by Rebecca Nichols
July 2014 Dicta
On June 24, the DAYL Judiciary Committee hosted a Coffee with the Court (of Appeals). This time DAYL members had coffee with Justice Douglas S. Lang of the Fifth District Court of Appeals. Before the event began, DAYL members had an opportunity in a relaxed setting to meet the Justice over coffee outside the courtroom.
The event began with Justice Lang’s description of his career path to the bench, including a clerkship at the Supreme Court of Missouri. Turning to the topic of oral arguments, Justice Lang spoke on preparing for oral argument, stressing the importance of focusing on what the advocate wants the justices to know and on using plain language, rather than “fifty-dollar words” that can distract from the issues. The DAYL members in attendance took advantage of the opportunity to ask Justice Lang questions about how best to cite to the record in oral argument and when to ask for a post-submission brief.
Next, Justice Lang addressed how to craft a brief, emphasizing the importance of repeated editing by stating that the key to a good brief is to “write, re-write, re-write, and re-write again.” Similarly to his advice on oral argument, the justice cautioned against the use of “fifty-dollar words” and instead encouraged advocates to use plain English in their briefs. He also recommended that in reviewing a brief, an advocate should read the brief aloud to oneself. Additionally, Justice Lang advised that advocates include as appendices to their briefs key portions of the record and cases directly on-point.
When asked what can affect an advocate’s credit with the court, Justice Lang advised that an advocate not ignore “bad facts” but instead be sure to include them in the brief. Additionally, the justice stated that misrepresenting the record or the law or criticizing the trial judge was a sure way to lose credit with the court.
As a result of this event, the young lawyers left with a better understanding of how to write a brief and prepare for oral argument. Be sure to watch The Dicta for upcoming Coffee with the Court events.