lawyers who write appeals

Notes from a Luncheon at the Appellate Lawyers Association

The Appellate Lawyers Association provides first rate events for lawyers who write appeals (as I do).  On May 31, 2012, the ALA held a Seventh Circuit Roundtable, a lunch at the Union League Club that included a panel discussion with four Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judges.  Individual Judges were interspersed among the tables to permit informal discussion of procedures and comments from the practicing lawyers about the workings of the Clerk’s office and related topics.

Much of the advice was familiar and useful both to lawyers and to anyone else asked to make a persuasive presentation: be accurate in your citation of authority and of the facts; avoid verbosity; concentrate on your strongest issues rather than using a shotgun approach that discusses every conceivable matter; use pictures where you can, especially with respect to technical matters; put your issues in context; and remember that Judges are not experts in technical fields. Judge Rovner humorously summed up the advice to be concise with this analogy to her celebration of the Jewish Holidays: “they tried to kill us; they failed; let’s eat.”  Which reminds me of the grace we said at Boy Scout Camp: “Good drink, good meat, Good Lord, let’s eat.”

Speaking of the Boy Scouts and Judge Rovner, in the early 1990’s I participated in a trial over which she presided when she was a trial judge in which an atheist sued the Boy Scouts seeking to be admitted to membership over their objection.  One witness for our opponent was a 14 year old boy who said he was an agnostic and thought that he could nevertheless be a good Boy Scout.  He was articulate.  Perfect pitch.  Excellent diction.  No stutters.  Our cross-examination got nowhere.  At the end, Judge Rovner leaned over and asked the boy what he wanted to be when he grew up.  “An actor,” he said. Laughter all around.

We could have cross-examined him until hell froze over and we never would have gotten as helpful an answer.

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