16 PARALEGAL BLOGS FOR 2020, BY Online Master Paralegal Blogs for 2020
A list of valuable and helpful blogs for paralegal professionals and paralegal students. -CCE
16 PARALEGAL BLOGS FOR 2020, BY Online Master Paralegal Blogs for 2020
A list of valuable and helpful blogs for paralegal professionals and paralegal students. -CCE
Tips to Immediately Improve Your Writing Skills, by Adam Lamparello, Appellate Advocacy Blog
An excellent list of key skills to improve your legal writing regardless of your proficiency level. This is one of the best legal writing checklists I have seen. Definitely worth a bookmark. -CCE
I have a collection of favorite legal writing books. Among them is a much-loved, dog-eared, and highlighted book, Persuasive Legal Writing, by Professor Lou Sirico, Jr.
Some years ago, I saw that Professor Sirico was co-editor of the Legal Skills Prof Blog, and became an immediate faithful follower. You will find many references to his posts here at this website. His writing speaks for itself.
Sadly, this extraordinary man passed away on December 26, 2018 from cancer, and this great loss warrants note and the remembrance by someone who knew him well. With his permission, I share this January 2, 2019 post by Professor James Levy, a long-time friend of Professor Lou Sirico and co-editor of the Legal Skills Prof Blog.
It’s been a week since Lou, the co-editor of this blog and a friend and mentor to so many, colleagues and students alike, passed away. I haven’t posted on the blog since then out of respect for Lou’s memory and because I was waiting to find the right words to express what Lou meant to the people who knew him. But after a week I’m still at a loss to adequately describe his contributions. Instead, let me elaborate a bit on my earlier post while sharing some observations and anecdotes that speak to the kind of person Lou was and the many ways he helped others.
The first thought that comes to mind when I think about Lou is that he was one of the most authentic, genuine people I’ve ever met. I recently had the good fortune to spend a year as a visiting professor at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs (where, ironically enough, one of Lou’s former Villanova students was a JAG officer and professor in the law department) and the Air Force officers I met there, who I greatly admired, reminded me a lot of Lou. What they all have in common is their humility, putting service above self, trustworthiness, loyalty and honor. Lou didn’t have much of a social media presence, and he wasn’t one to tout his own accomplishments so many readers might not realize how much he devoted himself to the service of others. From organizing writing workshops that helped colleagues with their scholarship, to taking leadership positions in AALS, LWI and similar groups, to serving as EIC of the Journal of LWI and on the editorial board of Perspectives, Lou was the kind of guy that if he saw an opportunity to contribute to the profession, he was the first to raise his hand to volunteer. On an individual level, if you needed personal or career advice, he would always lend a patient ear and offer his sage wisdom. And he continued to serve others well into the latter phase of his career when most people are either slowing down or withdrawing altogether from such activities. Lou continued to serve others even when dealing with very serious health issues that for anyone else would have been good reason to dial it back. But Lou was always a work-horse and never a show-horse.
When Lou made a commitment to something, he meant it and kept his word. Take this blog, for example. When Lou agreed to help me start it in 2010, he was committing to blogging nearly every day for more than 8 years. Think about how many other blogs and bloggers have come and gone in that time. I’d like to think Lou continued to blog all these years, even in sickness, because he enjoyed it or found it satisfying, but I also know that he did it because he was a man of his word who honored his commitments. Related to that, Lou was a man of great integrity as evidenced by his decision to resign from an editorial board in protest over the mistreatment of a colleague.
For all these reasons (and more), many years ago I nominated Lou for the Blackwell Award which is given to the legal writing prof who makes an outstanding contribution to the discipline. By the time I’d nominated Lou for the award, I’d known him for more than ten years. During that time, I’d heard some colleagues pronounce his last name “sear-ah-coh,” though I had always pronounced it “sur-ree-coh,” like the famous Watergate judge. Since Lou never corrected me, I assumed I had it right. But during the Blackwell speech I gave on Lou’s behalf at AALS that year, I asked Lou from across the room “have I been pronouncing your name wrong all these years?” Lou sheepishly nodded “yes.” I later realized that Lou would rather endure the mangling of his last name than possibly embarrass someone by correcting them. In other words, another example of Lou putting the feelings of others ahead of his own.
