• Appellate Procedure,  Criminal Procedure,  Legal Writing,  Standard of Review

    Patrol Cars are Traffic, Too

    Image via Wikipedia In People v. Logsdon, case no. G038366 (4th Dist. May 28, 2008, ordered published June 24, 2008), the defendant contended that the officer following him on an otherwise nearly deserted street in the middle of the night lacked cause to stop his vehicle after defendant crossed several lanes of traffic without signaling. Defendant contended that in the absence of other traffic, his unsignaled lane change was a safe move. He forgot about the patrol car following him! The court holds that the officer who made the stop constituted traffic that needed warning of the lane change. There’s an interesting angle to this case from an appellate perspective…

  • Legal Writing,  Oddities

    New Entry in “Worst Brief Ever” Competition

    I’m beginning to wonder if I should start a new blog post category for “bad briefs.” I’ve told you about the Ninth Circuit dismissing a case as a sanction for briefing deficiencies and the California Court of Appeal explaining why a poorly written opening brief made it nearly impossible to discern the arguments being made. Now comes the “cut-and-paste” brief. As described by the First Circuit in the unpublished Rusli v. Mukasey, case no. 06-1941 (1st Cir. June 27, 2008) (citations omitted): The brief filed by petitioners’ counsel, Yan Wang, is a “cut and paste” affair that appears to present the facts of another case — notably for a person…

  • Briefing,  Legal Writing

    Tips from Appellate Court Research Attorneys

    Donna Bader at Appeal to Reason shares some briefing pointers offered by a couple of attorneys from her local appellate court.  I was glad to see a practice of mine validated: “Wondering whether to include citations to the record in the argument, rather than just the Statement of Facts? Yes, please do.”  There’s plenty more.

  • Legal Writing

    Footnotes and Same-Sex Marriage

    Not a pair of topics that you’d automatically put together, but bear with me . . .  Legal writing enthusiasts differ on the proper use of footnotes, and I’ve posted before about the debate. One appellate jurist addressing my law school class advised that if a point is important enough to go in the brief, then it’s important enough to go in the body text of the brief rather than in a footnote. Ray Ward at the (new) legal writer noted that some people even presume that footnotes in appellate briefs are not likely to be read.   Yet, I’ll bet every lawyer at least remembers learning in Constitutional law class about…

  • Legal Writing,  Oral Advocacy

    Spoon-Feed the Appellate Judges

    Image via Wikipedia That’s just one piece of advice offered by Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner in his turn at the ABA Section of Litigation’s “Tips from the Trenches” column, titled “Convincing a Federal Court of Appeals.” Attorneys who fail to take into account that the appellate judges are not specialists and have a limited time to deal with each case are making a mistake; a judge “depends on the lawyers to provide enough background in the field out of which the case emerges to orient” the judge. Tip no. 2: don’t think you can win by “rubbing the judges’ noses in the precedents.” This terrific column provides lots of practical…

  • Legal Writing,  Oral Advocacy,  Strategy

    Narrowing Appellate Issues

    D. Todd Smith makes a good point at Texas Appellate Law Blog in the context of explaining why he likes oral argument: [O]ne of my favorite aspects of oral argument is that it forces you to distill your case down to the barest elements. As the appellant, if you can’t persuade the court based on your best two or three points—which should all be covered thoroughly in your brief—you’re probably going to lose. Hear, hear. I think the same approach pays off in briefing. Rarely do you read an opinion that refers to a “scattershot” or “shotgun” approach by the appellant where those terms aren’t used (at least implicitly) insultingly…

  • Legal Writing

    Low-Tech Proofreading

    Redlines, spell checking, auto-numbering, auto-capitalization, auto-page numbering . . . has high-tech document creation made us lazy proofreaders?  For some great low-tech proofreading tips, see Beyond Redlines and Spell-Check: Proofreading Tips from the Dark Ages (PDF Download) from Delaware attorney John J. Paschetto, published in the February 2008 issue of The Practical Lawyer magazine Hat Tip: Legal Writing Prof Blog.

