November 28, 2018 Articles

Tried-and-True Practices for Today’s Generation to Try

Some tips for today based on how we used to do it in the good old days.

By Sylvia H. Walbolt

So, you want to stand out and shine as a young appellate lawyer? Consider making some of the practices of olden times a regular part of your written appellate advocacy. In no particular order, here are some tips for today based on how we used to do it in the good old days.

Tip No. 1: Embrace Paper

Because there were no computers to do a word search for us, we used to read actual books containing the reported decisions. However quaint that might strike you today, it had the enormous benefit of causing lawyers to read the decision as a whole—not just the sentence containing the particular word for which we asked the computer to search.

Consequently, there was far less misunderstanding or mischaracterization of cases. By reading the decision on paper, the lawyer usually absorbed it better than by reading it on a computer. The lawyer caught caveats to the holding. The lawyer picked up compelling points leading to the holding for use in reinforcing the argument.

To be sure, a careful lawyer can do all of this on a computer. But all too often the speed and ease of use of a computer word search results in poor comprehension of the decision and its underpinnings. Scientific studies comparing the very different brain activity of a reader looking at something on paper and a reader looking at it on a screen leave no doubt that this is a reality in the computer and smartphone age.

So, if your computer comes up with what appears to be a really good, on-point case, take the time to read the entire case on paper.

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