When my mother passed away about a year or two after that, I was about to take over as EIC of J. Legal Writing, a job that Lou had also previously done. Lou was the first person I called for advice because I was thinking about quitting. Lou counselled me not to make any hasty decisions about important life choices like jobs, relationships, etc. following a traumatic event like the death of a parent. Instead, he told me to wait at least a year to put some distance between my mother’s death and any decision about the EIC job. During our last phone call several weeks ago, I reminded Lou of that conversation – which he remembered well – and how I’d been able to pay it forward to others in the intervening years. Yet another example of Lou’s continued service. And during our last phone call, I got emotional when Lou said he likely had less than a year due to the cancer diagnosis. Lou reassured me that he’d made peace with his situation and in so doing was clearly trying to protect my feelings a bit too.
Tom Brokaw called the generation that fought in World War II the “Greatest Generation” because of their dedication to service above self, being committed to a cause larger than oneself and their collective strength of character. Lou was born too late to be part of the “Greatest Generation” in terms of demographics. But in terms of ethos and the way he lived his life, that’s exactly who he was and why we won’t see the likes of Lou Sirico again.
Rest in peace.
Don’t Mock A Legal Argument If You’re Completely Wrong, by Joe Patrice, Above the Law Blog
Mark Twain said, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” It is always awkward when the court benchslaps your legal argument.
There are useful lessons here for all of us, not just State Farm. First, when your client is relying on the terms of a contract, note its details before you say something you will wish you hadn’t. Second, be careful with hyperbole and sarcasm when writing a brief for an appellate court.
I agree with Mr. Patrice. The opening paragraph of the Sixth Circuit Court’s opinion is worth repeating. -CCE
There are good reasons not to call an opponent’s argument ‘ridiculous,’ which is what State Farm calls Barbara Bennett’s principal argument here. The reasons include civility; the near-certainty that overstatement will only push the reader away (especially when, as here, the hyperbole begins on page one of the brief); and that, even where the record supports an extreme modifier, ‘the better practice is usually to lay out the facts and let the court reach its own conclusions.’ But here the biggest reason is more simple: the argument that State Farm derides as ridiculous is instead correct.
Avoid Hyperbole, by Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm, Persuasive Litigator™
What is hyperbole anyway? Here’s a quick example. How would you respond as opposing counsel to a statement that there are “countless obvious examples” of the opposing party’s errors? Perhaps, something like, “Oh really?” “Countless and obvious, you say? How interesting that you did not name anything specific. We did what any reasonable company would do in a similar situation.” And, then you must explain what you meant all over again – if you get the opportunity.
Simply put, hyperbole is deliberate exaggeration. Although often misguidedly used for emphasis, rhetoric, or even sarcasm, you invite an attack to prove your statement. At best, you may have illustrated that the other side’s behavior is outlandish. At worst, you have lost credibility with the court because you are unable to back up your statement with hard facts. Never imply a promise that you cannot deliver.
This is a good time to remember that your writing is more persuasive when you show, don’t tell. If the opposing party has behaved beyond the pale, telling the court or the jury what happened (who did what to whom and why) will be more persuasive than rhetorical outrage.
You will find in legal blogs on the use of hyperbole. This post is one of my favorites. As always, there is the bonus of hyperlinks to posts on similar subjects at the bottom of the page. -CCE
How I Would Go About Redrafting Your Templates, by Ken Adams, Adams On Contract Drafting Blog
Ken Adams has made a “standing offer.” If you send him one of your contract templates, he will take the time to edit it.
Wow. Even if you are the best contract writer in the world, why wouldn’t you take Mr. Adams’ up on such a generous offer? Opportunities such as this do not come along every day. Thank you, Mr. Adams! -CCE
Take That, AP Style! Court of Law Rules The Oxford Comma Necessary, by Kelly Gurnett, The Write Life (republished here with permission)
Which of these two sentences look right to you?
I need a pen, my notes, and a legal pad.
I need a pen, my notes and a legal pad.
