Legal Writing

It’s so hard to judge yourself.

Deep in your soul you know that people who criticize you are idiots, and people who praise you are wise and sagacious.

How can you possibly tell if you’re any good at what you do?

I have the answer for you! I’ve created a litigators’ self-assessment test! Now you’ll know if you’re any good!

Here’s how it works: Take out the last brief you filed.

Do it. Now. You won’t learn anything if you don’t follow the rules.

Look at the first sentence of your brief. For about ten percent of the people reading this column, the first sentence of your brief says (and I quote) . . . .

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That’s the only conclusion you can reach after reading the court’s new guide to typography. The federal rules say remarkably little about typeface, and the Seventh Circuit was having none of that vagueness. But instead of making a simple, concrete rule to guarantee that lawyers submit something that won’t make the judges — or their clerks — bleed profusely from the eyes, they churned out seven pages of pedantically detailed instructions. They even explain the difference between 12-point and 14-point fonts using many more words than “the second one is bigger.” Apparently the Seventh Circuit cares more about encouraging clean typefaces than efficient writing.

If you’re practicing in the Seventh Circuit, you need to read this curmudgeonly tract — and if you’re not, you can just giggle….

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“Playing Lecture Bingo gets 20 minutes in the corner”

The actual practice of law is much more rigorous than law school. Law school is basically college with lucrative summer jobs and crippling debt. Drinking every day, last-minute cramming, and generally winging it on exams are not out of place. That said, continuing the college-honed approach to my class work in no way conflicted with my understanding of proper professional behavior. I could slap together a paper for “Law and Super Mario Bros.”[1] or whatever seminar I was in and immediately shift gears to drafting well-researched and meticulously prepared memos for partners for my summer gig.

So while ATL is on record as a proponent of encouraging law schools to offer more concrete professional training, it’s not necessary to make class run like a day in the office of the worst partner or in the courtroom of a judicial diva.

That’s why, even though justified as an effort to train students to succeed in the persnickety world of trial practice, we really don’t need this professor’s three-and-a-half pages of single-spaced rules drenched in condescension….

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Keith Lee

Everyone is familiar with the saying that you only get one chance to make a first impression. We size people up at a glance. People like to think that they take time to adequately weigh decisions, but in reality we often rely on “thin-slicing,” as popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink (affiliate link):

“Thin-slicing refers to the ability of our unconscious mind to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience. The unconscious works by sifting through the situation in front of you, parsing out irrelevant data and homing in on what really matters.”

What this means is that we are constantly making micro-decisions at a subconscious level about the world around us all the time. Now, that doesn’t mean we are always making good decisions or judgments, but we are making them. Which is why lawyers need to care about how they appear — in person and in print.

And from a filed Answer in a lawsuit that a reader sent me, it’s a lesson that one lawyer needs to learn….

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* President Obama won’t “just sit idly by” as his D.C. Circuit nominees are picked off one by one by Senate Republicans. No, instead he’s going to have his White House Counsel give interviews for him. [National Law Journal]

* Today is the 150th anniversary President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. If you’d like, you can watch a live stream of an event celebrating the occasion here at 12 p.m. EST today. [Constitution Accountability Center]

* If you want to learn how to write like the U.S. Solicitor General, you can get the “Bluebook for Supreme practitioners” right here (affiliate link) to see exactly how it’s done. [Supreme Court Brief / National Law Journal (sub. req.).]

* The Second Circuit slapped down a few requests yesterday, the most notable of which being Argentina’s bid for a full rehearing and Raj Rajaratnam’s plea for a review of his conviction. [Bloomberg; Bloomberg]

* You don’t know what you got till it’s gone: Weil Gotshal is welcoming back a former finance partner after a seven-year stint at Norton Rose Fulbright to fill out its emptied Dallas office. [Law 360 (sub. req.)]

* Dewey know when the axe man commeth for those who refused to join the failed firm’s $70 million partner contribution plan? Right now. Will Marcoux is the first to face off against Alan Jacobs. [Am Law Daily]

* Despite all warnings, you want to go to law school so badly that you’re reapplying. Well, we probably can’t help you much, but here are some tips. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News & World Report]

Danger, Biglaw Associates!

Contractors have been there before — an unnecessarily angry associate screaming at a room of temps muttering about when they were first-year associates. So what has got their panties in a bunch? Well, like most curmudgeons, it is change. The legal landscape is rapidly shifting, and one has to move with the tide or be swept away.

We frequently throw the term “Contract Attorney” around in this column, but there are a wide variety of tasks that are now considered contract work. As the tasks change, contractors encroach more and more on work traditionally thought of as an associate’s domain.

So what are the most typical contractor tasks, and how are they affecting the associates’ way of life?

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The online version of the bluebook has dramatically improved my life.

Relatedly, my life is pretty boring most days.

— A Facebook friend whose baseball team didn’t make the NLCS, commenting on the Online Bluebook.

* Stay tuned after the credits of Captain Phillips to see the part where the crew accuses him of negligence and sues him for millions. [Findlaw]

* Graphs showing the extent of growth in the ten states with the most and least growth in attorneys over the last ten years. The Texas legal market is growing dangerously fast. I sure hope it doesn’t lead to massive layoffs and the shuttering of offices. Weil have to wait and see. [Associate's Mind]

* In Nevada, Heather can now have two (legal) mommies. [ABA Journal]

* The push for the federal government to overhaul the public defender system is gaining momentum. Too bad there’s still no “federal government” to speak of. [NPR]

* Senior lawyers editing their juniors should take it easy with the red pen. A lot of the time, seniors are not editing to improve the product, but to make it sound like they wrote it, and this is the wrong approach. Senior attorneys have a narcissism problem? Never! [At Counsel Table]

* A new blog featuring law school deans discussing legal education seeks bloggers. Which deans will walk into the spotlights to accept the public abuse? [Law Professor Blogs Network]

* The next time you use Tinder to find a hot date, you just might be treated to an advertisement for a plaintiff’s firm. Image after the jump…

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I took the train to Paris recently. (Sorry — I can’t help myself. I just love typing those words.)

That gave me an uninterrupted two hours to edit a document on the way to Paris and another uninterrupted two hours to edit a document on the way home.

The experiences couldn’t have been more different.

What’s odd is that it wasn’t the quality of the drafts that made the experiences different for me (the editor), but rather the quality of the reactions that I anticipated receiving from the authors.

How can that be? How can an editor enjoy revising one document and loathe revising another based solely on the anticipated responses to the edits? And what lessons might that teach the author (the person being edited)?

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Suing a school for giving you bad grades seems ludicrous. On the other hand, there’s something respectable about filing a 60-paragraph complaint in response to a law school telling you that you’ve failed Legal Writing and Civil Procedure. It’s kind of meta when you think about it.

The crux of the story is that a the law school demanded that a 3L retake CivPro II: Electric Boogaloo because he got a D the first time around. This interfered with his plans for his 3L year, so he decided to take them to court. In the process, every complaint he has about the school worked its way into the filing.

Which law school is getting sued?

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