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.

2011 Law Firm Legal Research Requirements for New Attorneys

2011 Law Firm Legal Research Requirements for New Attorneys

Patrick Meyer

Thomas Jefferson School of Law
September 26, 2011
Abstract:    
This article summarizes results from the author’s 2010 law firm legal research survey, which determined what research functions, and in what formats, law firms require new hires to be proficient. This survey updates the author’s 2009 article that is available at this site and which was based on this author’s earlier law firm legal research survey.

These new survey results confirm that law firms need schools to integrate the teaching of online and print-based research resources and to emphasize cost-effective research. The following federal and state specific print-based resources should be taught in an integrated manner: legislative codes, secondary source materials, reporters, administrative codes and digests.

 

Source:  LSN Law & Society: The Legal Profession eJournal Vol. 6 No. 74, 11/16/2011

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.

How widespread is WestlawNext?

A student asked me this question.  Since I live and work in the beautiful bubble known as Stanford University,and have no idea how things work in the Real World, I turned to outside help to answer the student’s question.

I first asked our Westlaw representative, who provided this interesting and useful piece of information:

Based on a recent article about Thomson Reuters revenue, “The WestlawNext legal database has been sold to more than 18,500 customers since its launch in February 2010, representing 34 percent of Westlaw’s revenue base.”

http://us.mobile.reuters.com/article/businessNews/idUSTRE73R2OI20110428

 

But I knew that our students would want to know more specific information, so I sent out a quick request on the Northern California Association of Law Libraries (NOCALL) listserv.  I received 21 replies — 6 from Biglaw law firms, 8 from small/midsize firms, 2 from county law libraries, 4 from the courts (U.S. District, United States Court of Appeals and California Appellate), and 1 from a state agency.  Of the 6 Biglaw law firms, 4 have WestlawNext (although one, at present, is only making it available to firm librarians — see comments below) and 2 do not.

Of the 8 small/midsize firms, 5 have WestlawNext and 3 do not.

None of the public sector law libraries have WestlawNext.  The state agency reports that it might be added this summer.  I did find it a little ironic that the court libraries do not have WestlawNext — didn’t West get started by wooing the judiciary and treating judges extra special nice?

The comments I received were also very useful and I read many of them to my students, since they contain some great research tips and insights.

Here are a few of the comments:

I know that when firm librarians first saw the marketing materials, we were worried that the quality of search results would go down due to the one-box searching, but if anything the opposite has happened.  The result ranking is much better than it was previously, and you can see a lot more information before clicking into a document, which is great.

Our firm has a flat rate contract, so even though there is a cost for the original search ($50), the amount billed back to the client is significantly lower.  They shouldn’t be scared to use the resource due to the cost (at our firm anyway).  It’s in line with Lexis and the old version of Westlaw.  But of course, books are still cheaper.
Of course, they should still use good search practices so we’re not charging the client needlessly – searching broadly and then narrowing the focus, thinking before clicking into documents, checking before getting material from outside our pricing plan.  You can refer back to materials saved to a folder for a year, for free.  I’m saving a ton of material to folders.
The “price triggers” that incur costs: initial search, opening a document, clicking on the keycite materials. 
Our firm’s flat-rate contract doesn’t cover the PDF images of reporters – that’s the only place where you’re not warned before getting material outside of our contract.
We did a firm survey last year, and honestly, most of our attorneys start their research process on Google because it’s free.  Once they have useful information (like a case name or a statute or a law review article), they’ll go online and find all the related documents and secondary sources.  WestlawNext does a really good job of that, and the new format for KeyCite makes it easy to trace between material types. 
 
One more caveat: Keycite and Shepards both may say a case is good law when underlying statutes or cases have been invalidated (not always, but sometimes).  They don’t always catch it when a case has been invalidated by new legislation, as well.  Knowing how far to trust citator services is important.