The first sentence includes the Oxford comma, sometimes called the “serial comma.” If you do not already use it, you may ask why bother? It is about clarity versus ambiguity. In this case, the Oxford comma made all the difference.
“In this class action lawsuit, drivers for Oakhurst Dairy sued the company over its failure to grant them overtime pay. According to Maine law, workers are entitled to 1.5 times their normal pay for any hours worked over 40 per week. However, there are exemptions to this rule. Specifically, companies don’t need to pay overtime for the following activities:
The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:
Meat and fish product; and
Note the end of the opening line, where there is no comma before the ’or.’”
The employer argued the employees did not qualify for overtime because “packing for shipment” and “distribution” were two different things. The employees argued that, without the comma before the “or,” they should be paid for both. The court agreed with the employees. The language determining overtime pay was ambiguous because of the missing comma.
“Without that comma, as the judge maintained, this distinction was not clearcut:
Specifically, if that exemption used a serial comma to mark off the last of the activities that it lists, then the exemption would clearly encompass an activity that the drivers perform. And, in that event, the drivers would plainly fall within the exemption and thus outside the overtime law’s protection. But, as it happens, there is no serial comma to be found in the exemption’s list of activities, thus leading to this dispute over whether the drivers fall within the exemption from the overtime law or not.”
How much did this missing comma cost the employer? Approximately $10 million. Proper punctuation matters, especially in legal writing.
Feeling the need for a punctuation refresher? Try this website: http://www.thepunctuationguide.com/comma.html
Give A Clue (A Linguist Whodunit), by Mark Cooney, 97 Mich. B. J. 60-62 (June 2017)
“This piece first appeared in Professor Cooney’s book, Sketches on Legal Style, published by Carolina Academic Press.”
In this tongue-in-cheek parody of Hasbro’s classic board game, Clue©, Professor Cooney delightfully explains the importance of using the active voice rather than the passive.
The basic tenet of good legal writing is to put the subject and verb together, place modifiers next to what they modify, and use the active voice. The passive voice causes confusion rather than clarity because it fails to communicate the writer’s intention. There is only one valid use of the passive voice – when the actor is unknown or unimportant.
Free at Last from Obscurity: Achieving Clarity, by Hon. Gerald Lebovits, 97 Mich. B. J. 6, 38 (May 2017)
I love the Plain Language Committee of the Michigan Bar Association. Every one of its articles in the Michigan Bar Journal is a legal writing gem. In this article, Judge Lebovits explains why this is your goal and how to do it:
[T]he hallmark of good legal writing is that an intelligent layperson will understand it on the first read.
Six Benchslaps to Brighten Your Day, by Lisa Needham, Lawyerist.com
As Ms. Needham describes it, “[f]or the unfamiliar, benchslap originally referred to one judge snarking at another, but now refers to any time a member of the bench crushes an attorney with wit, rage, or both.” It is also an excellent example of what not to do. -CCE
Legal Writing Style, by Antonio Gidi (West 2018), at SSRN.
Antonio Gidi, law professor at Syracuse University College of Law, recently updated Weihofen’s Legal Writing Style. Professor Gidi is a strong proponent of concise and persuasive legal writing. A preview of the book is available at the SSRN link above; just click on “Download This Paper.” Plenty for the novice legal writer and good tips for those looking to sharpen their legal writing skills. -CCE
Are You Justified?, from Legible, A blog from Legalwriting.net by Wayne Schiess
Do you prefer full or left justification? In the legal writing community, this is a serious debate. It ranks up there with whether citations belong in the text or in a footnote, but not quite as serious as whether you follow the rule of one or two spaces after a period.
The point is whether your choice makes your writing easier to read and understand, which is, after all, the legal writing holy grail. -CCE
Comparing Methods of Statutory Interpretation Used By The Lower Federal Courts and The Supreme Court, by Joe Hodnicki, Law Librarian Blog
Joe Hodnicki calls this article “recommended,” which means we just found a honey pot for those who research federal case law and statutory interpretation. -CCE
“Here’s the abstract for Aaron-Andrew P. Bruhl’s very interesting Statutory Interpretation and the Rest of the Iceberg: Divergences between the Lower Federal Courts and the Supreme Court, Duke Law Journal, Forthcoming:
‘This Article examines the methods of statutory interpretation used by the lower federal courts, especially the federal district courts, and compares those methods to the practices of the U.S. Supreme Court. This novel research reveals both similarities across courts and some striking differences. The research shows that some interpretive tools are highly overrepresented in the Supreme Court’s decisions while other tools are much more prevalent in the lower courts. Another finding, based on a study of forty years of cases, is that all federal courts have shifted toward more textualist tools in recent decades but that the shift was less pronounced as one moves down the judicial hierarchy.
