Here is the third and final installment by guest blogger Ross Guberman, the president of Legal Writing Pro and author of Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation’s Top Advocates. To recap, in Part 1 Ross offered advice on how ambitious attorneys can improve their writing and what the ObamaCare briefs teach us about persuasive brief-writing. In Part 2, Ross gave readers a sneak preview of his new book on how to write like the world's top judges. And now, without further ado, here is Part 3:
Of the nearly 8,000 cert. petitions considered by the Supreme Court during its last full term, it granted review in only 90 of them. How can readers make their cert. petitions stand out from all of the other nonfrivolous petitions seeking the Court’s discretionary review?
When I’ve spoken off-the-record to Supreme Court clerks about this issue, they give useful but unsurprising advice: Either identify a clear circuit split up front, or stress that the United States or one of the states lost the case below. Otherwise, say the clerks, your best hope is a national-security spin!
It’s rumored that Justice Brennan would frequently decide whether a case was “certworthy” simply by looking at the cert. petition’s question presented. Justice Scalia once remarked that a cert. petition’s statement of the issue serves as the petition’s "core,” adding, "[t]he rest is just background music." Do you have any advice for readers on how to draft compelling issue statements?
Compelling issue statements have two main features.
The first is chronological: “When A did B and then claimed C, did A violate D?”
The second is rhetorical. Can you draft a question presented that’s so clear, and yet so neutral in feel, that anyone with common sense would answer it the way you want?
The Solicitor General’s Office does a consistently good job with issue statements and questions presented.
While most lawyers and firms have come to appreciate the value of writing a law blog in recent years, some remain skeptical for one reason or another. Should lawyers take the time to write a blog? If so, what are some of the benefits? Are there any drawbacks?
I run a free newsletter, though not a classic blog, and I find it helpful to be “forced” to get my thoughts down in permanent form. I also read many legal blogs, or BLAWGS, and learn a lot from them.
The main point of a blog is brand differentiation. In other words, you need to talk about things that other lawyers don’t, or at least have an innovative take on things that every lawyer in your practice knows about.
Too many blogs are strictly informational: “The Federal Circuit recently decided a case of patent infringement, yada yada yada.”
The other challenge: when you’re an expert, how do you deal with commenters who buck you? You want to keep your voice of authority, but you also want to appreciate that people take the time to interact with your blog. Many lawyers can seem strident or dismissive on their blogs, and still others let their commenters dominate.
It’s not easy!
To settle the "Oxford comma" debate once and for all, which of the following two sentences contains proper punctuation? (A) In a recent interview, Charlie Sheen talked about his relationship with his ex-wives, Oprah Winfrey and Mel Gibson. (B) In a recent interview, Charlie Sheen talked about his relationship with his ex-wives, Oprah Winfrey, and Mel Gibson.
Your example suggests that you want me to choose option (B)! The “right” answer, according to major usage manuals and even case law, is option (B) indeed. In other words: “chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry” and not “chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.” As I’ve noted, the Supreme Court also uses serial commas.
But to be honest, many fastidious lawyers intentionally omit the serial comma, as do journalists who follow the AP Stylebook. You will see few serial commas, for example, in commercial contracts in this country, a trend that follows legal practice in the UK. And few series have the inherent ambiguities that your Charlie Sheen example does.
Put another way, if missing serial commas were Charlie Sheen’s biggest problem in life right now, he’d be in great shape!