Law should seek personal liberty. ABA asked: How would you #ChangeTheLawIn5Words?
Illinoisappellatelawyerblog was born to worry. And opinions like Estate of York feed that congenital behavior.
The First District Illinois Appellate Court woke us to attention with its first words. “The case before us serves as a cautionary tale to litigants to adhere to Illinois Supreme Court Rule appellate filing deadlines, to timely file requests for extensions of time with good cause shown, and to specify all grounds of appeal in the notice of appeal.”
Dread always follows that kind of lead. Here’s what happened.
York and Mulryan were law firm partners. York loaned Mulryan $60,000. Mulryan made a few repayments, but stopped when York died. Mulryan claimed the loan converted to a gift when York died. Mulryan also took $5,000 out of the law firm.
York’s estate wanted the money back, and eventually filed a citation to recover assets against Mulryan. Mulryan asked the trial court to dismiss the citation. The trial court dismissed four of the claims with prejudice (can’t re-plead them) and three of the claims without prejudice (can fix and re-plead them).
The Estate appealed, and filed a supporting brief. But Mulryan did not respond. Two weeks after the appellate court ruled it would consider the Estate’s appeal without a response, Mulryan asked the appellate court for an extension of time to file and to allow her to ask for dismissal of the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
Mulryan filed her request to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, but the appellate court denied it. The trial court’s dismissal of four claims with prejudice tipped the analysis in the Estate’s favor. “The dismissal was with prejudice, and so it was a final determination of the estate’s right to the money in question, based on either fiduciary duty or fraud. Thus, the facts of this case and the dismissal order are squarely within Rule 304(b)(1) [Allowing immediate appeal of a final order in a probate case, even before the entire case is finished] as an immediately appealable order.”
Mulryan’s predicament worsened. The Estate asked the appellate court not to consider Mulryan’s principal brief because it was filed late, without good cause. The appellate court agreed, and rejected Mulryan’s argument that she didn’t need to file a brief because the lack of jurisdiction for the Estate’s appeal was “clear.”
Here’s how the court disposed of that position. “We agree with the executor’s argument that Mulryan has caused unnecessary delay in the disposition of this case on appeal and so we deny her motion for extension of time. Given Mulryan’s failure to file any response to the executor’s appellate brief and disregard for mandated appellate deadlines, we abide by our prior order and proceed based on the executor’s brief only.”
But the Estate had even bigger problems. The Estate’s Notice of Appeal was deficient, and did not invoke the court’s jurisdiction. The Notice of Appeal asked for reversal of the trial court’s dismissal of Count II, but the Estate’s brief argued for reversal of Count I. The mistake was fatal. Count I was most important to the Estate, but the appellate court would not consider reversing the trial court because Count I was omitted from the Notice of Appeal.
The appellate court also refused to consider reversing the dismissal of Count II. The Notice of Appeal gave notice of an appeal from the dismissal of Count II, but the Estate only briefed the Count I dismissal.
Mulryan submitted an affidavit to the trial court to support her request to dismiss the Estate’s complaint. The Estate asked the trial court to dismiss the affidavit because, it argued, the affidavit did not comply with Illinois rules.
Half of the Estate’s brief was devoted to reversing the trial court’s affidavit-ruling. But the appellate court refused to consider it because:
- the Estate did not reference it in the Notice of Appeal, and
- the trial court’s ruling was not a step in the procedural progression toward the dismissal; “The ruling on the motion to strike Mulryan’s affidavit could not have been a step in the procedural progression leading to the section 2-615 dismissal of count II, because consideration of affidavits is not allowed in ruling on section 2-615 dismissals.”
So let’s review what happened in this case. First, Mulryan’s request to file a late brief was denied because she did not follow the rules, and her observation that appellate jurisdiction “clearly” was lacking fell on deaf ears.
But Mulryan won the war because the Estate did not draft a proper Notice of Appeal. The appellate court not consider the Estate’s most important issues because the deficient Notice Of Appeal did not provide fair notice that those things were being appealed.
Read the whole opinion, In re Estate of York, 2015 IL App (1st) 132830, by clicking here.
We are nothing if not current.
An article published in 2003 about effective subheadings, available here for the clicking, was referenced at the top of a “legal writing” Google search I just did. Authors Kara Thompson and Zach Brez for the Writing Center at the Georgetown University Law Center, did a fine job in this short piece explaining the importance of the “point heading.” (Except please don’t make subheads all caps; typical sentence style, boldfaced, is better.)
Don’t be lazy about drafting the subheadings. Sometimes they will be the most important part of your brief.
Conventional wisdom says to limit your subheadings to one sentence. But that’s not necessarily best practice.
Have you ever encountered a cold court? Sometimes judges don’t have the time or the desire to read your brief thoroughly, or at all, before your case is called. I’ve watched judges leaf through my motion or my brief during oral argument. I want that judge to understand my positions. One-sentence subheadings don’t always accomplish that.
