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  • Writer's pictureArjun Gananathan

Lazar’s Approach to Appeals

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

“There is nothing more embarrassing than to be asked a question, and for the answer to be ‘I don’t know,’” contends Robert Lazar. A proficient appeal lawyer is always prepared for any and every question from the bench, and the best way to be so prepared, Lazar maintains, is to truly conquer the facts of a case. Lazar goes so far as to argue that mastery of the facts is more critical than mastery of the law, even within the sphere of appeals. Facts vary from case to case, but the law is typically established and well-understood. One notable exception to this principle, according to Lazar, involves appeals that hinge on areas of the law that are novel or emerging.

Lazar's wisdom when it comes to approaching appeals is an accumulation of over 40 years of experience, as well as having argued in landmark cases since 1980s to date.

Source: Sreenevasan Young

With this fervent focus on facts, Lazar’s first object of attention when briefed for an appeal is the notes of evidence. After contemplating and determining the salient issues concerning the case at hand, Lazar pages through the trial notes from witness statements and cross examinations. He searches specifically for segments within the notes of evidence that naturally demarcate the said issues, and records their page numbers for future reference. The intensity and tedium of this task is not lost on Lazar; he admits that it could, in some instances, turn out to be “a colossal waste of time.” But effective appellate advocates seldom allow monotony or industry to interfere with effective appellate advocacy.

Modern appellate advocacy also places a large emphasis on scholarship, though this was not always true. During the first decade of Lazar’s career at the Bar, litigators hardly ever prepared written submissions. Lazar humorously recounts an occasion as a young advocate in which he received a disapproving stare from a judge, for a short, two-page case summary. Speaking openly, Lazar explains that he has sparsely enjoyed or seen the need for extensive legal scholarship. A written submission will do little to sway a judge that is unwilling to listen to oral submission. Moreover, written submissions are time-consuming, and conducive to over-writing and verbosity.

Nevertheless, today, Lazar pays close attention to his scholarship, which he adjusts depending on the nature of each appeal. Long before he begins writing a submission, Lazar drafts a skeletal version that outlines and organizes his arguments. Amidst the ever-evolving legal profession, Lazar’s advocacy has remained largely unchanged. Simplicity and succinctness never go out of style.

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