That briefs filed with the Connecticut Supreme Court are available online is not breaking news. As a result of a cooperative arrangement between the Judicial Branch and the Appellate Advocacy Committee, beginning with the 2008 Term Supreme Court briefs are available online at a site named Supreme Court Briefs Online. The title of the site itself offers a valuable lesson to lawyers who write to persuade: there are no wasted words; every word counts (H/T Strunk & White, The Elements of Style.)
The site contains a clear explanation of how easy it is to find Supreme Court briefs by using the search The description is fine as far as it goes. But one search option, which works according to my recent tests, is to search by author. So, for example, if one wanted to find a brief written or co-written by one of the most well known appellate advocates in Connecticut, all one need do is type in his or her last name into the search bar and voila! Why does this matter? Well, there is always room to improve one’s advocacy oral and written. Thanks to the Appelate Advocacy’s Committee and the Judicial Department, a first rate resource for lawyers who want to learn and to improve is available online for free. Try it out. Enjoy. By the way, the briefs I’m especially looking forward to reading – not yet available – are in the case of Simms v. Seaman. For earlier, not particularly enlightening posts about Simms v. Seaman, click here and here.
The work of the Appellate Advocacy Committee in makng Supreme Court briefs available online is another example of lawyers contributing their time and expertise on a pro bono basis to better the profession. All lawyers should contribute to the profession in some way. No lawyers should take for granted the work that others do to. If you’re not a member of CBA and you are wondering what you can do to help the profession, one simple yet meaningful step would be to join the CBA. For more information about joining click here
Good writing is central to good lawyering. One way to improve one’s writing is to read good writing of all kinds. In my view, too much of legal writing is hyperbolic, sarcastic and argumentative. There is room for using grace and wit t to capture the reader’s attention. An example is Christopher Buckley’s piece “Remembering (but not channeling) WFB”in the Yale Alumni Magazine Jan/Feb 2012. The occasion was Yale’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of God and Man at Yale. Buckley was not making an argument. His peice is not legal writing. But, using grace and wit, Buckley draws the reader in, keeps the reader’s interest and leaves the reader feeling better off for having read his piece. How often does legal writing have such an effect on Judges? My guess is not often. Judges of course have an even greater obligation to write well because (a) when Judges write they excercise power, (b) their opinions are part of the public record and (c) the quality of judical writing, regardless of the judge’s conclusion, contribute to the impression readers, be they lawyers, litigants, the press, academics or members of the public, have of the judicial process. Those impressoins matter because the foundation of the legal system in this country is consent. Respect fosters consent. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider opportunities to use wit and grace in legal writing.
Plain language is key to good lawyering and good government. From the “About” tab on the Center for Plain Language website:
The Center for Plain Language wants government and business documents to be clear and understandable.
We support those who use plain language, train those who should use plain language, and urge people to demand plain language in all the documents they receive, read, and use.
Those interested improving their own writing or that of the people who represent their firms the Center for Plain Language website can be a resource. You can check it out here.
Click here for Justice Souter’s Harvard 2010 Commencement Address, which is worth reading for many reasons, one of which is to provide a point of comparison to the empty and misleading phrases such as “strict construction” and “original intent” and “activist judges” that are likely to be employed by politicians campaigning for points with the base during the Kagan confirmation hearings.
There are vigorous debates about whether the Constitution is a living document. But there is no debate about whether English is a living language. New words grow into general usage while the the meanings of old words evolve. Because language must be stable in order to be functional changes in language are almost always gradual. But on occasion an event is so stunning, so utterly unbelievable, such a total mind-bender and so widely publicized as to alter the meaning of the word that comes to mind when one tries to understand what one has just seen and heard. The meaning of “clueless” was recently changed to include a degree of unfathomability that rivals the unfathomable nature of black holes and quarks. To see the meaning of “clueless” be changed in the space of about five minutes click here.