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Please note that Minnesota Lawyer’s blog has moved to a new location. You can find our blog here. Eventually this site will redirect you to our new location.

As you will no doubt notice, the new home of the blog incorporates it more fully into our main site, www.minnlawyer.com. We also have a new look and have some new capabilities in the new location. As always we welcome your feedback and appreciate your readership!

— Mark Cohen, editor

 

Legal writing expert Bryan Garner amused a room full of attorneys yesterday at the final day of the MSBA’s “Nine Days in June” convention.

Garner’s presentation — “Humorous Examples of Legal Writing” — had pretty much everyone in the room laughing out loud (including Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Christopher Dietzen, who was sitting next to me). Garner’s reference to a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, where the court concluded that “Equity will not relieve him who could have relieved himself,” is just one example. A lawyer signing off his legal brief with the phrase “Rectfully submitted” was another.

But amid all the laughter, the prolific writer made some serious points as well. One thing he said that I had not thought about before was that lawyers are probably the highest paid writers around. They certainly earn more for their writing than professional writers like those who work for such prominent publications as The New Yorker and The Economist. (And — I’m guessing here — more than the average journalist working for, say, a smaller, local legal pub.) I guess if you consider the fact that lawyers get paid hundreds of dollars for each hour they spend working on a 50-page brief, Garner is right. He said that people who make that much money for their writing should learn to do it right. Good point.

To write right, Garner said, lawyers should take a cue from the famous children’s author, Dr. Seuss, who said: “The only purpose of the first sentence is to get the reader to read the second sentence. The only purpose of the first paragraph is to get the reader to read the second paragraph. The only purpose of the first page is to get the reader to turn the page.”

Unfortunately lawyers don’t do that, Garner said, and instead fill the first part of their briefs (and the last part for that matter) with meaningless filler. You don’t want to put something substantive on page one, he said sarcastically, adding “that might startle the judge.”

On a more serious note, Garner advised getting to the heart of your argument right away. “Don’t bury the lede!” he stressed.

I interviewed Garner last month as a sort of “preview” to his convention appearance. I wrote then that I expected attendees would be in for a treat. I was right — he did not disappoint.

I was just over at Target Field at the Statewide Bar Convention and the set up. It’ll be a beautiful evening tonight for the venue — and I would encourage all our readers to attend the President’s Reception. Good food, good drink, good company at one of the best-looking parks in the Major League — what else could one ask for? Click here for details.

The long-awaited decision of Kidwell v. Sybaritic came down from the Supreme Court this morning, and the news wasn’t good for Brian Kidwell. Kidwell was terminated from his job as in-house counsel at Sybaritic after sending an e-mail to company officials calling attention to alleged discovery violations that company committed. He sued under state whistleblowing law and was awarded $197,000 in damages and $130,000 in attorney fees.

In a plurality opinion, the court said that the whistleblower statute does not include a job duties exception that prevents lawyers from being whistleblowers, but that Kidwell did not engage in protected conduct when he sent an e-mail.

The MSBA statewide convention will be in the interior of Target Field, the Twins' new stadium.

As followers of this blog know, we have been on the trail with the Minnesota State Bar Association as it has crisscrossed the state for its “Nine Days in June” convention. The new format has worked well, attracting 1,500 people, a six-fold increase over last year. 

When I was at the 3rd District Bar event in Olmsted County yesterday, I was feeling a bit like, “If this is Tuesday, this must be Rochester.” But it’s been a great tour. Kudos to the MSBA officers and staff — including Exec Direc Tim Groshens, Pres. Leo Brisbois and, of course, Joni Fenner, the MSBA staffer who magically pulls it all together.  

It all wraps up tomorrow at Target Field with a bunch of interesting CLEs, lunch, visits from legal writing guru Bryn Garner, former Minnesota Twin Kent Hrbek and, the  President’s Reception Thursday night. (Click here for full agenda.) It’s about as close as you’ll get to the legal community’s version of the Great Get Together. 

I’m told that it’s not too late to sign up and join more than 500 of your colleagues from all over the state. (This is the only statewide event.) For registration info, click here.

From the only in Minnesota department. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled this week that a man has the right to keep a dead bear that he found on his property after the state Department of Natural Resources confiscated the beast originally. (story here)

In an 11-page decision, the court ruled, that state law only applies in cases where someone shoots, traps or catches a wild animal. Attorneys from the DNR argued the man was guilty of poaching the bear.

Charles Schoenwetter, one of two Minneapolis attorneys who represented the man, said the old rule of ‘Finders Keepers’ applied in this case.

A piece in the New York Times (“Law schools visit Lake Wobegon”) discusses a growing national trend among law schools – grade inflation. In the hyper-competitive job market, average grades at anything other than an elite law school likely mean a law grad will spend about as long in the job market as a house with a top-dollar price would in this real estate market. The answer some law schools have come up with? Buff up the grades.

Appropriate to Minnesota, the NY Times identifies this as the Lake Wobegon effect, where everybody is catapulted to being “above average.” The problem? Students who are standouts have fewer ways to show that they are. Thus, a student who finishes high up in their class at a low-ranked law school may be disadvantaged because it gets harder and harder to tell that the student did better than his or her peers.

I have not heard of any Minnesota law schools doing this — nor do I think it would be a good idea. It’s hard to think it would help the situation to make the 800-plus new law grads the state has every year virtually indistinguishable.