What pearls of wisdom would you provide to appellate judges based on your experience?

First, you have to really enjoy the intellectual challenge that comes with a primarily academic practice of law. An appellate judge has to really enjoy thinking through difficult and thorny legal issues. Appellate judges also have to be good writers as well as good listeners, adept negotiators, and principled compromisers.

Unlike a trial judge, an appellate judge cannot make decisions by him- or herself. In our court, it takes at least two to tango when we sit on panels, so a judge sometimes has to convince others to agree with his or her legal analysis and the result that flows from the application of the facts of the case. In order to accomplish that goal, you have to have listened, heard, and taken into consideration your colleagues’ concerns; negotiated a way of addressing those concerns without undermining the legal analysis that you are promoting as consistent with your best understanding of the law; and then drafted language that evinces that compromise.

If you believe that you’re smarter or more right than everyone else on your court, or that your reasoning is so unassailable that your colleagues’ concerns are completely unfounded, you will be a very lonely dissenter in many, many cases and will have lost the opportunity to help develop the law in a meaningful way. Also, it is likely that you will have established relationships with your colleagues that make it difficult for them to hear and seriously consider your concerns about the analysis in opinions they may be authoring. So my pearl of wisdom is to remember the golden rule and treat your colleagues and their opinions as you would want them to treat you and yours.

I don’t know the source of this, and it’s not from me.  But I do agree.


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