‘Twas the Night Before Finals

By: Abigail Perdue 

Final exams can be daunting for first-year law students. Many of them have never had their grade in a course rest on a single exam or been forced to recall everything they have learned throughout the semester under tight time constraints. Although exam anxiety is natural, it can undermine performance. Thus, to interject some light and levity into the stressful exam period, I send my students the following poetic parody of Clement C. Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas:

Continue reading “‘Twas the Night Before Finals”
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Top Tips from Appellate Judges

By Tessa L. Dysart

Originally published in its complete form on the Appellate Advocacy Blog as a reflection on a presentation given at the First Annual Justice Donald L. Corbin Appellate Symposium in Little Rock, Arkansas.

My presentation was entitled “Top 10 Tips from Appellate Judges.”  As I noted at the start of the presentation, the irony of the topic was not lost on me.  Here I was, a law professor, giving tips from judges to a group of people who had heard from several distinguished appellate judges.  But, as I explained, my tips represented the views of the collective judiciary, culled from my work on the third edition of Winning on Appeal.  For the next several weeks, I am going to share a few of the tips from my presentation.

I started the presentation with the most important, most common, complaint about briefs that we received from judges–that they are just too long.  As one judge put it, “They’re called briefs, not longs.”

Why are overlong briefs so bad?  First, judges have a lot to read. The average federal appellate judge decides about 550 cases a year.  That means reading at least 1000 briefs a year.  If each brief is 50 pages long, that means that judges read at least 50,000 pages of  briefs each year.  Second, long briefs are hard to read in one sitting, which makes it hard for judges to compare arguments between briefs.  Third, judges have finite attention spans.  It is hard to remain excited about reading a long, unfocused brief.

So, how do you cut down your brief?  The judges who responded to our survey for Winning on Appeal had some great tips, two of which I will share here:

  1. “Think first, and edit ruthlessly.”  Think about what you need to prove to win, and orient your entire brief around that point (or points).  What is the “flashpoint of controversy” in the case.  If it is just about applying the law to the facts, don’t spend pages in your brief justifying the legal rule.  Just apply the established rule to your facts.
  2. Avoid needless repetition or extraneous facts.  Again, keep your brief focused on the dispute. Only include materially important facts when describing extraneous cases, and in your statement of facts, don’t go overboard on persuasive and background facts.

Writing a detailed outline before you start typing the argument is one way to keep your argument on track.

This post originally appeared on the Appellate Advocacy Blog, and the author obtained permission to repost it here.

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Serving up Seasonal Pedagogy this Thanksgiving

If you are a fan of “seasonal pedagogy” like me, then you’re always looking for creative ways to interject holiday fun into your classroom. This Thanksgiving, “feast” your eyes on the interesting, Thanksgiving-themed cases below:

The Man who Sued Thanksgiving: In Riches v. Thanksgiving, et al., a federal prisoner proceeding pro se brought suit against “Thanksgiving, Pilgrims, Mayflower Movers, Pilgrim Pride, Turkey Hill, Black Friday, Corn on the Cob, [and] the Cleveland Indians” on the ground that Thanksgiving (and apparently, everything even loosely associated with it) “offend[ed] him” and also violated the separation of Church and State. No. C 07-6108, 2007 WL 4591385, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 28, 2007). As a result, he sought the trivial sum of $100 million in damages as well as a “restraining order against the celebration of Thanksgiving holidays.” Id. Thankfully (bad pun intended), the court dismissed his claim because the long list of defendants either could not be sued or were private entities not acting under the color of state law. Id. Continue reading “Serving up Seasonal Pedagogy this Thanksgiving”

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Honoring our Veterans in the Classroom and Beyond

By: Abigail Perdue

This Veterans Day, Teachlawbetter.com wants to extend a heartfelt thank you to all members of the U.S. military and their families for their outstanding service and tremendous sacrifice. As educators, it is important that we celebrate the courage and dedication of these brave men and women. Here are a few ways that you can use your next class session to honor them:

  1. Have a Moment of Silence: Have a moment of silence at the beginning of your next session in honor of all those who have fallen to secure the freedom that we too often take for granted – the same liberties that we, as attorneys, pledge to respect, preserve, and protect.
  2. Introduce the Veterans Court: If you teach a course on the judiciary, federal courts, etc., use this session to introduce the veterans law system to students, including a discussion of the unique role of the Board of Veterans Appeals (“Board”), U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (“CAVC”), and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The CAVC, which was created in 1988, enjoys exclusive jurisdiction over Board appeals. Although based in Washington, D.C., the CAVC hears cases across the country. It exemplifies the diversity of the judiciary and calls attention to critically important specialty courts about which students may not yet have learned.
  3. Invite a Guest Speaker: Invite a current or former service member, military judge, CAVC judge, JAG attorney, representative from the Department of Veterans Affairs, or a veterans law advocate to speak to your students about the realities of military service, the military justice system, and how they can assist veterans once they enter the practice. Continue reading “Honoring our Veterans in the Classroom and Beyond”
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A Few Thoughts on Providing Written Comments on Student Work

By: Professor Luellen Curry

As a Legal Writing professor, commenting on student papers is one of my primary tasks. It is an essential teaching tool, but not one that always comes easily or naturally. I’ve found over the years that it has been a continual learning experience for me, one that I hope has resulted in improvement over time.

I’d like to share a few insights on commenting. I’ve gleaned many of these from colleagues; others I’ve developed through trial and error. Note that effective commenting can not only take the form of written comments delivered either electronically or on a hard copy, but also live feedback delivered during a student conference. It is even possible now to combine written and verbal feedback, as Professor Abigail Perdue interestingly described in Listen Up: The Advantages of Audio Commenting. My focus in this post is on written comments, but some of the advice translates to live verbal feedback as well. Continue reading “A Few Thoughts on Providing Written Comments on Student Work”

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