Steed Style Guide, pt. 1

Complaints about The Bluebook have become commonplace. I have many. This, combined with the new availability of The Supreme Court’s Style Guide and The Solicitor General’s Style Guide—and with the longtime presence of Garner’s The Redbook, and with the presence, in Texas, of The Greenbook—has led me to become eclectic in my style choices, when it comes to brief writing. (I also have traces of MLA style still in me, from my days in academia.) Thus, over the years I haven’t been very consistent. I mean, I’m always consistent within a brief, to be sure—that’s imperative. But I haven’t been very consistent from brief to brief (or, more precisely, from case to case). Instead, I’ve been trying things out, here and there, to see how I like this or that.

Now, though, I think I’ve settled into some fairly consistent stylistic preferences that I’m going to go ahead and codify (here, on this blog) in my own personal style guide—with the caveat, of course, that I might change my mind at any moment.

So, without further ado, here is the first installment of the Steed Style Guide:

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Revisions as Decisions

TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_VectorGraphicA good way to teach (and to learn) good writing is by demonstration. So, in an attempt to demonstrate how to improve the first two paragraphs of a motion, I’m just going to show you what the two paragraphs looked like before and after the revision.

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Recent & Upcoming Activities

A busy calendar.The last couple months have been busy. In addition to the holidays, I argued at the Fifth Circuit; published two articles at The Huffington Post (here and here); produced a podcast episode on appellate practice for the ABA’s Sound Advice series; gave a presentation to the Dallas Bar Association (about the post-election Supreme Court and Trump’s list of possible nominees); participated in a panel discussion about e-briefs and legal writing at the annual meeting of the Council of Chief Judges of State Courts of Appeal (in North Carolina); was cited on SCOTUSblog and the Appellate Advocacy Blog (both here and here); and was quoted by Bloomberg (herehere, here, and here), CNN, and the Winnipeg Free Press.

This month I’ve got an article forthcoming in Texas Lawbook (about the Garland fiasco and Trump’s possible SCOTUS nominees); I’ll be in Austin on January 20, leading a workshop on legal writing at Lawyer Forward; and I’ll be in Utah January 21-24.

Using Contractions: It’s Not Wrong

contractionI’ve been wanting to write this post for some time. Inherited wisdom says you can’t use contractions in legal writing because it’s too informal. Poppycock. There’s nothing wrong with using contractions. Like anything else (e.g., em dashes, semicolons, commas, capitalization, boldface for emphasis), you shouldn’t over-use them. But contractions are a perfectly acceptable tool to include in your legal writing toolbox. Don’t believe me? Let’s consult the authorities.

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Sentence Diagramming

Judge Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit is in the news lately as a short-lister for the Supreme Court vacancy. (See here and here, and my previous post here.) Gorsuch would be a great pick and a fitting replacement for Justice Scalia because, like Scalia, Gorsuch is known for his clean, incisive, and sometimes witty or colorful writing.

Almost two years ago (2/15), Gorsuch wrote an en-banc opinion in United States v. Rentz that I saved because it provides a great example of using sentence diagramming to facilitate statutory interpretation. In other words, it’s a great example of using a visual image to advance an argument.

Rentz is about criminal sentencing and interpreting section 924(c). Here’s a screenshot from the opinion:

gorsuch

 

I’ve done this in a case involving contract interpretation, and it can be very effective—especially when dealing with a complicated statutory or contract provision that contains lists or has lots of subordinate clauses. It’s also the sort of thing I could see Scalia doing. (Seriously, he probably did it numerous times over the 30 years he sat on the Court, and I’m just not remembering those opinions.)

Anyway, while everyone’s talking about the SCOTUS vacancy and Gorsuch as a short-lister, I thought I’d throw this out there as something to remember in your brief writing. And the whole opinion is worth reading for examples of good writing.

Podcast – Appellate Dream Team

If you’re a member of the ABA and have access to its website content, you can download and listen to a podcast I recorded recently, about putting together an “Appellate Dream Team.” The podcast is based on the blog post I wrote back in June. Enjoy!

Motion to End Anarchy

2000px-circle-a_red-svgThis is a first (for me, anyway). A pro se litigant in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York has filed a “Motion to End Anarchy.” Here’s ¶ 2:

The election rigging by Debbie Wasserman Schultz to cheat the voters for
Bernie Sanders is dwarfed only by the police murders of innocent black victims
filmed for evidence is the definition of anarchy by a lawless society. The entire
media conspiracy never mentions disqualification of Hillary for voter fraud even
when Trump claims there will be rigging again. The Constitution is glorified
hypocrisy. The lenders are in court with their hands out to collect bogus loans
made while losses are provided for embezzlement and legal fees are donated to
lawyers by the court from the stockholders while one of two psychopaths are
anointed President. Evidence and law are ignored by the courts.

Fall Speaking Schedule – Updated

September will be busy. I’ll be talking about the Supreme Court’s 2015 & 2016 terms on the following dates, in the following places:

  • Sept 8 @ Texas A&M Law School (Fort Worth)
  • Sept 16 @ Baylor Law School (Waco) & for the Waco-McClennon Bar Association (separately)
  • Sept 22 @ BNM for the DFW Chapter of ACS (RSVP here)
  • Sept 23 @ Belo Mansion (Dallas) for the Dallas Bar Association
  • Sept 26 @ University of Texas School of Law (Austin)

I’ll also be at St. Mary’s Law School (San Antonio) in November (date TBD).

On the topics of legal writing & appellate practice, I’ll be giving a joint presentation (w/ Scott Stolley) about preparing jury charges, at the upcoming Dallas Bench/Bar Conference, Sept 29-Oct 1. And in November I’ll be participating in a panel discussion about reading and writing e-briefs, at the Annual Meeting of the Council of Chief Judges of State Courts of Appeal, in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Why Citations Belong in the Body, Made Simple

This is the law.(FN1) It has been the law since 1992 and is still the law.(FN2) And other courts of appeals agree this is the law.(FN3)

  1. According to a court decision from another jurisdiction.
  2. According to a case from 2001.
  3. In two unpublished decisions from only one other court.

OR

This is the law.(FN1) It has been the law since 1992 and is still the law.(FN2) And other courts of appeals agree this is the law.(FN3)

  1. According to this court.
  2. According to a case decided just two months ago.
  3. In, e.g., three published decisions from three different courts.

Why make your reader hunt for what is often the most important and persuasive part of your argument?

The Appellate Dream Team

Not everyone is good at everything. I’m not, anyway. So I’ve been thinking lately about the various skill sets that a good, full-service appellate group should have. And I think I’ve come up with the five key components of the appellate “Dream Team.” Keep reading, and let me know if I’ve forgotten something.

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