So by all means, make those subheads incisive and argumentative, and a little bold. And don’t be afraid to give the judge more help understanding your positions with a longer subheading.
The Appellate Lawyer Representatives’ Ninth Circuit Practice Guide is available for the downloading from the Ninth Circuit’s web site. It’s a how-to for preparing and filing a brief in the federal appellate court out yonder in California. But it’s chock full of good tips no matter what jurisdiction you find yourself in.
You’ll want to look at the Top Technical Flaws In Briefs. Some of these are more than just technical. Don’t make one of these head-shaking mistakes.
Peggy Lee Hall claimed she was injured when she slipped on ice in a parking lot owned by Naper Gold Hospitality LLC. She sued Naper, but the company got summary judgment because Hall did not show facts that there had been an unnatural accumulation of ice.
Hall appealed Naper’s summary judgment. But the Second District Illinois Appellate Court dismissed the appeal “because of the flagrant and, frankly, appalling violations of supreme court rules committed by plaintiff’s [Hall] attorney … and his law firm … in the handling of this appeal.”
These were Hall’s violations:
• Hall’s statement of jurisdiction had “nothing whatsoever to do with the instant appeal.”
• The original statement of facts had been pasted into Hall’s brief from an appeal in a different case. And when Hall’s lawyer amended the statement of facts, he (1) filed it without asking for permission to do so, and (2) what he did file “barely acquaint[ed] this court with the procedural history of the case or the issues involved.”
• Illinois Supreme Court “Rule 341(h)(3) requires appellant [in this case, Hall] to include a ‘concise statement of the applicable standard of review for each issue. with citation to authority.’ … Plaintiff’s brief violates this rule in that nowhere is a standard of review set forth.”
• These violations “came on top of plaintiff’s filing of a noncompliant appendix.” The appellate court twice ordered Hall’s lawyer to file the appendix, the second time under threat of dismissal of the appeal.
• Hall’s legal argument contained insufficient citation to supporting authority.
The appellate court acknowledged the harshness of its ruling, “but where the jurisdictional statement and the statement of facts do not even pertain to the case on appeal but were copied wholesale from an unrelated brief, where the brief contains no standards of review, and where, most important, plaintiff’s arguments are conclusory and not supported by any authority, we have no choice but to strike the brief and dismiss the appeal.”
Read the whole case, Hall v. Naper Gold Hospitality LLC, 2012 IL App (2d) 111151, by clicking here.
These two tips are from Ross Guberman, the president of Legal Writing Pro and the author of Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation’s Top Advocates. Ross also is an Appellatology panelist. His short bio is here.
These Two Tips, with examples, are drawn from the brief for the states signed by Paul Clement in the “Obamacare” case.
Use more enumerated lists, and not just in your introductions and preliminary statements. For example:
The federal government attempts to sidestep the tax power problem it would create by insisting that the Court has “abandoned the view that bright-line distinctions exist between regulatory and revenue-raising taxes.” … But that is doubly irrelevant. First, there is no analogous doctrine under which Congress treats penalties as taxes . . .
To add speed to your writing and to project confidence, change every “however,” “nonetheless,” or “nevertheless” to “but” or “yet.” For example:
The modern commerce power is a broad one, as there is little left of the “distinction between what is truly national and what is truly local” under the Court’s present-day notions of “commerce.” … But even as the Court has expanded its conception of “commerce,” it has not wavered from the notion that the power to “regulate” is the power to prescribe rules for commerce, and it has never suggested that power includes the power to compel the existence of commerce in the first place.
Ross put 140 comments on the Solicitor General’s “Obamacare” brief. They’re all right here.
Always thinking about you and devising unique reading and viewing experiences for our audience, Illinois Appellate Lawyer Blog announces a new series:
♪♪♪ Two Tips ♪♪♪
Two Tips, offered by legal writing and strategy experts, will suggest ways you can improve your brief writing. The tips will be in various formats – written, podcast, video, extra sensory perception, Vulcan mind meld.
Two Tips will appear at random times according to a strict schedule. If you have two tips that might interest Illinois Appellate Lawyer Blog readers and viewers, shoot me an email and we’ll make arrangements for you to appear, or write, or sing, or however you want to transmit the information.
We start now.
These two tips are from Ken Abraham. Ken has been practicing law since 1970. He was an associate judge in DuPage County, Illinois for 15 years. Ken is in private practice now and is a mock judge on the Appellatology panel. You can see a fuller bio for Ken here.
Carefully review the trial court’s ruling, whether oral or written. Some judges say things just to placate the unsuccessful party. Others comment for the sake of appellate review to try to establish that they have considered all the law and evidence. Often a misstep is made.
One example is reciting the wrong burden of proof, or using words like “it is clear,” thus suggesting (unintentionally) that the judge employed a clear-and-convincing standard when it’s not applicable.
Pay close attention to what the trial judge does not state. Sometimes a key point goes unmentioned. Early in my judicial career I wrote an opinion in a divorce case. After affirming on all other grounds, the appellate court stated it was not sure if I had considered the benefit to the husband of the use of the use of a business vehicle.
