Thursday, July 02, 2009

Christmas Wish List: Making Your Case

I recently stumbled upon Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges (2008) by U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia and leading legal communications expert Bryan A. Garner. Although the book is primarily aimed at helping lawyers improve their powers of written and oral persuasion, I've seen enough to convince me it would be an excellent resource for anyone who is interested in effective writing and speaking.

A nice anecdote from Tip # 110 ("Learn how to handle a difficult judge") in the section on "Handling Questions":
Whatever else you do when confronted by a hostile and unreasonable judge, don’t reply in kind. Don’t become hostile yourself; don’t display anger, annoyance or impatience. Keep telling yourself that you owe it to your client—because you do.

Even so, lawyers are entitled to take great delight in the wonderful comeuppances to judicial boorishness that some of their more rash predecessors have devised. Our favorite was also a favorite of Justice Robert H. Jackson. A noted barrister, F.E. Smith, had argued at some length in an English court when the judge leaned over the bench and said: “I have read your case, Mr. Smith, and I am no wiser than I was when I started.”

To which the barrister replied: “Possibly not, My Lord, but far better informed.” Smith, who later became a famous judge as the Earl of Birkenhead, could reportedly carry off such snappy rejoinders with impunity.

We doubt that, but in any case we don’t recommend that you emulate him.
Note to friends and family: This would be a nice christmas present for your humble servant.

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