A Key to Success on Georgia Appeals is to Really Know Your Audience

When I succeed in my brief writing or at oral argument (I measure success by writing a good brief and by fluid conversational delivery at argument — not necessarily by result), it is because I stop to think about my audience. More particularly, I remember that my audience includes a set of staff attorneys and judges or justices with a stack of briefs to read that hopefully don’t look exactly like mine.

An article in today’s legalnewsline.com reminded me of the fact that the people who hear my argument and who read the briefs that I write are people with interests beyond my particular cases. They even have interests beyond the law.

According to the article, Justice Robert Benham of the Georgia Supreme Court “has his own woodworking shop, [where he makes] objects like toys and music boxes with his two sons.” He also “builds birdhouses for Habitat for Humanity.”

Those facts humanize him and tell me more than his official biography does. Official biographies, like resumes, start looking the same after a while. But to know that someone makes toys, music boxes, and birdhouses for Habitat tells me that one member of the audience is compassionate. It also tells me that workmanship and craft are important to him. I should be very precise and concise in the future.

Justice Antonin Scalia and Bryan Garner make it a point to tell lawyer how important it is to know about your judge before you present your brief, try your case or show up for oral argument. In their book, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges. Scalia and Garner advise:

“learn as much as you readily can about the judge’s background. Say you’re appearing before Judge Florence Kubitzky. With a little computer research and asking around, you discover that fly-fishing is her passion; that her father died when she was only seven; that her paternal grandparents, who were both professors at a local college, took charge of her upbringing; that she once chaired the state Democratic party; that she enjoys bridge … and so on. … you might well find some unpredictable use for this knowledge over the course of a lengthy trial.”

Most importantly, they add, “at the very least, these details will humanize the judge for you, so you will be arguing to a human being instead of a chair.”

Keeping in mind that your audience consists of people and not a judicial machine will help you write better briefs that help them decide the case. If yours is the 53rd brief in a stack of 100 that looks exactly like the others, then your judge might get bored, might skim your text, or might just affirm the conviction because that is a nice safe default.

Of course, not all judicial hobbies are good. I suppose that when you find bad hobbies, you have a nice new enumeration of error to raise for your client and and the opportunity for a new judge with a healthy life and more wholesome hobbies.

Latest Resources

The Advocate's Key - A Law Podcast

Three Lessons From My Legal Podcast

The Advocate’s Key, my podcast, is as much for me as it is for the audience who listens to it. I choose guests because I want to learn from them or because I’m curious about their story.
Read More
mcdonough slip and fall accident

McDonough Man Injured in Slip and Fall Accident

Drew had been looking forward to Friday all week until he slipped and fell while walking. Who's fault was it?
Read More
how to prepare for a legal deposition

How to Prepare For a Deposition in a Personal Injury Case

Six months ago, you were in a car accident on Macon Street in McDonough. Another vehicle struck you from behind, and since then you have suffered from excruciating back pain. Today, you received a notice of deposition – what does that mean?
Read More