Saturday, October 24, 2009

Responding to Buckshot Briefs

Issue proliferation goes virulent to become buckshot briefing when the number of issues compels inadequate development of each. The proliferator of issues thinks he increases his chances of prevailing because he naively disregards the dilution of stronger arguments. The proliferator knows that if he prevails, it will probably be based on the arguments he knows are stronger, but he takes the attitude endemic among lawyers that risk is eliminable. The buckshot briefer, in contrast, knows he has little chance of prevailing and hopes to strike it rich by luck. The buckshot briefer typically can't identify his strongest arguments, since none are developed adequately.

A lawyer, as a rule, will file a buckshot brief only when two conditions are satisfied: he is prosecuting or defending a weak case, and he is unable to analyze the law and facts of the case competently. If the lawyer is defending a strong case, the benefits of developing the strongest arguments are manifest, and the buckshot case will rarely tempt. But even if the case is inherently weak, still the buckshot case is a bad strategy: the lawyer can do better by relying on the strongest arguments, however weak. Judges assuredly know these truisms, and the buckshot briefer will be subject to judicial disdain, to complicate his disputational debility.

The number of buckshot briefs submitted suggests the practice must carry some advantages. One advantage of the buckshot brief is it allows the briefer to offload his research responsibilities to opponent. Instead of researching the arguments to discard those that aren't supportable, the buckshot briefer includes any impressionistic argument and lets his opponent sort out the meritorious. This is the unavoidable burden of responding to a buckshot brief.

Filing a buckshot brief also burdens opponent with conceiving how to organize a coherent response to the disjointed submission. If he succeeds in enticing his opponent to oppose his buckshot brief with a buckshot response, the buckshot briefer will have leveled the field. A lawyer cursed with responding to a buckshot brief must impose a simplifying structure on the buckshot briefer's meanderings. He should structure the response to bring out the buckshot character of the brief without expressly having to dwell on it; the response should expose the implausible validity of the buckshot brief's simultaneous contentions. In responding to a recent buckshot brief, I introduced my structuring of the briefer's arguments this way:

G presents a buckshot case rhetorically emphasizing his right to equal protection of the law. He covers all bases: the court should have granted the continuance; failing granting the continuance, the judge should have submitted to G's peremptory challenge; and failing to prevail on his jurisdictional challenge to the court, G should have prevailed on the merits.

When possible, the best organization of arguments targets common assumptions of the buckshot arguments, but often arguments aren't merely presented in buckshot fashion; they really are disjointed. Deal with disjointed arguments by organizing the response around the soundest arguments. The responder shouldn't fall to the temptation of avoiding the strongest arguments because the buckshot briefer doesn't emphasize them.

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