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Texas Supreme Court justice shares thoughts about appellate advocacy

I recently attended a continuing legal education seminar at which Justice Don Willett provided some tips about practice before the Texas Supreme Court. Here are the highlights of his presentation:

1. Bookmarks and hyperlinks in a document are extremely helpful.

2. The Texas Supreme Court receives a high volume of petitions for review and, consequently, the justices have very limited time to spend reviewing any one petition. Think of a petition for review like “speed dating.” You have very little time to get the justices interested. If you try to discuss too many issues in that little time, you will be unlikely to get the justices interested. Also, if you focus on winning your case rather than interesting the justices, you decrease your odds of accomplishing either. Instead, simply focus on interesting the justices. If you succeed in interesting the justices, they will want to spend more time with your case, inviting you to file a brief on the merits. And, at that point, the justices will be more receptive to arguments about why you should win the case.

3. If the court of appeals opinion indicates that a dispositive factor (e.g., waiver) keeps you from prevailing on an issue, you should address that dispositive factor in your petition for review.

4. Do not try to avoid the page limit by including matters subject to the page limit (e.g., factual background or legal argument) in a section not subject to the page limit (e.g., the statement of the case). The justices will certainly take note of this.