Basic oral arguments

Any treatment of oral arguments as brief as this one it necessarily too brief. As an introduction for 1Ls, however, this page may suffice. There are many resources to help, including chapter 14 in Joan M. Rocklin et al., An Advocate Persuades (2016). Many of the ideas on this page are adapted from Bradley G. Clary, Primer on the Analysis and Presentation of Legal Argument (1992) and Alan L. Dworsky, The Little Book on Oral Argument (1991). Most advocates win their oral arguments with their preparation, so this post begins with preparation. Preparation Preparation for oral argument comes in two Read More …

Shaking hands

Shaking hands is a traditional form of greeting in the West. Some folks would have you believe that they can tell a lot about you by your handshake, but anyone who judges others by holding and shaking their hands for less than two seconds is probably overinterpreting their evidence. Nevertheless, this is one of those things that folks may use as a basis for assessing you in a brief interaction. There were previously some rules of etiquette about when and how to shake hands. For example, as a boy in the 1970s, I was taught not to extend my hand Read More …

Introductions & networking

You need to know how to introduce yourself, in general and in networking contexts. There is a lot of advice out there about how to do it (example). The fact is, you will develop your own style over time, if you do not have one already. But many younger folks have not been required to introduce themselves in a business context, and they need some help to get started. This post provides a starting point and touches on how to use introductions in networking contexts. Here’s my advice: Keep introductions brief. I don’t usually give my full name, just my Read More …

Italics vs. underlining

Italics and underlining have two roles in legal writing: indicating emphasis and formatting legal citations. You should avoid using underlining in my classes, using italics instead. For legal citations, the Bluebook advises that you should use either italics or underlining, but not both, for formatting citations. The examples it gives use underlining, because it is clearer for illustrations, as readers might have trouble, for example, determining whether a period is italicized, but it’s easy to see whether it is underlined. [continue]

The importance of mechanics

The role of correct grammar, punctuation, and citations—what I generally refer to as writing “mechanics”—early in your legal career is hard to overestimate. Professors, peers, and potential employers will judge you on details that may seem quirky. I offer you two principles and an anecdote that emphasizes them. Be obnoxiously detail-oriented in examining your own work (and the work of your team members, if you are in a law firm) for compliance with grammar, punctuation, and citation rules. Do not be pedantic about the legal writing of others. Years ago at the University of Minnesota, we had outside folks come Read More …

The elevator pitch

As a law student, you should always have an elevator pitch, a brief statement about who you are that you will use when introducing yourself in professional contexts. Consider this scenario: You are at the federal courthouse in Dallas. Riding down in the elevator, you are standing next to a person who turns out to be the chief judge. She notes that you look young, eager, and perhaps a little nervous and recognizes you as a law student or maybe a young attorney. She brightly introduces herself with her name. After you do the same, she says “Tell me about Read More …

“Judge” vs. “justice”

The titles that magistrates who are members of a court hold vary in surprising ways. For instance, judges in some of the smallest state courts are called “justices of the peace,” and members of the U.S. Supreme Court are called “justices of the United States.” In the federal system, no one else is called “justice.” But states have peculiar rules. For example, members of Texas’ Supreme Court are called “justices” but those on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals are called “judges.” When you read an opinion that you may later cite in your writing, you should determine whether the Read More …

Civil discourse in class

One challenge in any academic environment is providing a safe environment for students to explore and debate ideas. For lawyers, this problem is a professional one that relates both to how we speak and to what we hear. As a lawyer, you will find that you must sometimes speak respectfully to people around whom you feel either disrespect or at least discomfort. For example, if your firm has a transgender male client who prefers to be called “Mr. Jones,” then your obligation to your firm and client is to respect the client’s wish—even if you are uncomfortable with transgender folks Read More …

Forms of address

How should we address and refer to each other? Working in the law requires you to be sensitive to others in a variety of ways, and one is in terms of how you refer to and address other people. Referring to a person is talking about them to third parties. Addressing a person is speaking to that person. Certain circumstances demand formality, where you will refer to or address people with their titles and last names. Others demand informality, where you refer to or address people by their first names. Consider these scenarios: You are a new associate in a Read More …