The divergence between the interpretive practices of different federal courts has implications for both descriptive and normative accounts of statutory interpretation.’ . . .” Continue reading
SCOTUS Notes transcribes notes written by Supreme Court justices during conference meetings, posted by Joe Hodnicki, Law Librarian Blog (with hat tip to BeSpacific Blog)
We can read the U.S. Supreme Court justices’ handwritten notes during their deliberations? What will this mean for legal analysis and where do I sign up? -CCE
SCOTUS Notes is the newest crowdsourcing project under the Zooniverse platform originated at the University of Minnesota. ‘In this project, members of the public transcribe handwritten notes from U.S. Supreme Court justices. Unlike members of Congress, justices cast their votes in complete privacy during weekly conference meetings. Only justices are allowed in the Chief Justice’s conference room when they discuss, deliberate, and make initial decisions on cases that focus on some of the nation’s most pressing legal issues. The only record of what has been said, and by whom, is provided by the handwritten personal notes the justices themselves take during conference. These crucial documents detail the discussions and debates that took place in thousands of cases spanning multiple decades.’
We are the Products of Editing, Douglas E. Abrams, Precedent, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 12-14, Spring 2008; University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008-18.
Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1138300
How many of us take the time to proof and edit what we write? I suspect that most, if not all, good legal writers do it. No, I’m not talking about simply running a review of your grammar, style, and punctuation in Microsoft Word. I mean really reading, proofing, and editing what you write.
When you write for the court, what is your goal? To be understood? Of course. To persuade? Absolutely. To do that, you must keep your reader’s attention. Long sentences that take up an entire paragraph, legalese, and unnecessary words are boring – period. Why would anyone want to read a quote takes up an entire page?
Persuasive legal writing is an art. It takes work, and that means editing and polishing until your writing is clear, concise, and logically flows from one point to the next. Your goal, as I’ve mentioned before, is that, by the time your judge finishes reading your brief or other document, that judge is subconsciously nodding in agreement.
As someone who has seen a state supreme court judge literally throw a party’s brief across the room because it was so badly written, I promise that judges will not waste time reading legal gibberish. If a judge finds one side‘s brief difficult to read, how much frustration does it take to put it down and pick up the other side’s well-written brief to get the facts of the case and legal argument? Folks, it doesn’t take much.
Don’t take my word for it. Mr. Abrams’ article does an excellent job. -CCE
How To Start A Sentence: Consider All Your Alternatives, And Sprinkle In Some Conjunctions, Too, by Bryan A. Garner, Bryan Garner on Words, ABA Journal
Bryan Garner is one of the recognized experts on legal writing. This post isn’t about just how to start a sentence. It shows you why the last sentence in a paragraph is the most important, and how to use the first sentence to set it up.
Check out the second paragraph of the post. Look at the example of how to show, not tell. Don’t worry about whether you understand his use of words, such as “adverbial elements.” Pay attention to his examples. He will show you what works, and what doesn’t.
Were you taught, as I was, never to use a conjunction to start a sentence? In the latter part of this post, Mr. Garner illustrates how using conjunctions to start sentences is an excellent writing tool. And I agree with him. -CCE
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Style Guide, by Louis J. Sirico, Jr., Legal Skills Prof Blog
When I was starting out in my paralegal career, I created cheat sheets for filing motions and briefs in state and federal district courts. The rules, especially for federal circuit court briefs, are complex and require checking multiple sections, local rules, e-filing rules, and your judge’s personal court rules (if any exist). I found these cheat sheets were the most popular handouts at my legal writing courses and paralegal seminars, and included them in the Appendix of Practical Legal Writing for Legal Assistants.
