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December 2007
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February 2008

A public thank-you and another plug for the DRI Appellate Seminar

Last month I plugged the DRI Appellate Advocacy Seminar, to be held February 28-29 in Orlando. Since then, the calendar has changed from 2007 to 2008, which means that some of you have a new CLE budget to work with. So if you refrained from registering in 2007 because your CLE budget was tapped out, now is your chance to spend 2008 dollars on a first-rate seminar.

Speaking of plugging the DRI seminar, I want to publicly thank some folks who have helped spread the word on line:

Update 1/28/08: Two more people to thank:

A new sidebar feature

I’ve added an appellate blogroll to this blog’s sidebar, for two reasons. First, many appellate blogs have blogrolled The (New) Legal Writer, so I wanted a means of returning the favor. Second, many readers of this blog are appellate lawyers, and I thought they would appreciate this feature.

You can never be too careful.

The past several days, I’ve been working on a U.S. Fifth Circuit brief. It’s a moderately sized brief: 45 pages of substance (double-spaced, 14-point typeface), about 9,650 words. Today was the filing deadline. I had read, re-read, and re-re-read this brief, so I thought it was in pretty good shape. But I decided yesterday evening to give it one more good proofreading. To prevent myself from skimming, I used a big fat ruler to make sure I read no more than one line at a time. What I found was embarrassing: a total of 71 things that needed to be fixed. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Inconsistent form in record citations: 7
  • Grammar errors: 1
  • Verbiage: 8
  • Missing record citations: 25
  • Record-citation errors: 9
  • Miscellaneous things needing to be fixed: 21

So I ironed out the glitches and, this morning, got the thing to photocopying. I got back a good-looking pile of briefs ready to be filed, and I did something I always do: I checked each copy individually, page by page. In years past, this ritual has caught some embarrassing errors before they left the office: things like missing pages and pages copied upside down. Today the photocopy people did an outstanding job. Copy after copy looked great. That is, until I got to the third-to-last copy — which was missing the back cover. That copy did not leave the office. (I should say that the photocopy folks’ batting average is way better than mine. I made 71 mistakes; they made only one.)

The photocopy glitch was no big deal, because I always order a couple of extra copies just in case. To file and serve this brief, I needed exactly 13 copies. I ordered 15. So after pulling the bad one out of the batch, I still had one copy to spare.

The Fifth Circuit also requires filing and service of an electronic copy of the brief, either on CD or floppy disk. I found out that our photocopy department can make attractive CD labels to stick on a CD. For filing and serving, I needed 4 CDs with pretty labels. I ordered 5. This morning, when I copied the brief to the CDs, I found that one of the CDs was bad. No problem; I tossed that one in the trash and still had enough for filing and serving.

The lessons I learned today:

  • If you’ve read and re-read that brief so many times that you’re sick of it, it probably needs one more painstaking proofreading before it’s ready to file.
  • Always order one or two more copies than you think you’ll need, so that if something goes wrong, you’ll still have enough copies.

Buy low, sell high, and write well.

In this paper, Mark Sellers tells a roomful of Harvard MBA students the seven traits of outstanding investors. Number six is to engage both sides of the brain. A left-brained person, Sellers points out, can “do things such as judging a management team from subtle cues they give off,” and can “step back and take a big picture view of certain situations rather than analyzing them to death.”

So how does a left-brained number-cruncher develop the right side of the brain?

[M]ost important, I believe you need to be a good writer. Look at Buffett; he’’s one of the best writers ever in the business world. It’’s not a coincidence that he’’s also one of the best investors of all time. If you can’’t write clearly, it is my opinion that you don’’t think very clearly. And if you don’’t think clearly, you’’re in trouble. There are a lot of people who have genius IQs who can’’t think clearly, though they can figure out bond or option pricing in their heads.

Hat tip trail: Greg Mankiw, via Peter Friedman.

Well, that narrows it down.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from TypePad telling me that The (New) Legal Writer will be featured on TypePad’s home page. When will this happen? According to the e-mail:

Your featured blog will be seen by all who visit our homepage on or about the early/mid/latter part of February.

Ah, a teaching moment. Let’s do some quick work on that sentence.

Your featured blog will be seen by all who visit our homepage on or about the early/mid/latter part of sometime in February.

Black’s Law Dictionary Digital

BlddigitalHere’s an interesting product available on a digital version of Black’s Law Dictionary. Besides providing easy desktop access to BLD, it integrates with both Corel WordPerfect and Microsoft Word, including incorporation of the correct spellings of legal terms into the WordPerfect and Word spell-checkers. So if you’re document contains a word like usufruct, the spell-checker won’t go, “Huh?”, but instead will (if necessary) prompt you with the correct spelling.

A suggested New Year’s resolution

A little over a year ago, Wayne Schiess posted an essay against placing too much importance on the form of citations: something Wayne referred to as “the tyranny of the inconsequential.” Wayne’s essay is the inspiration for my own New Year’s resolution: to escape the tyranny of the trivial.

Sometimes in our pursuit of excellence, we lose perspective. I’ve seen good legal writers, people who otherwise never spoke a cross word to one another, get mad at each other over trivialities like these:

  • right-hand margins (justified or ragged).
  • placement of citations (footnotes versus in text).
  • spacing at the end of a sentence (one space or two).

My resolution is to keep things like these in perspective. Make no mistake: pursuit of excellence means sweating the details. But let’s remember that good writers can disagree about things like these. More importantly, let’s remember that things like these are relatively unimportant compared to simplicity, conciseness, logic, and writing so as to be understood on the first reading.