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.

Free and really good information from Justia – daily opinion summaries; weekly practice area summaries

Our friends at Justia sent an e-mail to law-lib about their new free case summary service.  Since all the world doesn’t read law-lib, I’ve pasted below Tim Stanley’s exciting  announcement.  I’ve signed up for the FREE (my favorite word) service, and it’s a terrific tool for keeping up with decisional developments both by specific court and also by subject matter.  I’m going to encourage all of my students to sign up too, especially those who want a judicial clerkship, as this is a nifty tool for students to learn about very recent decisions from the judges with whom they are interested in seeking interviews and positions.

Here’s Tim’s e-mail:

 

Hi All,

Justia would like to introduce our new Free Daily Opinion Summaries service.

We will be writing daily summaries for the Federal Appellate Courts
and selected state supreme courts (eventually we will add them all).
You can subscribe to the summary emails at:

     http://Daily.Justia.com

We will also be sending out weekly practice area summaries emails that
will include all of the summaries for all courts we wrote that week in
the legal practice area.

Here are some examples from last week:

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals:    http://j.st/ost

Environmental Law Weekly Summaries:    http://j.st/osv

If you have any suggestions for layouts, additional courts or practice
areas, please let us know. The current courts and practice areas we
cover are:

DAILY COURT SUMMARIES

U.S. Federal Courts: U.S. Supreme Court and the Federal, D.C., 1st,
2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th Circuit Courts of
Appeals

U.S. State Top Courts: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut,
Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri,
Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota,
Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming

And a few other courts like the Delaware Court of Chancery. We will be
adding more state courts in the near future. The full continuously
updated list is at http://Daily.Justia.com

WEEKLY PRACTICE AREA SUMMARIES

The weekly practice area opinion summaries, include all of the
summaries for all courts we wrote that week in the legal practice
area, are provided for the following:

Admiralty & Maritime Law, Aerospace/Defense, Agriculture Law, Animal /
Dog Law, Antitrust & Trade Regulation, Arbitration & Mediation,
Aviation, Banking, Bankruptcy, Business Law, Civil Rights, Class
Action, Commercial Law, Communications Law, Constitutional Law,
Construction Law, Consumer Law, Contracts, Copyright, Corporate
Compliance, Criminal Law, Drugs & Biotech, Education Law, Election
Law, Energy, Oil & Gas Law, Entertainment & Sports Law, Environmental
Law, ERISA, Family Law, Gaming Law, Government & Administrative Law,
Government Contracts, Health Law, Immigration Law, Injury Law,
Insurance Law, Intellectual Property, International Law, International
Trade, Internet Law, Juvenile Law, Labor & Employment Law, Landlord -
Tenant, Legal Ethics, Medical Malpractice, Mergers & Acquisitions,
Military Law, Native American Law, Non-Profit Corporations, Patents,
Products Liability, Professional Malpractice & Ethics, Public
Benefits, Real Estate & Property Law, Securities Law, Tax Law,
Trademark, Transportation Law, Trusts & Estates, Utilities Law, White
Collar Crime, Zoning, Planning & Land Use,

If you have other practice areas you would like us to break out, let
us know. We are not against adding some more as long as there are
enough opinions in the area and it does not nearly overlap one of the
above.

You can see the current list of courts and practice areas (in a
readable table format) at http://Daily.Justia.com

Again it is totally free :)

Peace,

Tim

————————————————————
Timothy Stanley                       . . .

2 new working papers on judicial opinions

“Judges and Their Editors”

Albany Government Law Review, Forthcoming
University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-18

DOUGLAS E. ABRAMS, University of Missouri School of Law

This essay discusses the roles of personal law clerks, central staff clerks, and Reporters of Decisions in editing judges’ opinions at the drafting stage. “The overarching lesson [is] that by submerging pride of authorship during an opinion’s gestation and by weighing editorial input with an open mind, judges secure in their craft advance the interests of justice.” The essay also discusses the constraints imposed by the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct on the circle of persons a judge may consult without giving the parties advance notice. The essay is adapted from Prof. Abrams’ address to the international meeting of the Association of Reporters of Judicial Decisions in Halifax, Nova Scotia on August 7, 2009.

 

“Sports in the Courts: The Role of Sports References in Judicial Opinions”

DOUGLAS E. ABRAMS, University of Missouri School of Law
Villanova Sports and Entertainment Law Journal, Forthcoming
University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-19

In cases with no claims or defenses concerning sports, the Supreme Court and lower federal and state courts frequently publish opinions that draw analogies to the rules or terminology of sports familiar to broad segments of the American people. Sports analogies can help the court explain factual or legal points because today’s generation, including the lawyers and litigants who comprise the prime audience for written opinions, grew into adulthood amid an unprecedented saturation of professional and amateur sports in the broadcast and print media, and more recently on the Internet.

This article surveys the broad array of sports whose references now lace written judicial opinions, and then discusses the use and misuse of these references. Sports references can help courts explain and resolve complexity, but may also implicate Rule 1.3 of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct by detracting unacceptably from the prestige indispensable to the judicial role. A sports reference remains incompatible with judging when a reasonable reader would conclude that the court invoked it primarily for the judge’s personal pleasure and not to facilitate the communication of ideas.

 

Source:  LSN: University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research
 Paper Series Vol. 4 No. 4,  08/20/2009

A Brief History of Opinion Writing (the book)

There’s a new book that all law clerks and law clerk wannabees might want to read.  It is:  Opinion Writing, 2d edition by Judge  Ruggero J. Aldisert.

Ordering information can be found here.

West Publishing Co. commissioned Judge Aldisert (Chief Judge Emeritus, Senior U.S. Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3d Circuit) to write the book.  It was never sold but utilized by West as a public relations gesture. Despite never being made commercially available, there are 144 libraries in WorldCat that hold copies.  West sent the book to  all federal judges and to state appellate judges, and as new judges came on later each new judge received a copy.  This practice continued for over 15 years, but after West was bought by Thomson, the new owners decided a few years back to stop the practice.  Rights were transferred back to the judge and the second edition is being published by AuthorHouse.

Full disclosure:  My daughter clerked for Judge Aldisert and assisted with the production of the book.  So I know it’s really good!

From the publishers description:

This book is a guide to opinion writing. It is written for every judge at every level and for all law clerks. Every trial and appellate judge, including the author of this book, can profit by learning how to improve his or her work product. This book provides a tool to do just that. Separated into four parts – Theoretical Concepts Underlying an Opinion, The Anatomy of an Opinion, Writing Style and Opinion Writing Checklists – the second edition of Opinion Writing distills the author’s nearly 50 years of experience on the bench into a handbook on the judge’s craft.

And the price is right too:

Hard Cover: $29.95
Paperback: $19.95