Writing a winning brief, in three easy steps

The best way to become a good writer is to read a lot of good writing.  And to me there’s no better legal writing than that of Judge Ruggero Aldisert.

Judge Aldisert just published the third edition of his important and popular book on Opinion Writing (details from the catalog record copied below).  This third edition (listen up, law students) includes a new chapter on law clerk duties, an expanded treatment of trial court opinions, and new chapters on administrative law judges and arbitration procedures and opinions.

But, one might ask, how will a book on opinion writing help me write a winning brief?  The answer is found in what the good judge calls his “chambers mantra” — “writing a good opinion is the best training on how to write a good brief.”

And about those three steps.  Opinion Writing, 3rd edition includes three checklists (these checklists, alone, are worth the price of the book) on opinion writing that can be used in brief writing:

1. Writing it.

2. Testing it.

3. Shortening it.

The book asks:  Why use checklists for writing, testing and shortening an opinion?  The answer:  “Checklists ensure that you touch all the bases on your way to file a ‘home run’ opinion.”  These checklists are gold, pure gold.

Here’s the book’s description from our library catalog:

Opinion writing / Ruggero J. Aldisert.

Author/Creator:
        Aldisert, Ruggero J.

Language:
        English

Imprint:
        3rd ed.
        Durham, N.C. : Carolina Academic Press, c2012.

Bibliography:
        Includes bibliographical references and index.

Contents:
        Writing judicial opinions
        To write or not to write
        Reaching and justifying the decision : a distinction with a difference
        Judicial declaration of public policy
        The outline of your opinion
        Jurisdiction and standards of review
        Orientation paragraph
        Summary of issues
        Statement of facts
        Writing the reasons for the decision.

ISBN:
        9781611631234
        1611631238

Subjects:
        Legal composition.
        Judicial opinions > United States.

At the Library:
        Crown (Law) > Stacks 1
                KF250 .A35 2012
                KF250 .A35 2012
                KF250 .A35 2012

Bookmark: http://searchworks.stanford.edu/catalog/9699810

Yes, we have three copies.  Every law library should have at least that many, and law librarians should encourage their students, especially their students in law school clinics, to read and heed the judge’s insightful tips.

Full disclosure:  I met Judge Aldisert in 2008 when my daughter was serving as one of his law clerks.

Brief citation 101

My post from yesterday about the incomplete and confusing (to me anyway) citations in numbered paragraph 3 of the Attorney General’s letter “Re: Physician Hospitals of America v. Sebelius, No. 11-40631 is, by far, our most-read posting on this blog.  Now that the mystery about the cites has been solved (they are in fact citations to Solicitor General briefs and we now have copies of all four of them, copies supplied to us by the Department of Justice), I’ve taken down the post to prevent my confusion from spreading to others.   But for our readers who might be new to legal research and legal citation, let me offer a few definitions from one of my most favorite reference books, Fox, Elyse H. The Legal Research Dictionary: From Advance Sheets to Pocket Parts. 2nd ed. [Chapel Hill, N.C.]: Legal Information Services, 2006.

First, brief. 

A document submitted to the court by a party to the litigation to persuade the court to accept a legal proposition advanced by that party.  Briefs include a statement of jurisdiction, a summary of the case (2), history of the proceedings, statement of facts, a summary of the legal issues presented, summary of argument, argument, the relief requested, conclusion, and table of authorities. . . . An amicus brief is a brief submitted to the court by a non-party to the litigation. . . .

Next, citation and citation manual

A reference that unambiguously identifies the location of a specific opinion, statute, rule, law review article, or other type of legal publication. . . . Appropriate citation consists of the name or title of the source . . . Citation guidebooks dictate proper form.  Citations use standard formats to for identifying authority to lead the legal researcher to the source material quickly and accurately.  Citation format generally applies to all types of legal writing.  Also called cite.  See also citation manual, parallel citation, medium-neutral citation.

citation manual

A manual or guidebook that prescribes the standard form of citation to be used in citing authorities in legal writing.  Various citation manuals exist: probably the most widely used manual is A Uniform System of Citation (the Blue Book). . . .

So now, turning to the so-called bluebook, let us take a look at how it says briefs should be cited:

Rule 10.8.3 (p. 106):

In general, all court filings follow the same general form.  The full name of the document, as it appears on the filing, must come first, . . . followed by a pinpoint citation, if any.  . . .

. . .

Always include the docket number, whether parenthetically (when there is a reported citation) or as the citation (when there is no reported citation):

> Brief of Petitioner-Appellant at 48, United States v. Al-Marri, No. 03-3674 (7th Cir. Nov. 12, 2003).

. . .

Finding Solicitor General Briefs (for free)

Updated

Quite a few of us were trying to unravel a few mysterious (to us, at least) citations in the DOJ  letter “RE: Physician Hospitals of America v. Sebelius, No. 11-40631.”

We know now that they are Solicitor General briefs from the DOJ (and, proper attribution of these cites as briefs would have removed all confusion).

