Let’s continue our series on how to present case law. Last week, we talked about how skilled advocates don’t just list cases, they summarize a body of law and give a global picture of the research. Earlier, I suggested lingo for discussing patterns in the case law. Today, let’s talk about the three key issues in any case discussion. Facts. Facts. Facts.
Focus on the Factual Results of the Cases.
Judges and senior attorneys already know the law cold. Your job is to explain how the law plays out in the real world of people and facts. Therefore, focus on the facts and results in the cases, rather than vague statements of law.
For example, in its brief opposing certiorari in the Ten Commandments case, the ACLU summarized a huge body of First Amendment law in one masterful paragraph—a paragraph that focused on the results of the cases. There, the ACLU argued:
Where “a governmental intention to promote religion is clear,” Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 585 (1987), this Court has not hesitated to hold the challenged conduct unconstitutional. Thus, the Court has invalidated Louisiana’s creationism statute, Aguillard; struck down a Kentucky law requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools, Stone; struck down Alabama’s moment of silence statute, Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38 (1985); and held unconstitutional the mandated daily reading of Bible verses and the Lord’s Prayer in public schools, Abington Township Sch. Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. (1963). Significantly, in each of these cases, this Court held that the challenged conduct was motivated by a religious purpose, and disregarded the government’s assertion of a sincere non-religious purpose.
Brief of ACLU in Opposition to Petition for Writ of Certiorari, McCreary v. ACLU, 545 U.S. 844 (2005) ( ACLU Brief, page 24-25).
Explain the Facts of Every Significant Case You Cite—Even If You Must Use a Parenthetical to Do So.
Never discuss a significant case without explaining its facts. In an ideal world, we would discuss all cases in prose and do away with cumbersome parentheticals. But parentheticals remain a useful, if imperfect, tool for preserving large bodies of research. They are the key to writing deep, substantive papers because they flesh out the factual and procedural context in which cases are decided and condense vast amounts of research into a small space.
So write a factual parenthetical every time you cite a case but don’t discuss that case in prose. (But you do not need factual parentheticals for cases that discuss boilerplate propositions of law, such as the standard of review or the burden of proof.) Although parentheticals admittedly slow the flow of your paper, the trained eye knows to peruse them quickly and their substantive benefit far outweighs the stylistic hiccup they create. Parentheticals are not perfect but using a parenthetical is better than losing the information.
Make Your Parentheticals Factual.
The job of a parenthetical—like the job of sentences—is to add new substantive information. Your parentheticals will add value if they explain what actually happened in the cases.
So if you have discussed the holding of the case in text, your parenthetical must do more than simply restate the holding. The best parentheticals summarize key facts about a case or the result, as in:
Treadway Companies, 638 F. 2d at 380 (refusing to require cooling-off period where tender offer occurred four months after corrective disclosure).
If needed, use parentheticals to explain why you cite a case, as in:
W. A. Krueger Co. v. Kirkpatrick, Pettis, Etc., 466 F. Supp. 800, 803 (D.C. Neb. 1979) (action for damages is limited to actual sellers and purchasers).
If you are using a parenthetical for multiple purposes, such as explaining facts and reasoning, you can keep each part of the parenthetical distinct by separating the two parts of the parenthetical with a semicolon, as in:
General Aircraft v. Lampert, 556 F.2d 90 (1st. Cir. 1977) (action by target corporation under Section 13D; finding irreparable harm would occur only if investors were allowed to continue activities without correcting schedule 13D).
Parentheticals should also explain the procedural result of the case, not simply the rule of law, as in:
General Aircraft v. Lampert, 556 F.2d 90 (1st. Cir. 1977) (requiring shareholder to amend its Schedule 13D and enjoining further acquisitions until amendment was filed).
If a case summarizes a body of law, give an overview of the law and cite to the summary case with a parenthetical stating (collecting cases). Citing to the case that gives the overview of authority saves you the need to cite the historical cases individually. A parenthetical simply stating (same) may be appropriate in a string citation.
Don’t be wimpy.
Don’t waste a parenthetical on simply quoting the part of the case that supports your previous prose sentence. The quote adds nothing new and suggests that you don’t trust your own prose paraphrase.
Coming next: The Art of
Quoting Not Quoting.
P. S. from the Shameless Self-Promotion Department: My Book, The Lawyer’s Essential Guide to Writing: Proven Tools and Techniques (ABA, 2011) is chock full of tips like this and it would make a wonderful gift for your lawyer friends.