We are excited to re-introduce a section on the Hein Blog called “Author’s Spotlight”. This section will feature posts submitted from our authors on various topics relating to titles that they have published, or that provide an insider’s view as to the author’s perspective. If you would like to be featured in an upcoming post, or know an author who would, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
My dad was a lawyer, and so was my Uncle Jerry, his brother-in-law. At family gatherings when I was a kid, the two of them would sit at one end of the table and talk all night about their cases. I understood almost nothing, but I absorbed the richness of detail in an impressionistic way. Apparently being a lawyer gave you lots to talk about.
My dad died of a heart attack when he was 53, just before I started law school. He knew I was planning to go and that I’d done well enough on the LSAT to get in somewhere. But I never got to talk about my classes or my cases with him.
Instead, I talked about them with Uncle Jerry, who became a sort of surrogate father to me after my dad’s death. At family gatherings, we sat at one end of the table and talked. He had a brilliant legal mind, and often our conversations turned into Socratic dialogues, with him playing the part of Socrates.
After I’d been practicing law for a few years and had been teaching legal writing for a few more, I wrote my Little Book on Oral Argument. Uncle Jerry never read it, but when I showed it to him he told me a story.
As a young lawyer he had clerked for an old appellate judge. Whenever a new case came before that judge, it was Jerry’s job to read the lawyers’ briefs and prepare a memorandum summarizing the facts and the relevant law. The memorandum also had to contain Jerry’s recommendation of how the judge should rule.
A few weeks or so after oral arguments in each case, the judge would issue his ruling. It didn’t take long for Jerry to notice a pattern: the judge’s decision was always the same as what Jerry had recommended in his earlier memorandum.
In other words, the judge’s ruling was always based on what Jerry thought, and what Jerry thought was determined before the oral arguments, and was based solely on the briefs. So if you’ve got a good argument, don’t ever save it for the oral argument, hoping to gain the advantage of surprise. It may be too late. The judge’s mind may already be made up, and the oral argument may in essence be just a formality.
I wish I’d put that at the start of my Little Book on Oral Argument. Rule #1 of oral advocacy: Put it in the brief.
About the author:
My life has had three phases. Phase 1: rock musician. Phase 2: law. At 28 I went to law school, then practiced civil litigation, taught legal writing for five years, and finally worked as the director of legal writing and research at a law school. While teaching, I learned what was giving my students trouble, and that inspired me to write three books: The User’s Guide to the Bluebook, The Little Book on Legal Writing, and The Little Book on Oral Argument.
Then, just when the law school offered me the long-term contract I’d been seeking, I quit to become a hand drummer. That became phase 3. In that phase (which I’m still in) I learned to drum, wrote books and made videos on how to play various hand drums (bongos, congas, djembe, and cajon) and started my own publishing business: Dancing Hands Music.
I know the leap from lawyer to hand drummer sounds kind of crazy, but the progression makes sense to me. Being a lawyer taught me how to write. I simply switched from writing about legal subjects to writing about drumming.
Being a lawyer also taught me a lot about how the world worked and gave me the confidence to act in that world. I don’t think I ever would have started my own business if I’d gone straight from rock musician to hand drummer without that crucial phase 2 in between.
Finally, having my law degree gave me a safety net. If that drumming thing didn’t work out, I knew I had something to fall back on. As luck would have it, I haven’t needed it yet, although I still have a few suits in a closet in the basement, just in case.
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User’s Guide to the Bluebook
Revised for the Nineteenth Edition
Published: Buffalo; William S. Hein & Co., Inc.; 2010
Little Book on Legal Writing
Published: Littleton; Fred B. Rothman & Co. (A Division of William S. Hein & Co., Inc.); 1992
Little Book on Oral Argument
Published: Littleton; Fred B. Rothman & Co. (A Division of William S. Hein & Co., Inc.); 1991
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