While the DOJ researchers cite to Westlaw references that we do not have access to in academia, it would have been far easier to follow their research trail if they had only cited to the free versions of the briefs posted on the DOJ website.

The DOJ Solicitor General site has online briefs going back to 1982.  This site is easy to use.  You can browse by year, subject matter and client.  And, it is all freely available — many as PDFs.

Selling Others’ Briefs, Illustrated

To better illustrate some of the points made by Paul in his posting Selling others’ Briefs, Bryan L. Jarrett (our former student and now an associate at Jones Day) has given us permission to post two of the charts he created for his paper “Vending Appellate Briefs.”  (To recap, Bryan’s paper surveyed the practices of sixteen state jurisdictions and DC — the ten largest ABA jurisdictions (by membership size) and seven jurisdictions that did not supply copies of appellate briefs to commercial vendors.  The data was gathered in 2010.)

The first table (“Table I: The Ten Largest Jurisdictions”) displays five questions (for the jurisdictions of NY, CA, TX, FL, IL, DC, MA, OH, PA and NJ): do these jurisdictions provide appellate briefs online; do they have an arrangement with a vendor (Westlaw, Lexis) for the distribution of briefs; do these jurisdictions send appellate briefs directly to vendors; is the exchange of briefs quid pro quo; and have any attorneys objected.

The second table (“Table II: Jurisdictions that Do Not Supply Their Briefs to Vendors”) focuses on seven jurisdictions (NV, NH, NM, OK, VT, UT, and WY) and addresses the same questions as in Table I.

Selling others’ briefs

Following up on George’s post “A pair of lawyers . . . sue West and LexisNexis for reproducing their court filings,” I took a second look at a directed research paper a student did for me a couple of years ago on the subject of vending appellate briefs.  The student surveyed 17 jurisdictions — 10 that provide briefs to vendors and 7 that do not.

One of the interesting take-aways from the student’s paper is the wide variety in means by which vendors have obtained briefs.  Some states have made various arrangements with vendors; others refuse to do so.  For a very few states there is a distinct quid pro quo. Past practices will change, though, as the vendors are increasingly just pulling from posted copies; unless a court rules against such a practice it will only accelerate.

California and Pennsylvania, of the surveyed jurisdictions, both have quid pro quo arrangements.  For example, in California, the state Supreme Court used to send copies of the briefs to certain public law libraries but stopped the practice when it made a deal with Court Records Service (later acquired by West Publishing) whereby the court receives microfiche copies in return for providing the briefs.

Massachusetts has what seems like an odd arrangement whereby briefs are scanned once at the Clerk’s Office, then sent to Westlaw, where they are scanned again and later returned.

To write the paper the student called librarians, court clerks, reporters of decisions, and the vendors.  None of the surveyed court staff members reported any attorney dissatisfaction with the practice of providing briefs to the vendors.  And in one state, the Reporter of Decisions speculated that attorneys actually liked “the free advertising.”  And many clerks were surprised that this has become an issue at all since the documents are public records.

Yes, they are public records but that doesn’t mean they are in the public domain.  Yet who wins if a court rules that Westlaw and LexisNexis are infringing authors’ copyright?  My student thinks that the attorney authors are really the only winners (if they receive royalties) and most of them have already received substantial compensation for writing these briefs and all other players (the courts, the public) are losers.   I hope that in the spirit of pro bono most attorneys will continue to make their appellate briefs available to all the world and not press ownership claims (with perhaps some sort of opt-out provision for the rare instances when, for privacy or other sensitive concerns, certain briefs should not be published).   It would also be a better world if LexisNexis and Westlaw could also take responsible pro bono actions here, as suggested by Ed Connor and not profit from the work product of those in the private sector.

Here’s the cite to my student’s paper:  Bryan Jarrett, Vending Appellate Briefs: The practice, its future, and implications if found illegal.   Submitted October 30, 2010.

Abstract:

This paper analyzes the collection and sale of appellate briefs.  It presents the findings of a survey of seventeen jurisdictions.  The paper discusses how Westlaw and LexisNexis access the briefs, whether they have structured mutually beneficial agreements with the courts that provide the briefs, whether attorneys commonly object to the sale of their briefs, the likely future of the industry, and the potential policy implications of a successful legal challenge to the industry’s practices.

Becoming the “compleat lawyer” the Aldisert way

From time to time I will get a call or e-mail from a proud parent whose son or daughter has been admitted to Stanford Law School.  The parent wants my advice on a book for their accomplished child to read upon the beginning of their new-found career.  A wonderful book has just come along which fits the bill perfectly:  Judge Ruggero Aldisert’s A Judge’s Advice: 50 Years on the Bench.

