and special congratulations to this year’s semifinalists:  Larissa Dallman, Mary Ellis, Olivia Fitzgerald, Nolan Jensen, Jeremy Klang, Christopher Little, Natalie Schiferl, and Nicole Ways. Teams are advancing after four rounds of preliminary competition this past weekend.

Thank you to the numerous judges who graded briefs and heard oral arguments, as well as to all the competitors, who prepared hard for the competition and fought good battles this weekend.

The semifinal round will be held on Thursday, March 26 at 6:00 p.m. The teams will be matched as follows:

Team 11 v. Team 6 will argue in the Appellate Courtroom.

Team 10 v. Team 7 will argue in the Trial Courtroom.

The teams will argue before a panel of judges, including Hon. William Callahan; Hon. Patricia Gorence; Hon. Nancy Joseph; Hon. Joan Kessler; Hon. JoAnne Kloppenburg; and Hon. Paul Reilly.

Good luck to the semifinalists.

 

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Congratulations to the 2015 Marquette Evans Competition Teams

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Congratulations to 3Ls Melissa Fischer, Nicole Ostrowski, and Julia Westley for reaching the quarterfinals of the Evan A. Evans Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition this past weekend.  Professor Blemberg advised the team.  3Ls Brendan Leib and Peter Smiley also competed and were advised by Professor Scott Idleman and Professor Jake Carpenter.  The teams were coached by Attorneys Elizabeth Bronson, Paul Jonas, Matthew Martz, Martin St. Aubin, and Drew Walgreen.  All of the coaches are Marquette alumni who competed in moot court.

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Revisiting the Subjunctive Mood: Great for Persuasion

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A perhaps often overlooked technique that can help your writing gain some persuasiveness is the subjunctive mood. It’s possible that you remember the subjunctive less from your English classes than from your foreign languages classes—at least that’s the case for me. When learning to conjugate verbs in another language, you’ll often bump up against the subjunctive.

Verbs have moods. According to Patricia Osborn in How Grammar Works: A Self-Teaching Guide 182 (2d ed. 1999), mood “simply means the attitude of the speaker toward the words being spoken.” In English grammar, there are three moods: the indicative, the imperative, and the subjunctive. The imperative mood is the most common and indicates that the speaker is simply to convey meaning. For example, I look forward to warmer weather is written in the imperative mood. The verb to look is properly conjugated to match the subject, I. (Although my example is in the present tense, the imperative mood works in all verb tenses.) The imperative mood is for giving commands. For example, Hurry up! is imperative. Again, the verb to hurry is properly conjugated for the understood subject, you.

The subjunctive, by contrast, “uses an out-of-the-ordinary verb form to call attention to something extraordinary” (Osborn, 183). It is, as Osborn labels it in her text, “The [m]ood of [p]ossibilities.” Read more »

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Tell Me a Story

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Little_Red_Riding_Hood_WPA_posterOnce upon a time . . .

I started my last post with those same four words, so I hope you’ll forgive me the repetition. They’re good words for a beginning (though perhaps not in a piece of legal writing!). But why are they such good words to start with? I could wax poetic about creating a sense of nostalgia for a time long past, where wonderful things were possible . . . but that’s not it. They’re good words for a beginning because we all know what comes after them: a story.

Stories are powerful things. For millennia, human beings have told each other stories. We pass down knowledge and wisdom, warnings and inspiration to each other through tales. Myths from cultures all over the world and all throughout history were created to explain natural phenomena, and to try to answer questions about the deeper meaning of human existence. Folk tales and fables teach lessons about hubris and humility, social values and the dangers of greed and other vices. In the Christian Bible, Jesus teaches using parables that will be familiar to anyone who went to Sunday School—the mustard seed, the prodigal son. Why? Isn’t it easier to say, for instance, “Don’t be too greedy!” than to tell the story of King Midas? Read more »

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Congratulations to Marquette’s 2015 Jessup Team

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Category: International Law & Diplomacy, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School, Public
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JessupCongratulations to 3Ls Xheneta Ademi, Tyler Nash, Frank Remington, and Patrick Winter for reaching the quarterfinals of the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Midwest Regionals in Chicago this past weekend.  In its 56th year, the Jessup Competition is one of the world’s most prestigious moot court competitions.  The Midwest region is comprised of 21 teams.  Our Marquette team went 3 and 1 to advance to the quarterfinal rounds.

Attys. and Marquette Law alumni Juan Amado (Jessup, 2011), Matt Tobin (Jessup, 2014) and Drew Walgreen (MU moot court, 2013), as well as Professors Megan A. O’Brien and Ryan Scoville served as team advisors.  This year’s Jessup problem involved treaty interpretation in light of a claim of fundamental change in circumstances; a state’s use of countermeasures in response to an alleged breach; and, procedural and substantive issues resulting from a seccessionist movement.  Congratulations, again, to our MU Law School team for their tremendous effort in tackling these complex international law issues.

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Kill Your Darlings

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Once upon a time, I wrote the most beautiful sentence. It was clever, nicely worded, and I loved looking at it. Each time I re-read it, I felt a surge of pride. “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word,” Emily Dickinson once wrote. “Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.” As I read my sentence for possibly the hundredth time, I understood what Emily was talking about. My sentence shone.

As I edited my memo, perhaps a week later, I gritted my teeth, took a deep breath, and reminded myself, Kill your darlings. I highlighted my beautiful sentence, and hit delete.

“Kill your darlings”: a bit of advice that is (or should be) given to aspiring writers everywhere, handed down like the word of God from experienced writers, professors, and editors. Attributed to any number of famous names, the original quote probably came from a series of Cambridge lectures by Arthur Quiller-Couch in the early 1900s, but its provenance isn’t the source of its popularity. Rather, it remains popular advice because it results, in almost every case, in better writing.

Legal writing and creative writing are very different beasts in many respects, and it may seem counter-intuitive to apply this bit of literary wisdom in the legal sphere. Creative writing, after all, concerns itself with things like characterization and plot and atmosphere. Legal writing is concerned with rules and logical analysis. And yet, just like the rules of grammar, the concept of killing your darlings remains sound.

Killing your darlings doesn’t just mean, as in the case of my poor sentence, eliminating turns of phrase that you’re particularly proud of. In legal analysis, your darlings may take the form of a bit of clever reasoning that actually does nothing to strengthen your overall argument, or a stylish word choice that ends up distracting a reader from your meaning. Killing your darlings is, in many ways, about sacrificing your personal taste on the altar of the reader.

As you read through your draft, pay particular attention to the portions of it that seem to shine, and look at them with a critical eye rather than a satisfied smile. Does it clarify your point? Does it flow with the rest of your writing, or does it stick out like a jagged rock in a stream? Is it flowery and slightly pretentious, like that terrible rock metaphor I just used? Are you struggling to make the rest of the sentence, paragraph, or section fit around it?

If your answer is yes, then it may be time to grit your teeth, take a deep breath, and hit delete. Your readers will thank you for it.

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