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The Evolution of Legal Publishing | Jason Wilson

Evolution of Legal Publishing

When faced with a new legal issue, having a reliable resource to provide background information and a starting point for research is key. These resources create efficiency for clients and allow attorneys to get up to speed quickly in fast-moving matters. But, legal publishing companies have to ensure that the information they provide is trustworthy, user-friendly, and up-to-date in an ever-evolving legal world. Todd Smith and Jody Sanders address the process of writing and compiling legal reference materials by sitting down with Jason Wilson, co-founder of Bearings Legal Resources. Jason discusses his background as an appellate lawyer and staff attorney before transitioning into the legal-publishing world with the O’Connor’s practice manuals. He explains how this experience inspired him to launch a new legal publishing company to fill needs in the market that were not being served by existing publications. Jason also shares how these materials can help attorneys provide better representation in particular cases and sharpen legal expertise in new areas.

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The Evolution of Legal Publishing | Jason Wilson

We have as our guest Jason Wilson from Houston. Jason is involved in a new venture called Bearings Legal Resources that we’re going to talk about. Welcome to the show, Jason.

It’s a pleasure to be here.

We’re going to talk about a lot more than that, though. Tell us about your background and what led you to become a lawyer.

I was a philosophy major at the University of Houston. I graduated with about eight people. I know that people that I’ve seen on social media have visceral reactions to things like The Big Bang Theory. If you can imagine a group of individuals sitting at the cafeteria nerding out about Wittgenstein, Plato or anything else, it was this group. I always knew that I didn’t have the philosophical chops to go on to a high-quality master’s program. Certainly, I had no desire to get a PhD, which I felt like was the only trajectory for somebody with a philosophy degree.

At some point along the way, when it came time to do my senior honors thesis, I ended up in critical legal studies. There was a professor at the University of Houston Law School at the time, James Herget, that I partnered up with as an advisor to help with my honors thesis. He became part of my panel when I had to defend it. He has an interesting process and background. I enjoyed the whole aspect of having to write a 100-plus thesis on something that I truly am mortified going back and reading because my writing skills and everything else have evolved so much over time. I also truly didn’t understand the full scope of the history of the movement, its impact, and then my overall thesis in general.

From that, I grew to appreciate law and theory and wanting to get into practicing law, but I wasn’t exactly sure whether I wanted to commit myself fully to law. At the time, SMU was offering a joint JD program with the Cox School of Business. I did a joint MBA program up there. I was dating a woman and one thing leads to another and I was getting married. She was in Houston and going to nursing school. I found my way back to Houston and transferred to South Texas because I decided, “I’m going to be a litigator.”

I was at SMU and we had a great deal of success in our moot court program at the time. I had fantastic opportunities there. One thing leads to another. Eventually, I ended up interning at the First Court of Appeals with Judge O’Connor while I was in law school as a byproduct of being in the same building. You don’t get to pick your judges. I ended up with her. The next thing you know, I’m her briefing attorney and then with O’Connor’s folks.

There’s a lot more to talk about there. You’re a native Houstonian.

I grew up in Oregon for a period of time in Corvallis. My dad was an organic chemistry professor at Oregon State University and did the PhD program when he was up there. I was disappointed when we moved back to Houston. Oregon, where we were living, is this beautiful country. We moved to this flat, desolate area near the swamplands. I am a native Texan and a native Houstonian.

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As someone who grew up in the swamplands, I can certainly sympathize with that.

Was it that the court was in the same building as South Texas at the time? I do remember that because that would have been back in the early ‘90s.

At the time, South Texas had a restriction on the number of hours you could work outside of law school. It was twenty hours. Internships didn’t count towards that because they were credit hours. I was also clerking at a midsize firm called Lorance & Thompson at the time. Larry Thompson was the lead partner. Tom Lorance was of counsel. He was getting older and retiring out. Larry’s brother was Tommy Thompson, who wrote Blood and Money.

It’s a classic Houston book.