 ————————-
 
Only librarians have been given permission to use WLN.  We will be offering mandatory class(es) on the product before attorneys are given passwords to access it.  We are aware that the law school students have been exposed to WLN & will likely expect to use it upon entering into the firm environment, so our window to get up-to-speed is fast approaching.Caveats:  Not everything has been loaded into WLN, so it could be frustrating to attorneys when prompted to transition in the middle of their research  to go to Westlaw. We’re also not sure if the costs will increase since clicking on any results keeps adding up the total.  I know we librarians have had conference call discussions about some of the quirky searching & results . . . .  Do I like it?  I had a trial ID & have not used it much since our contract went into effect in January.  I’m still “on the fence” about it, but realize it is the wave of the future in this Googlish society.
 
————————-
 
The federal courts do not have WestlawNext at this time, and my understanding is that while the Administrative Office in D.C. has discussed it with Thomson-Reuters, there is no plan to purchase it for the federal judiciary in the near future.
 
———————–
 
We are using it.  The attorneys really like it.  One thing I’ve learned about it is that you should never choose the hourly setting on WestlawNext.  Always use it in transactional mode since the nature of it promotes lots of browsing time.  Most law firms are turning off the hourly feature and forcing transactional mode, but if not it can wreak havoc with your flat-rate contract client allocation.
 
————————
 
My advice for students:  Know how much the search costs are before you do it.  And always call the research attorneys — they know their tool better than any of us ever will.
 
————————-
 
We aren’t using it in the [state] Judicial Branch.  It’s way too expensive and we can’t afford it!  And if Westlaw itself becomes too expensive for us we may be forced to use just one service.  Since Lexis has the official reporting contract, we must have access to them.
 
————————
 
We do not have WestlawNext.  We did a trial of it and it has potential, but we are not willing to pay extra for it.
 
———————-
I see other problems besides cost for WestlawNext in law firms.  To oversimplify: Google on new steroids represents WestlawNext’s research model. That model shows remarkable detachment from application to real-life research problems in law firms.  The stock examples used in WestlawNext’s demos fit TR’s marketing well enough, but I could not translate them into everyday, online research done in law firms. I also see evidence of algorithmic anomalies – possibly widespread – that have only begun to be explored.
 
———————–
We have been using WLN for the past year.  We hopped on the band wagon pretty early due to a demo seen here by our litigation partners.  The litigation attorneys like it a lot.  Power users of regular Westlaw have a big learning curve so do not like it quite as much.  It is great, however, for researching an area you may be unfamiliar with since it will give you the most relevant cases up front.  Our attys like this feature.  The attys also like the cost..they can figure out how much their research will cost them before going in since a search runs about $65
and then you can open as many docs as you want until you hit your research budget ($15/doc. or so).  It relieves some the pressure they feel when going in.  I think it is here to stay.  Even [after] I have cancelled Lexis access here, cut my print budget and staffing, the WLN contract was added without blinking an eye. . . .
 
———————–
 
We require everyone to be trained first on regular Westlaw. We will then train them on WestlawNext.  There a cost pitfalls with both.  Searching is cheaper and broader with WestlawNext, but if you want to look at lots of documents, you will run up the costs. Initial searching Westlaw is probably narrower (have to select a database), but then the documents don’t cost additional to view.
 
———————–
 
I would recommend that students avoid WestlawNext like the plague until they have a solid grasp on doing research on their own.  You do not want to be dependant on an algorithm created by a corporation to be able to do an essential part of your job.
 
I think Next can be a valuable tool and time-saver for attorneys who understand what the algorithm is doing and what the resources are it is returning in the results, but I worry if students start learning how to research using Next, they will not be able to do any research when they leave school unless they are using, and paying a steep price for, Next.
 
———————–
 
The two main reasons [we don't have it] is that Westlaw would require us to have a separate contract for WestlawNext (we see this as paying for Westlaw twice), and WestlawNext does not have all of Westlaw’s content. . . .
 
————————-
 
Though honestly we haven’t embraced it completely and probably won’t until West tells us they are pulling the plug on classic.  I think it is a good product.  I like the $60.00 search and the left-hand screen that guides you to your hits.  The biggest issue is the pricing per document.  Those clicks just add up.  I am planning on asking our summer assoc. class if they are using Classic or NEXT, then based on the response, the rep. will concentrate on one or the other for the orientation. It will be interesting to see where the product stands with this first summer class who have potentially been using it at school.
 
———————–
 
We at the California Appellate Courts are not.  We have Westlaw and Lexis . . . [and] should be rolling out LMO [Lexis for Microsoft Office] soon, but that is as fancy as we are getting.
 
