Follow Up to the CBA YLS Bankruptcy Meeting

Judge A. Benjamin Goldgar, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge for the Northern District of Illinois spoke at the Bankruptcy meeting on this past Tuesday. He talked about what he likes to see in motions that come before him. But these tips are helpful for more than a just bankruptcy practice.

First, Judge Goldgar defined what a motion is. It is a letter to the court asking for something–usually an order. He noted that motions are not pleadings. See FRCP 7 for the distinction. After reading a motion, the judge should initially be inclined to give the writer what she is asking for.

Writing such a motion requires answering two question–what the writer wants and why the judge should give the writer what she wants. The first part requires the writer to explicitly state what she wants. Judge Goldgar thinks that the writer should put this up front. This way the reader knows at the outset what the writer is looking for. The judge does not have to go through the entire motion without knowing what the litigant wants and then finding it at the end of the motion. The second part–why the writer should get what she wants–should include facts and law.

The writer should include facts supporting the requested relief. There should be enough facts in the motion so that the judge understands the case. Judge Goldgar noted that judges are not as familiar with a case as the lawyer is–judges need background. But he also said that writer should not include too many facts. Judge Goldgar said that lawyers like to include dates in their motions. Judges see the date, and think that it must be important. Often it is not. He said that lawyers think that dates are “good anchors” for sentences and make them as writers feel more comfortable, but the motion is not for their comfort. The motion should make the judge comfortable.

The motion should also include the relevant law. The motion should state the authority the writer has for bringing the motion and the law that entitles the movant to the relief sought. Judge Goldgar points out that judges are capable of researching the law and applying it to the facts on their own, but this is not the result that a lawyer should want. If the writer leaves this up to the judge, there is no guarantee that the judge will reach the conclusion that the writer wants. Providing the judge with the relevant law, and leading her to the desired outcome, makes the judge’s job easier. Motion writers want to make the judge’s job easier because they are asking the judge for relief–they do not want a grumbling judge.

Finally, Judge Goldgar said that writers should proofread their motions. Typos give bad impressions. However, he noted that errors do happen. They do come up in 75 page motions. But Judge Goldgar says that writers have to try–there should not be a typo in a two page motion. He believes that these errors show that writers do not care, and if the writer does not care why should the judge trust the citations in the motion?

Seeing Judge Goldgar’s presentation on Tuesday reminded me how important writing is. Writers should be clear and concise. But they should not be afraid to say what they want and why they should get it.

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