This slender volume packs a lot of punch.  In less than 250 pages the judge offers answers to questions that have occupied his thoughts for decades:  : “What is the bedrock of our common law system? What are trial and appellate judges really looking for? What is the logical configuration that is absolutely necessary in any legal argument? What practical challenges do judges face when deciding a case? What is the difference between the philosophy of law and a philosophy of law? What is the difference between a judge making a decision and a judge justifying it, and why does that difference matter to me?  Precedent in the law: When do you kiss it and when do you kill it?”

The judge organizes his thoughts among the following five themes:

  • Our Common Law Tradition: Still Alive and Kicking
  • Logic and Law
  • Avoiding Assembly Line Justice?
  • The “Write Stuff”
  • How Judges Decide Cases

And within these themes are found the following chapters:

The house of the law — The role of the courts in contemporary society — Precedent : what it is and what it isn’t, when do we kiss it and when do we kill it? — Elements of legal thinking — Logic for law students : how to think like a lawyer — Formal and informal fallacies — State courts and federalism — Life in the raw in appellate courts — “The seniors” suggest a solution — Brief writing — Opinion writers and law review writers: a community and continuity of approach — Reading and evaluating an appellate opinion — Philosophy, jurisprudence and jurisprudential temperament of federal judges — Making the decision — Justifying the decision.

While I know that all law students would benefit greatly from reading this book, when I first saw it our international students immediately came to mind as no other single volume that I am aware of so neatly and clearly explains the American legal system.  This book explains stare decisis better than anything else available.

Judge Aldisert writes about his particular passion — the law — with an enthusiasm that is almost exhausting.  Through this book the law student can get a glimpse of just how enormously satisfying the next 60 or 70 years of his or her life can be.

As the judge states in his Introduction:  “. . . These pages flesh out the instruments and implements of lawyers with a far-ranging ‘view from above’ with one objective in mind: to enrich the skills of these men and women so that each may bear — to borrow from Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler — the noble title of ‘compleat lawyer.’

This book really should be required reading for all law students, lawyers and others too.  Judge Aldisert is one of my heroes, along with others who inspire me such as Roger Ebert, Vin Scully, Tony Bennett and Keiko Fukuda (Google her)  — people who, while they may have stopped buying green bananas, they have not stopped working and never will.  These are people who make no distinction between work and play and who will be carried off the job feet-first.  They know the secret.   People who I want to be like when I grow up.

Full disclosure:  I was first charmed by Judge Aldisert when I met him during my daughter’s clerkship for him.

“Unauthorized Copying and Sale by Westlaw and LexisNexis of Appellate Briefs…”

Earlier today, we blogged about two recent legal news items (here and here) on the copyright concerns regarding California Supreme Court appellate briefs appearing on Westlaw and LexisNexis.

As a follow-up, we have posted (with permission) the full text of the letter from attorney Edmond Connor, asking the court to amend Rule of Court 8.212.

The subject line for the letter reads: “Unauthorized Copying and Sale by Westlaw and LexisNexis of Appellate Briefs Served on Supreme Court Pursuant to Rule of Court 8.212.”

Court Struggles to Balance Public Access With For-Profit Interests

Court Struggles to Balance Public Access With For-Profit Interests

By Laura Ernde
Daily Journal
10/30/2009

“Three months after an attorney complained that the California Supreme Court was giving away valuable appellate briefs to for-profit firms, the court is still trying to figureout how to get itself out of the sticky copyright dilemma without reducing public access.”

This all began when attorney Edmond Connor contacted the court in July after finding his brief on Lexis (and not for free).  More on this here. Read the letter that he sent to Justice Ronald M. George and Mr. William C. Vickrey this summer.

Brief Fight Likely to End in Compromise

From tomorrow’s (Friday’s) San Francisco Recorder:

Brief Fight Likely to End in Compromise
The Recorder

By Mike McKee

October 30, 2009

The [California] Supreme Court sounds willing to end its practice of shipping briefs from all the state’s appellate cases to Westlaw and LexisNexis, which charge for them. An Irvine lawyer [Edmond Connor] saw a copyright problem…

Some more from the article:

‘Connor, who claims court briefs are lawyers’ copyrighted property, wrote again last Friday, urging the court to at least amend Rule of Court 8.212 — which requires lawyers to file either one electronic copy or four hard copies of their briefs with the high court — to instead require only one paper copy.

“Litigants will not have to incur the needless time and expense,” he wrote, “of providing the court with extra copies of briefs that the court simply discards — or gives away to vendors.”

Read the Letter – Update: LexisNexis and Westlaw Violating Copyright?

Yesterday, Paul blogged about the Daily Journal article: “California Courts Come Under Fire for Giving Legal Briefs to For-Profit Firms.”  There was a lot of interest in that posting — our statistics show it as our busiest day ever.  We had 634 visits by 4pm.

This story was picked up by the Volokh Conspiracy with some really interesting commentary.

There was so much interest in that topic that we followed up with attorney Ed Connor and we are now able to share with our readers, with his permission, the letter that he sent to Justice Ronald M. George and Mr. William C. Vickrey.

The text of the letter is available as a PDF here.