Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dynamic Duo

Sartre. Arthur Miller. Jack London. Frank Norris. Twain. Hemingway. Faulkner. Salinger. All these names came up during a State Bar annual meeting program on Saturday titled "Appeals: Write Right ... Brief Brief Writing." But the real name-dropping comes here, when you learn that the speakers were Justices Gilbert and Bedsworth. In other words, if you weren't there, you missed quite an amazing show! Yes, they were amusing as all get out -- as you'd expect from two humor columnists. But the pearls of wisdom dropped faster than the gags. Here are just a few notes:

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  • Write your first draft for you; then write it again for someone else. 'People write to understand' (i.e., clarify the issues for yourself first); but you need to 'write to be understood' (write for others).
  • Introductions are the most important part of a brief: encapsulate what the case is about and why you should win.
  • Readers absorb information best if they understand its significance as they receive it; i.e., context before details.
  • Standards of review are like the old football aphorism about why a running game is better than a passing game: "Three things can happen when you pass, and two of them are bad" (i.e., abuse of discretion and substantial evidence review).
  • Don't copy language from court opinions, because most are poorly written.
  • If you try to make your writing too persuasive, you will lose clarity.
  • As Mark Twain said: "Substitute 'damn' every time you’re inclined to write 'very' [or really, most adjectives and adverbs]. Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."
  • Gilbert pointed out that he was never an appellate lawyer and that he's never written an appellate brief in his life! But he's a great reader, so he knows great writing when he sees it.
  • Beds pointed out that he was an appellate lawyer, and thus now (being an appellate justice), he has the "greatest job the system." And by that, he doesn't mean the legal system; he means the solar system!
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