  • Legal Writing

    Clearly, this is Blatantly Obvious

    I was searching for an old post at Wayne Scheiss’s legal-writring blog and accidentally ran across this nugget from 2005 on use of the word “blatant”: I’m starting to put it in the same category as “clearly” and “obviously.” It does not persuade. It only draws attention to itself as an effort to sound persuasive. Anytime a word draws attention to itself, it’s not good. And the attention it draws is therefore usually negative attention. I won’t use it in my writing.

  • Legal Writing,  Legal Writing Blogs and Resources

    JALWD Online

    From Ray Ward at the (new) legal writer: Thanks to Legal Writing Prof Blog, I learned that the entire Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors is on-line—every issue, every article, in both HTML and PDF. If you’ve never read the JALWD, do yourself a favor and pay a visit. He directs you to Legal Writing Prof Blog for instructions on how to submit to JALWD “[i]f you’re brave enough to actually want to write an article” for them. One should be prepared, I assume, for some extensive constructive criticism!

  • Legal Writing

    If It was Good Enough for the Framers . . .

    Image from Wikipedia Ray Ward posted several months ago that starting a sentence with a conjunction is okay in an appellate brief. I wholeheartedly agree. I think it can make a sentence more powerful. Ward justifies the practice in part because the Unites States Constitution includes sentences starting with conjunctions and concludes, “So if it’s good enough for the U.S. Constitution, it’s good enough for that brief you’re working on.” But don’t take that logic too far. One of the constitutional excerpts Ward provides is Article II, section 1: “And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each…. But…

  • Briefing,  Legal Writing

    An Easy Cure for Citation Anxiety

    Legal Writing Prof Blog links to a paper called Reducing Citation Anxiety, which is presumably intended to put one’s mind at ease regarding citation format in their legal writing. I won’t have time to look at it, but I already have a way of overcoming that anxiety: I keep a copy of The California Style Manual close by as I draft.

  • Legal Writing

    A Reader’s Perspective on Appellate Briefs

    It’s one of the first things we’re taught in a law school writing class: write to your audience. Clients, other attorneys, trial judges and appellate courts are four possible, and distinct, audiences, and you write differently for each of them. So insight into what that audience is looking for, and how it approaches your document, is valuable. Professor David Sorkin sets out to provide insight for writers of appellate briefs in his article, Appellate Briefs — A Reader’s Perspective. Its very brief abstract: Appellate briefs should make a court want to rule in the advocate’s favor, and should make it easy for the court to do so. An effective brief…

  • Legal Writing

    Who Thinks that Contractions Shouldn’t Should Not Be Used in Appellate Briefs or Other Legal Writing?

    There are some grammatical “rules” that simply don’t make sense and can make your briefs more stilted if strictly followed. Two common favorites for being disregarded are: (1) don’t end a sentence with a preposition; and (2) don’t split an infinitive. I think most legal writers feel free, and rightly so, to ignore these “rules” when doing so makes for a smoother presentation. (Though Ray Ward says to be cautious about splitting infinitives.) These rules are general grammatical rules. A rule I have heard applied only to more formal writing, including legal writing, is “Do not use contractions.” From force of habit, I usually don’t. (Yes, I know I use…

  • Legal Writing

    That/Which Drives Me Nuts

    Peeve time. The that/which distinction. If I had a nickel for every time a court opinion used “which” where it should have used “that,” I’d be rich. With misuse by the courts so widespread, it is almost tempting to mimic the courts’ misuse, lest the justices deem your correct usage an example of poor writing. But then comes this post at Set in Style, in which the author notes that legislatures have traditionally received “a pass” on misuse, but links to an exception explained in this post at The Legal Satyricon. The Chicago-Kent College of Law has a great statement and explanation of the rule here. And Grammar Girl has…

  • Legal Writing

    Edit in Stages

    Ray Ward passes along that advice from Bryan Garner. What he means by it is to concentrate on a single type of edit on each editing pass. The post provides the eight types of review that Garner advocates be executed at a micro level. Get more detail at Ward’s post.

  • Decision on Appeal,  Federal Courts,  Legal Writing

    The Unexplained Concurrence

    Here’s an interesting Howard Bashman’s column that explores the phenomenon of third justices who “concur in the result” without further comment on the majority opinion.  NOTE: Somehow this post got marked “private,” so I’m not sure it ever showed up on the blog before.  But it’s possible it was posted for a while befopre it got marked “private,” in case you’re looking for an explanation for any deja vu you’re experiencing.)