 
 
 
 

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

Researching Across the Curriculum: The Road Must Continue Beyond the First Year

“Researching Across the Curriculum: The Road Must Continue Beyond the First Year”


Oklahoma Law Review, Vol. 61, 2009

BROOKE J. BOWMAN, Stetson University College of Law

In the ever growing movement to integrate skills and values across the law school curriculum, research instruction cannot be overlooked or forgotten. Research serves as the fulcrum upon which “skills and values” such as ethics and practical application of doctrinal studies, rests. Therefore, research instruction cannot be limited to what the students learn in their first-year legal research and writing classes. A concentrated effort must be made in all classes to ensure that what the students learn in the first-year research and writing classes will be further developed, refined, revisited and reinforced. This Article, Research Across the Curriculum: The Road Must Continue Beyond the First Year, offers a new paradigm for how research instruction should change in the upper-level classes from requiring all students to take Advanced Legal Research courses, for example, to integrating research instruction into specialized areas such as international law and tax courses.

Source:  LSN Law Educator: Courses, Materials & Teaching Vol. 5 No. 5, 03/06/2009

LRW – “Legal Research Readings for Students: A Selective Annotated Bibliography”

Legal Research Readings for Students: A Selective Annotated Bibliography

SHAWN G. NEVERS, Brigham Young University – J. Reuben Clark Law School

Supplemental readings that are informative, interesting, and brief can do wonders in a legal research course. I use them to emphasize important points, facilitate interesting discussion, and provide a “real world” view of legal research. Students enjoy the change of pace and are generally engaged by the articles – something I can’t say about textbooks. This paper is a selective annotated bibliography of articles that could be used as supplemental readings in introductory and advanced legal research courses. The fourteen articles listed cover the importance of legal research, the research process, electronic legal research, and researching primary sources. As part of each annotation I have included my “two cents” about when and why these articles might be used in a legal research course.

Source: LSN Legal Education Vol. 5 No. 41,  09/01/2008

LRW – “Practice Writing: Responding to the Needs of the Bench and Bar in First Year Writing Programs”

 

Practice Writing: Responding to the Needs of the Bench and Bar in First Year Writing Programs

Phoenix Law Review, Fall 2008

AMY VORENBERG

MARGARET SOVA MCCABE, Franklin Pierce Law Center

Do first year legal writing programs really prepare law students for the rigors of practice writing? This article begins to answer this question based on attorney and judge survey results, as well as interviews with judges who had also read student work in preparation for their interview. We found that while legal writing programs do provide a good foundation for legal writing skills, improvement can be made. Important changes that we have made at Pierce Law include: shorter, more frequent assignments; variation/flexibility in choice of organizational paradigm; understanding the difference between settled and unsettled areas of law; and increased emphasis on grammar, punctuation, and style.

 

Source: LSN Law & Courts Vol. 2 No. 47,  09/01/2008

Just Research Book Review

In an earlier post (see “Just Google It First,” below) I mentioned Just Research, a popular legal research text here at Stanford.  Below is a book review of this book, written by Stanford law student Raaj S. Narayan for our Advanced Legal Research class. 

Narayan ALR Book Review

Just Google It First

It’s a variation on our class theme of “secondary first!”  But a Wall Street Journal Law Blog posting, “Advice from the Corner Office: Use Google; Avoid Grammar Gaffes,” offers some key tips from law firm partner Drew Barry and includes this good research advice:

Get Yourself Smart on a Subject, Fast: When they get assignments, he says, self starters “contextualize” the issue by “Googling stuff for fifteen minutes.” Lexis and Westlaw, he says, are fine for focusing on a point of law. But the peripheral vision provided by a Web search is also invaluable. It can yield relevant law journal articles, blog posts, plaintiffs’ lawyers sites, law-firm newsletters and the like.

In a way, he says, see-what-I’ll-find Internet research is akin to the old hard-cover legal research methods which, he says, are more than powerful electronic search engines “give a feel for the evolution of the common law.”

 

A popular legal research book here at Stanford is Just Research by Laurel Currie Oates and Anne Enquist; it includes many tips on ways to find good legal overviews using Google.