Regardless of where you are in your paralegal career, I recommend creating a similar cheat sheet for yourself. Updating your cheat sheet when the rules change force you to examine every addition or revision. Keeping your cheat sheet current will reinforce the rules in your mind, and will help you stay on top of your game.
When it came to analyzing rules for the U.S. Supreme Court, I passed. I left it to the professionals who format and print these briefs for a living. Now, at last, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Style Guide is available for all. -CCE
Judges Speak Out Behind Closed Doors: How Your Briefs Might Bug Them, and How You Can Make Them Smile Instead, by Ross Guberman, Legal Writing Pro (with hat tip to William P. Statsky)
Ross Guberman is one of my favorite legal writing experts. Mr. Guberman conducted an anonymous and broad survey of judges’ likes and dislikes on legal writing. If you are serious about winning, then you care whether your judge not only reads and understands what you write, but also likes it. -CCE
Wrongful Death Case Filed for Late Spouse Not Null and Void as Unauthorized Practice, by Mike Frisch, Legal Profession Prof (with hat tip to William P. Statsky)
A man’s wife dies in a hospital due to complications after surgery. He sues the hospital and other defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit. You can represent yourself in court without a lawyer, but can you represent someone else without a lawyer? No, you can’t. It’s called the unauthorized practice of law. So, how did he do it? -CCE
Florida Judge Tosses Improperly Spaced Court Filing, by George Khoury, Esq., Strategist, The Findlaw Law Firm Business Blog (with hat tip to William P. Statsky)
Mr. Khoury says that “[h]ell hath no fury like a Florida judge who receives an improperly formatted brief.” You better believe it. Why on earth would you ignore the format requirements in your court’s local rules? Folks, this just isn’t that hard.
The author of this motion for summary judgment thought the court would either ignore or not notice that the motion and supporting brief were spaced 1-1/2 lines rather than double-spaced. And who’s going to notice longer-than-usual footnotes? Really? Any judge or clerk whose job it is to read, read, and then read some more every dad-gum day.
Seriously, do you want to plow through heavy footnotes? Hands? Didn’t think so. Neither does your judge. Why risk alienating the person you are trying to convince? The stakes are too high to cling to a style of writing that sets you up to lose before anyone reads your motion or brief.
There are other, and much more effective ways, to trim a motion and brief. Editing is the key.
A quick search of this blog will give you tons of editing tips. I promise that you can get your point across with fewer words. It is not the number of words you use that count; it is what words you choose and how you say it. -CCE
The Latest Update to Rostron’s and Levit’s Annual Guide to Law Review Submissions, by James B. Levy, Legal Skills Blog
Thinking about submitting an article to a law review or journal? If so, you need to read this. It will give you everything you need to know about which publication is accepting submissions, required procedures and formats, and more. -CCE
Why Does Comey Get an “A” in Legal Writing for His Written Testimony? by Megan E. Boyd, Lady (Legal) Writer Blog
Guest post writer, Kirsten Davis, J.D., Ph.D., and Megan Boyd, the author of the Lady (Legal) Writer Blog, know great legal writing when they see it. Last Thursday, when appearing before the Intelligence Committee, Idaho Senator James Risch described former FBI Director James Comey’s written testimony as “clear,” “concise,” and “as good as it gets.” You don’t hear that every day. So, what made Comey’s writing deserve such high praise? Enjoy this lesson on excellent legal writing. -CCE
How Poorly Drafted Pleadings and Bad Writing Can Hurt Your Client and You, Online Writing Center, Writing Tools, PennState Law
There are some basic rules of legal writing that are fatal to ignore. This post illustrates some of the most common errors that cost the author dearly. When the court goes to the trouble to benchslap the lawyer’s writing, take the court’s criticism to heart and avoid making the same writing mistakes.
This post also has a bonus. Look at the bar on the left to find legal writing exercises and answers. -CCE
Although this article is about the basics of legal writing, even seasoned legal writers will find it useful and instructive. Regardless of how well we think we write, we can always improve.
This article puts an emphasis on focusing on the purpose of your document, organizing your thoughts, considering your reader, researching, and editing. In short, all the basics you need to write well. -CCE