Posts Tagged ‘Researching Paralegal’

Clear and Concise

Friday, September 19th, 2014

A good deal of our paralegal studies program at the University of Mississippi focuses on developing the ability to write clearly and concisely. (I am fortunate enough to have been given an internal grant from the Center for Rhetoric and Writing to improve  our ability to improve students’ writing ability.) It helps to explain why clear and concise writing is important before attempting to teach it. My explanation usually includes references to page, line, and word limitations in rules of procedure, but while the students read those limits, it seems students and many practicing legal professionals often do not believe the limits are enforced. That’s why I am passing on this story from

Judge scolds BP for squeezing extra lines into brief

Posted Sep 18, 2014 09:50 am CDT

By Debra Cassens Weiss

BP is on notice that a federal judge will be closely scrutinizing its briefs for excess words in litigation over the Gulf oil spill.

In an order (PDF) on Monday, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said BP evidently abused a 35-page limit by slightly squeezing the spacing between the lines. The limit was already 10 pages longer than usual, and it called for a double-spaced brief.

As a result of the manipulation, Barbier said, BP exceeded the already enlarged page limit by about six pages. Slate and NPR have stories.

“The court should not have to waste its time policing such simple rules—particularly in a case as massive and complex as this,” Barbier wrote. “Counsel are expected to follow the court’s orders both in letter and in spirit. The court should not have to resort to imposing character limits, etc., to ensure compliance. Counsel’s tactic would not be appropriate for a college term paper. It certainly is not appropriate here.

“Any future briefs using similar tactics will be struck.”

BP is represented by several law firms, and Barbier did not identify the firm at fault. He does, however, reference the Pacer number on the offending brief, which was submitted under the electronic signature of Kirkland & Ellis lawyer J. Andrew Langan. A Kirkland & Ellis spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Langan said he would refer the ABA Journal’s request for comment to the appropriate person.

One comment states:

Instead of word processing tricks, I suggest go ‘old school.’ Consult an early version of Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style” and learn to write using fewer words.

I agree. I suspect Celia Elwell, The Researching Paralegal, also agrees, since she frequently posts articles such as this: Classic Writing Tips from C. S. Lewis


Knowing your judge

Friday, January 31st, 2014

In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional I discuss extensively the need to know your judge, jury, and courtroom as part of preparation for any aspect of litigation. The Researching Paralegal has picked up on an important additional to the “knowing your judge” litany and provides a link to an article that explains why we should even know what kind of technological device the judge uses: “Writing a Brief for the iPad Judge,” by Daniel Sockwell, Columbia Business Law Review. Here are a few other comments of a more basic sort from The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional:

Your legal team should be prepared in a way that leaves as little as possible to chance. The team should know not only the case, but also the judge, the jury, the courtroom, the witnesses and the parties.

The Judge. Is the judge conservative or liberal on issues affecting the admissibility of evidence? What are the judge’s expectations regarding pre-trial briefs, draft jury instructions, making a record, managing time, managing witnesses and the other details of trial management? If you or your attorney have not appeared before the judge before, take the time to watch the judge in action a week or so before your trial. If this can’t be done, use your network to find out as much as possible about the judge before your attorney enters the courtroom.

The Jury. Different jurisdictions have different rules and procedures regarding the information provided about jurors. The legal team must know those rules and procedures and use them. In addition, the team will have many opportunities to observe the jurors both before and after the selection of your jury. Since you and the attorney both have other responsibilities, you should share this one. Often you can be the attorney’s eyes and ears, watching the body language of the potential jurors while she is conducting voir dire of a particular juror. How are they reacting to the questions? How do they look at your client? How do they react to the other attorney? How interested do they appear? The more that is known about the jury, the more the presentation can be keyed to that jury.

The Witnesses and the Parties. Frequently trial preparations focus on what the witnesses or parties are going to say. The well-prepared legal team will also consider everything they can about the witnesses themselves. Include a short biography of the witness or party and notes about impressions obtained by the attorney, you or investigators during interviews or depositions, in the witness section of the trial notebook. Again, much additional information can be obtained during the trial through observation. This is another opportunity for you to be the attorney’s second set of eyes and ears.

The Courtroom. Check out the courtroom in advance. Where can the flip chart stands be placed to maximize visibility by witnesses, the judge and the jury at the same time? Where can you plug in the projector? How much room and light are available? Will you need an additional table? How can you leave the counsel table to contact the next witness with the least distraction? Where will the witnesses sit while waiting their turn to testify?
Your goal is a professional presentation. The power of the PowerPoint presentation on damages during closing argument is greatly diminished if you and the attorney find there is no way to position the equipment so that it can be plugged in, even if the court allows time so an extension cord can be found.