In fact I had considered it, but I did not mention it is my ruling. The appellate court adjusted the final numbers. I’m certain that change would not have been made had I been more thorough in my written opinion.
Remember the old saying: Trial courts look for justice. Appellate courts look for error.
Guilty as charged. We’re obsessed with good writing and engrossed by lucid argument. Superior writing plus absorbing argument gives us the Ahhhhh of the first cup of morning coffee.
Appellatology is great legal thinkers and writers devoted to helping lawyers write better briefs.
How do we do it? Our panel of mock judges ― senior lawyers, scholars, retired judges, and legal writing experts ― analyzes your draft and confers with you and other mock judges, and tells you how to improve it. We answer your questions, discuss your issues, and give you our independent evaluations. And it’s all done online without the hassle, cost, and expense of leaving your office.
Why should you do it? Because most appeals are decided on the briefs, before you ever set foot in the courtroom. So your brief has to make your case. If your case is worth appealing, or defending on appeal, you should know whether your brief does the job it must ― before you file it.
Click here to learn more about Appellatology and how to improve your chances on appeal.
We continue with Part 2 of author and legal-writing expert Ross Guberman’s insights into drafting appellate briefs. In case you missed it, here’s Part 1. And here is a link to my review of Ross’s book, Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation’s Top Advocates.
What is the role of case law precedent in a well-written appellate brief?
Judge Posner suggests in his book How Judges Think that most litigators overestimate the importance of case law and underestimate the pragmatic advantage of making the court feel like it is doing the right thing, or at least that following the case law makes sense.
But even when the case law is paramount, computers are our worst enemy, for they encourage us to regurgitate too many facts and to copy too much from the holdings.
If you study the work of the top appellate advocates, you’ll notice that they, unlike most of us, rarely write things like “Such-and-such case is directly on point. In such-and-such case, so-and-so was born thirty years ago.” Instead, you’ll find swift and clean links between the case cited and the current case. And those links are at the beginning of the discussion, not buried at the end.
Are some styles better than others for a brief – formal, casual, some mix, something else?
I think a lot of people confuse “serious” with “formal.” The Economist is a serious and influential publication that many people love to read, but I would not call the writing “formal.”
The same goes for briefs. Very few briefs are too casual. In fact, I wish lawyers were as afraid of being boring as they are afraid of being too casual. And remember that showing personality and flair does not make writing “casual.”
The very best brief writers mix styles and diction, sometimes even in one sentence. Here’s an example from Maureen Mahoney’s brief seeking to reverse the Arthur Andersen conviction: “A transitive reading of ‘corruptly’ avoid this interpretive train wreck entirely.” And here’s another example from patent-litigation guru Morgan Chu: “[T]he parties’ contract provides a definition that is closely related to the sweet spot of Tessera’s patent portfolio.”
Is there a difference between writing that will be read as a paper copy of a brief, or on a computer screen?
I know there have some recent stories about judges and justices reading briefs on Kindles and the like. These revelations are treated as sexy stuff in the advocacy world, but frankly I’m not sure whether any of it matters. If the reading device matters at all, it would simply be because when judges read on a screen, you have an even greater burden to make the prose accessible and appealing to the eye.
The great citation debate. Better to put them in the text or in footnotes?
I personally love the look of briefs with citations in the footnotes, and I appreciate Bryan Garner’s efforts in this regard. But the truth is, most judges still want the citations where they’ve long been—in the text—and most judges put citations there in their own opinions. As a compromise, avoid starting sentences with a full citation and avoid embedding citations in the middle of sentences either. Better to make your citation a separate sentence that doesn’t interrupt the flow.
Does typography matter? What are the two or three points most important for lawyers to keep in mind?
Let’s be honest: it’s more fun to talk about fonts than to talk about the best way to organize your argument sections. But the latter surely matters far more.
I do have some advice on fonts and spacing in my own book, and if your readers particularly interested in typography, I recommend the authoritative Typography for Lawyers by my friend Matthew Butterick.
Probably the most important point is to avoid Courier as your font!
How does Point Made help the appellate practitioner?
I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot of appellate practitioners who attend my workshops and seminars around the country. Most sense that writers like, say, Chief Justice John Roberts, are doing “something” in their prose and analysis that other advocates just don’t do. My job in Point Made is to turn that “something” into 50 concrete techniques illustrated with hundreds of bite-sized examples from many top lawyers and many famous cases.
Some people have written or called me to say that the book has helped them with their oral advocacy as well, though that was not my intention and I don’t purport to be an expert on oral argument.
I know people love to say that appellate advocacy is an art, but even if that’s true, I’ve tried to reveal some of the craft behind that art. And so far, I’ve been grateful to hear that lawyers at all levels, from the most prominent Supreme Court advocates to newly minted law school graduates, have found the examples helpful, and even inspiring.