New Case Could Change the Way You Write Briefs

Warning Against Unpublished CasesWe all remember our law school days, spending hours reading unpublished cases in the law library trying to find that one case that mirrored our professor’s fact pattern. He (or she) had to get it from somewhere, right? Many of us still use that practice today, relying on unpublished opinions when they are closer to our facts that the published case law. But a recent, ironically unpublished, case from the Michigan Court of Appeals could change all that.

The case is Duck Lake Riparian Owners Association v. Fruitland Township. In the midst of a discussion of everyone’s favorite topic, Res Judicata and Collateral Estoppel (note the sarcasm), the court dropped this bomb:

Plaintiff relies extensively on an unpublished case from this Court. Unpublished cases are not binding. MCR 7.215(C)(1). Furthermore, this Court disfavors reliance on unpublished opinions even as persuasive precedent and strongly discourages the bench and bar from relying on them in any way. Id. at *4

In any way? With one swift stroke of the pen, this Court of Appeals panel has eliminated a huge part of the litigator’s arsenal. It undercuts the careful work of its fellow judges who write carefully crafted unpublished opinions in order to be persuasive on the trial courts below. And it leaves some lawyers in the lurch where there is little published case law with which to prove their arguments.

The real logistical irony of this statement is that it is made in the middle of an unpublished opinion. Thus if attorneys were to take the court’s advice and not rely on unpublished opinions in any way, they would have to simultaneously not rely on that very advice. The logical paradox is dizzying.

But there is a nugget of truth to be taken from the court’s paradoxical opinion. We need to remember that we are not in law school anymore and that our clients’ cases do not come out of an obscure unpublished legal decision. Whenever possible, attorneys should rely on published opinions and statutes. Unpublished opinions should be the icing on the cake, not the main course.

If you need help with legal writing or overflow drafting, contact ghostwriter Lisa Schmidt for assistance.

Become An Expert By Blogging

Become an Expert by BloggingIf you are a new attorney, or just reaching out into an area of law, there will certainly be a lot you don’t know. This can make you feel like you shouldn’t be blogging. After all, you’re no expert. But by putting a little extra research behind your posts, you can become an expert and better serve your clients while also creating solid web content.

No one starts out with all the answers. Even the most seasoned lawyers have to refresh their knowledge from time to time. But it can be intimidating to set out to provide information when you don’t feel like you have it in the first place. Here are some tips to improving your knowledge while creating credible content:

1. Use What You Learn

If you have to research an issue for a client, whether that be international child custody disputes or a contractor’s trust, use what you learn for your next blog. Research is part of a lawyer’s job. While confidentiality will prevent you from sharing your client’s particular situation, there is nothing stopping you from talking about the topic. Speak from your point of strength. Your readers will appreciate your new-found knowledge.

2. Remember, Your Readers Know Less Than You Do

Unless your blog is designed to appeal to your direct competition – which would not be an ideal target market – your readers are going to be less educated about your practice area than you are. Even if you are trying to sort out a basic legal question, your answer is going to be better than what your readers had before. So don’t be afraid to blog on something as simple as the elements of a contract or habitual offender laws. Your articles will still make you seem like an expert.

3. Find a Niche

There are very few areas of the law that don’t have niche markets within them. Find one that fascinates you and read everything you can on it. You will be surprised how quickly you will become an expert. Then focus a series of blogs on that niche and share them with other attorneys looking to refer clients. Suddenly, you will become the go-to person for that sub-specialty, all because you chose to learn about it for your blog.

Researching your blog articles may sometimes feel a bit like writing a book report. But if you think of it as building your expertise, suddenly blogging becomes even more valuable by simultaneously serving as continuing legal education. Learn from what you blog and blog from what you learn and soon you will find that you really are an expert in your field.

If you need help identifying your niche or building your blog, contact blogging coach Lisa Schmidt to help you on your way.