At one point, I remember asking him if he had any of Tommy’s old files because Tommy died. Tommy was an old Post writer too, for those of you on the show that remember the greatest paper that we had in the city of Houston, which was the Houston Post. Tommy was a writer for the Houston Post for a long time. He died sometime after his last book. He’d been studying as a croupier for Vegas. Larry still had all of Tommy’s old files for Blood and Money. It was fun to go back through those and listen to tape recordings of the interviews that were done and the lawyers involved and everything else. It’s like a step back in time because I read the book as a kid. Dr. Helmer was fascinating.

Any of our Houston readers who haven’t read that book, go check it out. It is worth your time. It’s an interesting tale of Houston lore.

Also, it’s billed as one of the first authors to create the genre of novelized nonfiction, where, if you’ve ever read Den of Thieves by James Stewart, is this true story but I’m presenting it to you almost as if it reads like a novel. It’s something that hadn’t existed up to that point. I had been clerking with them on the side since I got back to Houston. It was attached to a big case that they had that resulted in Freeman v. Granada––and a Supreme Court case that alludes me right now––about an inadvertent waiver of attorney-client privilege largely because it resulted out of boxes of documents that were produced in Detroit or Philadelphia where the lawyers are going through them. They’re like, “Are you sure this is everything you want to produce?” They’re like, “Yes. Whatever is there is yours.” That was an interesting time to be on the cusp of looking at evidentiary law and privilege. It was also on that cusp of Rambo litigation is what we called it back then.

You got connected to Judge Michol O’Connor. You interned in her chambers. Did you work as her briefing attorney as well?

Yes, for a brief time until I quit to commit full time to the publishing venture. Fortunately, her previous briefing attorney was like, “I’ll keep doing this.” I’ve gotten enough of a taste of doing appellate law stuff while I was there. How many Anders briefs do you want to see as part of all of this? How many records do you want to read in a week? How many pre-sub memos do you want to do? You’re moving things through the system which is great, it’s just wasn’t what I wanted to do.

Let’s take a little step back for those folks who don’t know all about the story of Judge O’Connor and how the publishing venture got started. Tell us a little bit about how that got going and where it wound up and what your role was in that.

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Legal Publishing: A good resource that directs you immediately to a Supreme Court order and highlights the differences between a new rule and old rule is key.

In the ‘80s, she was an appellate law practitioner. She worked with O’Quinn and Abraham Watkins. She was with Abraham Watkins at the time. She had written a CLE paper that was pretty thick but it was a practice manual on civil procedure, essentially. People encouraged her to write a book about it. I’ll be honest with you, I can’t remember exactly how she got attached to Texas Lawyer. At the time, Texas Lawyer was starting up a publishing venture. She ended up with them. They published her first book. A guy that started it, Steven Brill, went on to start Court TV as well. At some point, there was a disagreement over copyright and updating. She sued for her copyright and got that back.

She won the money in the settlement. The money went to starting her own publishing company with both the Texas Civil Appeals book, which had been published by Texas Lawyer as well, and the Civil Trials book. I started doing work probably right after they did the pamphlet supplement to the Texas Civil Appeals book. The first product I worked on was Texas Civil Forms. We started doing civil trials forms. I was the first lawyer. At the time, they’re like, “We don’t need a lawyer. We’re fine. You can do all of this.” It’s like, “We need a lawyer.” Fast forward later, hundreds of employees and so forth over the years. We ended with 25, 30 lawyers.

To also give some flavor for our non-Texas audience, O’Connor’s did become a publishing empire as far as legal resource books for anybody who practices here.  Not everyone is a fan.

They shouldn’t be.

I happen to be a user of O’Connor’s books to this day. They’re extremely valuable. It certainly is a starting point for research. It’s incredible, the depth and breadth achieved in that publishing venture out of something that started with an article published in Texas Lawyer.

