Write Like Justice O’Connor: The Art of the Confident Concession

“Being a member of the Court is a little like walking through fresh concrete,” said Justice O’Connor. “We look back and see our footprints in those opinions that we’ve written and they tend to harden after us.” From a legal-writing perspective, how might you follow in her footsteps? Revered for her sensible pragmatism on doctrinal matters, […]

Five Ways to Write Like Justice Scalia

Who are the best writers in Supreme Court history? Poll a hundred lawyers, and just about all of them will put the late Justice Antonin Scalia in their top five. Some may quibble with his judicial philosophy, but no one can question Justice Scalia’s writing chops. To see why, we need look no further than […]

Five Ways to Write Like D.C. Circuit Judge Patricia Millett

I often tell lawyers to purge their writing of Latinisms: why say “inter alia” when “among other things” would do, or “assuming arguendo” when you mean “even if”? But there are exceptions to every rule, as Judge Patricia Millett of the D.C. Circuit shows us with her dubitante opinion in People for the Ethical Treatment […]

Kagan’s Power of Examples

“Kagan May Be Dangerous,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Web” early on in her tenure. More politics as usual? Not at all. The popular right-leaning blog meant “dangerous” as a grudging compliment to the left-leaning Justice, who had just issued her first dissent, attacking the majority for failing to find standing in […]

Four Usage Fights

Lawyers love to quibble about everything. But of all the the potential topics to debate, grammar provides the best fodder for the persnickety legal practitioner. Here are four grammar topics certain to energize your next round of office icebreakers. 1. Should I Use a Serial Comma? Some say we should omit the last comma in […]

Hyphenate or Bust? A Truce on Phrasal Adjectives

In the legal world, debates about hyphenating “summary judgment standard” or “publicly traded company” are as cordial and restrained as arguments over proper fonts, Oxford commas, and spacing after periods. Let me try to keep the peace with just these three points: 1. When two or more words form a unit that comes before the […]

Case Study: Ford Motor Company v. Bandemer—Seven Ways to Write Like Justice Kagan

In Justice Kagan’s debut opinion, she imagined a debtor buying an old junkyard car “for a song.” Now, a decade later, writing better than ever, she’s penned an opinion about a Ford Explorer. Leave it to Kagan to adorn this specific-jurisdiction matter with rhythm and punch, intellectual tension, and even a touch of pathos. Looking to sharpen your own […]

Three Justices. Three 100s. Three Tips.

A single day at the Supreme Court generated three perfect composite BriefCatch scores. What can the rest of us borrow or steal? From Justice Kagan, how to punch up your prose by starting a series of sentences with one-syllable words. From Justice Gorsuch, how to start your brief or opinion by juxtaposing what a case is or is […]

Kagan and Kavanaugh Unite: Stop Cutting “That”!

Kagan and Kavanaugh disagree on a lot these days, including in their Borden v. United States face-off. These two prominent Justices do share supreme writing skills, though. Like all great stylists, they trim their respective sentences with gusto, but as I’ve explained before, follow the lead of these Justices by sparing the word that after verbs. In many of […]