  • Legal Writing

    Wayne Schiess on the Question Presented

    In a post entitled “Defending the single-sentence question presented:,” Professor Wayne Schiess confesses in the first line of the post: “I can’t.” Schiess pithily takes on the commonly asserted justifications of brevity and tradition. And he’s soliciting thoughts from those who prefer single-sentence questions presented.

  • Legal Writing

    A Good Start

    Good briefs frequently start with a statement that in itself “hooks” the reader by immediately arousing his interest and making him want to continue. The same goes for judicial opinions, I think. Chief Judge Kozinski accomplished that with his single-sentence opening paragraph in New Hampshire Ins. Co. v. C’est Moi, Inc., case no. 06-55031 (9th Cir. Mar. 20, 2008): “We consider the doctrine that’s on everyone’s lips: uberrimae fidei.” Made me read the rest of it, anyway. UPDATE (3/20/08): Professor Martin points out that this is the second published decision from the Ninth on the uberrimae fidei doctrine in just six weeks, so maybe that opening line was not only…

  • Legal Writing

    Grammar Girl’s Top 10 Grammar Myths

    Today is National Grammar Day, and Grammar Girl is commemorating it with a podcast of the “Top Ten Grammar Myths.”  You can download it as an .mp3 file or go to her transcript instead (the latter includes links to her detailed discussions of the myths).  I don’t think anyone is going to be surprised by her top grammar myth.

  • Appellate Procedure,  Decision on Appeal,  Legal Writing

    The Scope of Plurality En Banc Decisions

    In a post from the weekend cleverly titled to include “Ninth Makes Up its Mind on Inability to Make Up its Mind,” Ninth Circuit Blog performs a great public service by providing resources to help understand the scope of “fractured” en banc cases decided by plurality opinion. Definitely worth a read, especially if you are relying on such authority and want to “nail down” its strength and limitations. Ninth Circuit Blog’s post concludes that there’s advantage to be had from ambiguity: Come to think of it, if the federal judiciary is increasingly hostile to the rights of criminal (and particularly, indigent) defendants, maybe plurality decisions are good things. After all,…

  • Legal Writing,  Legal Writing Blogs and Resources

    One Blog I Never Want to Appear On

    Ever run across some horrible writing in an opponent’s brief and wish you could broadcast it to the world?  Now you can.  Legal Literatus, the blogger at the  relatively new blog, Lawyers[‘] Writing Wrongs, gives you that outlet.  LL solicits your contributions and provides his e-mail address in the sidebar of his blog. Hat Tip: Mister Thorne of Set in Style.

  • Legal Writing

    Front Loading Your Legal Writing

    Wayne Schiess’s legal-writing blog begins a post about summarizing your points with a very absolutist sentence:  “Every legal document should begin with a summary of some kind.”  Hear, hear!  He gives you pointers for doing so, with before-and-after examples illustrating how to present important information early, leave tedious details for later, and avoid abstraction.  And since the title of the post includes “part 1,” you’ll want to follow his blog for the follow-up posts.

  • Legal Technology,  Legal Writing

    Legal Writing Podcasts from Suffolk

    Suffolk University Law School has launched a series of podcasts, including a weekly podcast on legal writing, through Apple’s iTunes U.  Wednesday’s press release from the school is here.  Go here for Suffolk’s iTunes U portal, which tells you everything you need to know and provides links that will automatically open iTunes to Suffolk’s podcasts. Thanks to Legal Writing Prof Blog.

  • Legal Writing

    Successive Topic Sentences for Successive Cases

    In a four-post series titled “Topic and transition sentences in case explanations,” (part 1 here, with the remaining three immediately following), Wayne Schiess’s legal-writing blog gives a great exposition of how to transform rote sequential introduction of cases into a flowing narrative that uses each case to further develop your argument.

  • Legal Writing,  U.S. Supreme Court

    Inmate Earns SCOTUS Review with Pro Per Cert Petition

    Legal Writing Prof Blog reports on federal inmate Keith Burgess’s recent successful pro per cert petition. The post includes links to press coverage and to the petition itself. It’s nice to see clear, compelling writing triumph, regardless of who presents it, especially in light of recent charges that the court tends to favor “superstar” attorneys with an established SCOTUS presence.