It was 323 pages of a CLE paper that she was doing with the Texas bar. Texas Lawyer published the book. That was one of their first publications. She did things differently with annotations on the rules and things like that. It resonated with people. Before I worked for them, I owned a copy of that book and had it annotated myself because it was extremely valuable as a clerk. To be fair, at SMU, Bill Dorsaneo was also one of our mentors, my moot court partner. I had a number of meetings with Bill. He has a brilliant mind as well. He has a different writing style. Having the pleasure of seeing both of them in action and thinking through problems and everything else was a unique experience for me.

One of my earliest memories of seeing an actual rules annotation book was Dorsaneo’s Rules. I can’t remember how many different volumes were put out under his name. In law school, they weren’t directing you to the annotated volumes of statutes. You were looking at the statutes or the case law primarily. I remember when I was clerking, my judge’s staff attorney bringing this cool book that was thick and showing me, “Here’s the statute. Do you see these annotations? Go look at these.” I’m like, “What is this book?” It turns out it was Dorsaneo’s. I was enthralled right away with this reference book that had never been presented to me before. I’m glad you brought up Dorsaneo’s because I suppose O’Connor’s and Dorsaneo’s wound up in head-to-head competition later on.

Bill, for a while, had done a bluebook. Matthew Bender had done a bluebook, which was a compilation of Texas rules and several CPRC annotated. It was thick. They discontinued it after 2004 or 2003. They didn’t publish it for long. It felt more of a concordance of cases in some regards rather than a curated list. I don’t know how much Professor Dorsaneo had in terms of involvement with that product. It’s hard to know within large editorial organizations. Back in the day when editors from different publishing companies spoke to one another, I had the highest regard for the folks at Matthew Bender who were in San Francisco at the time. They were top-notch products that they were producing. Life is different now in terms of writing and producing content. Back in the ‘90s, it was lovely.

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What kind of stuff did you do when you were getting started there? What was your job as a lawyer at a legal publishing company?

This is a great story. You leave a life of “excitement” in terms of dealing with clients. Being an associate or anything else is fun and exciting. Depending on the firm, there are all things that you have to deal with. In publishing, the first job that I had was creating all of the history notes for the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. That was going back to the 1941 issue of the bar journal going forward for every single rule and annotating, in terms of history notes, knowing what changed from year to year in every single rule for the rules of procedure, evidence and appellate law procedure.

You want to talk about nerding out on changes in terms of changes of language, meaning, and everything else, that’s what I did. I would never do it again, but I learned the importance of it. Particularly as far as appellate law practitioners were concerned, I need to know if the language of this particular rule was to say like, “What was going on in 1962 when this changed?” If you don’t have a good resource that directs you immediately to where you can find the Supreme Court order and take a look at the difference, that’s tough.

I can’t believe that no one had done that before.

There are only two products on the market that have history rules, O’Connor’s and ours, which we did differently. It’s hugely important.

It’s one of those things that you don’t think about until it matters.

That was a major undertaking. How did your role at O’Connor’s evolve over time? Taking a step back from that, you talked about your educational background. Aside from your connection with Judge O’Connor, what made you think that going into legal publishing was going to be a good fit for you?

Widgets, just making things. I knew I was missing out on practice, so I left for a while to go back into the practice. It was about 2.5, 3 years. I had a nice break. I had an interesting docket of federal and state trial work, civil appeals. I had a warehouse and clients that were involved in state securities board work. You do some administrative stuff and contracts. I needed to get that out of my system and know for sure that I didn’t want to milk the cows and wanted to get back to doing something else.

The guy that I hired to replace me that we agreed on didn’t work out as far as leading up the editorial group at the time. I ended up going back. I took a pay cut to go back. It was one of those things where you have a calling in life and there are certain sacrifices that you make to do it. My wife was like, “Do it.” We executed it. I felt like, “I’m going to go back and I’ll recapture all this time that I’m spending on Saturdays and Sundays at the firm.” It turns out that what we like to call a startup culture now is making a business. You spend more time doing it than you would otherwise.

