De Novo: A Virginia Appellate Law Blog

De Novo: A Virginia Appellate Law Blog

Jay O’Keeffe practices with Johnson, Rosen & O’Keeffe LLC. in Roanoke, Virginia, where he splits his time between appellate and business litigation. read more

Category Archives: Writing

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Dead Man Walking

Posted in Appellate Practice, Preservation of Error, Writing
The brief in opposition is one of the great underappreciated joys of Virginia appellate practice. It comes at the writ stage, when we’re just trying to convince the Supreme Court that it should/should not grant a petition for appeal. We’re not necessarily arguing the merits. Sometimes, the petitioner will not yet have hired specialist appellate counsel.… Continue Reading

Mind-Bending Intergalactic Writing Tips

Posted in Writing
Confession time: I have a strong prejudice against the default writing style at most BigLaw firms. I’d like to think that my intolerance is mostly justified, but I recognize that it’s at least partly unfair. To understand why, remember that I started my career at a BigLaw firm. I had a great experience working with… Continue Reading

Letters from Camp

Posted in Briefs, Uncategorized, Writing
So we decided to send Jack to sleepover camp this year. You remember Jack, right? Well, he’ a little older now. This is the first year that he’s eligible for camp, and he’s really been looking forward to it. We’ve been sending him letters every day, and we include the sports section from the local… Continue Reading

Appellate Clams

Posted in Writing
Lately, I’ve been binge listening to Scriptnotes, a podcast by John August and Craig Mazin about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters(TM). I’m not a screenwriter myself and, as it turns out, I’m not interested in many of the things that are interesting to screenwriters. (In my defense, that is a very limited… Continue Reading

Legal Writing Tip: Focus Before Detail

Posted in Writing
Getting paid to write is, at least for me, the best part of being a lawyer. But while I may be, strictly speaking, a “professional writer,” I’m very much aware of my shortcomings in that field. And I’ve got plenty, as illustrated by the fact that–not to put too fine a point on it–nobody actually wants… Continue Reading

I Am Richard Posner . . . and So Can You?

Posted in Writing
The Daily Beast is running a Q&A with Richard Posner called “How I Write.” Judge Posner is a brilliant and prolific writer. As a person who writes for a living, I was naturally intrigued. Also, I picked up the link from U of R Professor Kevin Walsh‘s Twitter feed (@kevincwalsh). Professor Walsh has a habit of sharing fascinating arcana, like… Continue Reading

Why Can’t Lawyers Do This?

Posted in Writing
Longtime readers have suffered through my various thoughts, hangups, and neuroses about legal writing. Prime among them is a frustration with the way lawyers confuse personal attacks with effective advocacy. By way of example, I’m reading through the record in an appeal right now. It has taken me less than 2 docket entries to get to douchebag bingo; the trial… Continue Reading

Theodore Blumberg’s Seven Deadly Sins of Legal Writing

Posted in Writing
One of the side benefits of my job is that every now and then, for reasons I can’t begin to understand, legal-writing books just show up in the mail. Sometimes they come to me, and sometimes they go to our librarian. Either way, I am compelled to drop everything I’m doing to read them immediately. This happened again… Continue Reading

Don’t Mess with Texis [sic]: Legal-Writing Lessons from a Fifth-Circuit Benchslap

Posted in Writing
I had just agreed to give a talk on legal writing when I came across this post on the Appellate Record, discussing the Fifth Circuit’s recent opinion in Sanches v. Carrollton Farmers Branch Independent School District. Sanches is a gem for two reasons. First, it’s a completely absurd case. In a fact pattern that probably only makes sense in… Continue Reading

Q&A with Ross Guberman, Author of Point Made

Posted in Writing
A few weeks back, we reviewed Ross Guberman’s terrific new book, Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation’s Top Advocates. Ross graciously agreed to do an email Q&A. If I’d moved faster, we could have scooped SCOTUSblog. But I was paralyzed with self-doubt; nothing will make you question your own writing faster than trading emails with a legal… Continue Reading

[Expletive Deleted] Bingo!

Posted in Writing
I gave up swearing for Lent. This has crippled my ability to communicate effectively. To a staggering degree. Opposing counsel in some (not all) of my cases now operate under the delusion that I’m “reasonable.” The associates I’m working with are left to conclude that their performance has improved dramatically–except for Finney, who knows what “mumpsimous” and “ninnyhammer” mean. (I’ve… Continue Reading

Ross Guberman Makes a Point

Posted in Writing
I’ve been meaning to write a post on Ross Guberman’s new book, Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation’s Top Advocates, for a while now. Ross, you’ll recall, wrote an analytical piece called “Five Ways to Write Like John Roberts,” which I bastardized in a post called “I am John Roberts and So Can You!” The original article was very… Continue Reading

Posner on The Bluebook Blues

Posted in Writing
Judge Posner has a brilliant article in the Yale Law Journal slamming The Bluebook–in his felicitious phrasing, “a monstrous growth, remote from the functional need for legal citation form.” Hat tip to Eugene Volokh and Ilya Somin, who discuss the article at the Volokh Conspiracy. I commend Posner’s piece to you. It is short. It is hilarious.… Continue Reading

Typography for Lawyers

Posted in Writing
After reading about Matthew Butterick’s new book, Typography for Lawyers, on the Appellate Record, I picked up a copy. You should, too. The book is outstanding. I can’t say enough good things about it. If you want to get a flavor for Butterick’s work, check out his website. It’s loaded with helpful tips and examples. Butterick’s basic premise is that… Continue Reading

Legal Writing Tips: I Am John Roberts and So Can You!

Posted in Writing
Ross Guberman of Legal Writing Pro has a fun piece, Five Ways to Write Like John Roberts, that’s worth checking out. In the essay, Guberman distills five writing lessons from Roberts’s brief in Alaska v. EPA. Those lessons are: Let your facts “show, not tell.” Add speed through short and varied transitions. Add elegance and clarity through… Continue Reading