Back when I was clerking for him, Judge Hall recommended that I read slip opinions from the Fifth Circuit as they came out. Chambers received the paper slip opinions as they came out – as we didn’t have the Internet and West wasn’t as up to date on opinions – so simple slip opinions were the best way to see what New Orleans thought of the decisions it was receiving from Judge’s colleagues. In a year’s time, he said, I’d have probably seen all of the issues I was likely to see as a clerk, and it was a good immersion in the issues that actually come up in practice. While that’s true of the regional federal circuit caselaw, especially if you’re a law clerk, it is doubly so for state regional courts and courts of last resort if you’re spending most of your time in state court. Which is what I recall the advice actually being – his dad had recommended he read slip opinions as a young lawyer, and he was passing the advice along using the relevant slip opinions for the job I had at the time.
But if your practice is litigation in federal court, and specifically trying cases in a particular subject matter, the best reading material of all – if you can get it – is courts’ rulings on renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law / motions for new trial following a jury’s verdict. The reason why is that the opinions provide a complete cross-section of what the significant issues were in the case, what the arguments were, and what the evidence supporting those arguments were, because every issue that matters will be in there. Why? Because they have to be for appellate purposes. So reading JMOLs tells you what issues you should be alert to, what the strategies on those issues are, and what the specific judge thought of specific arguments. And that’s to say nothing of the treasure trove of legal standards they contain. Summary judgment rulings use a different standard, and only give you one slice of what was at issue in the case, so they’re a poor substitute.
The orders are actually fairly rare, since such a small percentage of cases make it to trial and then make it through postverdict briefing before settlement. And if a court doesn’t try many cases, you won’t see many, so the chances in most courts of reading a detailed JMOL in the subject matter you’re interested in is actually fairly small. That’s why we who work on patent cases locally are somewhat spoiled in the EDTX since we get to see detailed JMOL rulings in patent cases from the judges we try patent cases before – perhaps as many many as several a year per patent-heavy judge in patent cases alone. So we have a pretty good idea from prior, recent rulings which arguments are effective and which are not. That’s why the attached recently-issued order is worth reviewing.