I imagine there’s something satisfying about treading a path that no one has ever tread before. O’Connor’s and what you guys were developing didn’t exist until you made them.

The biggest impact was when we released Causes of Action. I grew up researching out of West Digest. No one was allowed to touch the Westlaw terminal. It’s like a dot matrix printer and it’s $2,000 to look up a case.

You didn’t have the CDs?

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Legal Publishing: Writing about the law is way different from writing about a case, which is about utilizing the law and finding ways to extend it around the edges of a particular situation.

We did. The greatest thing that ever came along was the printer CDs from Thomson Reuters or West Publishing at the time. We had one of those CD carousels. I was like, “Are you telling me I can research cases all day long and it doesn’t matter? This is fantastic.” When we got Butterworths, the CCR, the Court’s Charge Reporter on CD-ROM as well, it was like, “I can look up jury charges from Texas and see language for causes of action that aren’t laid out in texture.” They were up to texture second by the time I was practicing. The CDs changed our lives in many ways. For us, we’re still looking up things by the key number system and I know it’s greatly maligned by many people. Back in the day, it’s hard to imagine how we would have muddled through finding case law.

It’s greatly maligned. I’m not sure I understood that. It seems like where people get into trouble with the key numbering system is when all they do is copy the text out of the headnote and they don’t bother to read the case. In any event, the CD, I was exposed to that back around that same time and I thought it was the greatest thing ever. I’m able to use a lot of those same research strategies now online through Westlaw that I was able to use and in the ‘90s searching up the CDs.

In some of our previous conversations and mostly on Twitter spaces, you’ve learned a lot over the course of the last 25 years or so. Even though you’re not a practicing lawyer and haven’t practiced that much in your career, being exposed to the content of your books, primarily going back to the O’Connor’s books and going forward too, it’s surprising. I’ve been impressed with how knowledgeable you are about things like statutory interpretation and things that matter to lawyers. These are things that appear in the reference books because they’re critical to what lawyers do on a daily basis. Is there anything else that you feel you’ve developed a secondary expertise in?

Drinking from the firehose, learning how to learn. One of Judge O’Connor’s greatest quotes was, “I write so I can forget.” You talk about the things that I’ve learned, I’ve forgotten most of them largely because they’re on paper so I can go back and look. Particularly in the context of thinking about Professor Willinsky’s comments on legal writing and teaching students. I was fortunate at SMU that I had adjunct teaching. I had an adjunct professor for legal writing at the time. I’m pretty sure he had all of us doing memos for him on actual cases to see what would happen. Having that practical approach to things was hugely important.

What I’ve learned in terms of writing and issue digestion is outlining and trying to dive into material and trying to organize canon in some way. Whether we’re dealing with statutory or common law, trying to find some organizational structure that makes sense and that explains things. What I miss, Yvonne Ho who’s with Bracewell and one of our editorial board members notes, is the application of cases where a client comes in and you’re having to go into different circuits or you’re faced with a fact problem. Also, you’re having to apply US Supreme Court law or decision authority from other circuits that works the edges of personal jurisdiction or anything else.

When you are writing about the law, it’s different than writing about a case utilizing the law and then trying to find ways to extend it around the edges of that case. That’s what I miss a lot, because you don’t get that in terms of creating content. I do know that there aren’t a lot of lawyers that are looking at writing pleasing standards for Texas. The one thing I’ve learned is whether I’m writing for O’Connor’s or whether I’m writing for our company, you’re not going to find people that are willing to spend a lot of time on esoteric issues that aren’t going to get likes, blog hits or they’re not good for bar journal articles, CLE papers, or whatever else. The wheel is going to have to be rewritten over and over by countless lawyers that may be confronted with that situation. That’s what I’ve learned and how to spot dicta.

It’s an important skill because it turns out that the test that I see for dicta is something bad that I don’t want to apply in my case even though it’s binding authority, which is not the actual test for dicta.

