By Jay O’Keeffe
As I’m writing this, I’m attending the VBA’s Appellate Summit, a fantastic CLE that comes around every three years. This year, the appellate council made asked me to moderate a 50-minute panel about brief writing. They won’t make that mistake again! Thankfully, the outstanding–dare I say heroic?–contributions of panelists Judge Robert Humphreys, Don Jeffrey, and Elbert Lin saved the session from disaster (nothing could save it from my dad jokes). It turns out that a panel that good can moderate itself.
The day’s leadoff session was a real highlight, featuring an insightful discussion among Official Friend of De Novo (TM) Stuart Raphael, Chief Judge Roger Gregory of the Fourth Circuit, and Chief Judge Glen Huff of the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Here are some takeaways:
- Chief Judge Huff appreciates a detailed table of contents. He does not appreciate hyperlinks in a table of contents. Chief Judge Huff reads cases and annotates cases in pdf, and hyperlinks complicate that process.
- Chief Judge Gregory is funny! He had a great way of suggesting that lawyers home in on key points: “When you’re on your way to victory, don’t throw stones at every barking dog. You’ll get them on the way back home.”
- Chief Judge Huff is not looking to be wowed when he reads a brief. He just wants concise, simple statements without spin.
- Chief Judge Gregory, who writes plays in his spare time, is looking to be wowed. For him, the wow factor comes from story. He compared oral argument to a party, and he said that writing a brief is “writing to be invited to the party.”
- Judges on the Fourth Circuit typically don’t discuss cases before oral argument.
Stuart closed with a great question: What do the Chief Judges know now that they wish they’d known when they were practitioners? Both pointed to the outcome-dispositive force of the standard of review.
And back to the CLE . . .