To be fair, we had a robust law student program before our company was sold. We used to have an author lecture series where authors would come in and talk about the practice of law and things like that. It’s almost like a mini law review but with people who have graduated law school or they’re in their 2nd or 3rd year. You’re being tested on real-world applications. The work you’re doing is going into a paid product. You better have a good sense of reading these cases.

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This is not a hypothetical situation. You’re not writing a memo for a partner. This is real-world stuff that people are paying good money for and need to be able to rely on. It’s important work. You mentioned a couple of times the sale. I want to get into what you’re doing now. If you would, briefly cover what the outcome was with O’Connor’s in that transition and couldn’t help yourself and got into yet another startup situation.

The company was owned by Judge O’Connor and her son. On January 4, 2018, they consummated the sale to Thomson Reuters of O’Connor’s. At some point in 2018 or maybe in that same year, as part of an overall corporate restructuring, they shut down the New York editorial offices where we had 300 people. It was the oldest editorial group in New York, in Rochester. They shut down that office. They shut down our office. They shut down the Rutter office in California, in Ventura. People were offered a chance to work from home or take severance, or you could relocate to Minnesota if you wanted to do that.

It was a prescient decision pre-COVID when you think about it. It’s hard to knock the decision largely because you’ve got 200 and something properties across the globe and you’re looking to reduce your footprint. If you feel like you can be more successful at a work from home strategy, then yes, particularly when it comes to editorial or even production type work. I knew that I wasn’t somebody that was going to stay with a 25,000-employee company. I’m not a corporate person. I don’t fit well in a corporate structure. I took a package and left.

You still have the publishing bug.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew that I had plenty of runway to figure it out. It’s one of those things where events come together and you’ve got some other folks that left. They’re doing things and at some point, you’re like, “I like writing and explaining things. I’m an educator.” It’s insane when you think about it. We wrote a California civil procedure manual because why not? We’ve got O’Connor’s in Texas. We wrote what I felt was a brilliant California civil procedure manual. It turns out that everybody loves Rutters.

Back in the early 2000s, I met Bill Rutter and his executive editor out in California. I got to meet Pete Rose when I was at lunch with Bill Rutter so I felt like I’ve made it. It turns out that competing with entrenched brands is hard to do. It’s hard to get away from not wanting to rewrite things and explain things in different ways and connect with lawyers in the community, which is something that I greatly missed. I can assure you that I’ve met more lawyers across more practice areas as a publisher than I probably would have ever met as a practitioner. That’s been hugely rewarding.

This is the new venture, Bearings Legal Resources. I took a look at the website. I see that you’ll have some products headed to the market and some others coming soon. If it’s a fair description. You’re putting out a product that is essentially annotated codebooks, Texas Rules, the Civil Practice & Remedies Code is one of the inaugural products. You’re starting from scratch, a blank sheet of paper in front of you. We all know that feeling. What is that like? Tell us about the process you go through in creating an annotated codebook from scratch. That’s got to be pretty daunting.

Annotating codes are interesting. I want to back up. The Civil Litigation Guide is a guide. It’s 900 pages of commentary so far. It’s a pretty thick book in addition to the rules annotated as well. That was going to be our flagship product. We got waylaid at the end of 2020 with a couple of issues and we decided that we need to pivot and make sure we get the CPRC out in time because it’s a companion product to the book. When you approach annotating codes in terms of what we’re looking at, we want to provide a curated list of content that if you flip to a code section, you could start research with it. It’s not like NODS, which are great. If you’re online and you’re looking at a TOC and you drill down on a key number link and you’ve got a bunch of headnotes that you’re having to scroll through, it’s not necessarily focusing you in the right direction. Our goal is to draw down on the seminal cases for that.

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Legal Publishing: Delivering digital solutions without subscriptions is a good solution for readers.

One of the things that we always felt was a drawback in a product that we used, even our own, was the lack of headings to organize everything under statutes. It’s the same thing with all historical research and particularly for people that do venue or limitations. Some of these statutes have been around since the ‘20s and haven’t changed at all. You need to know what a transient person’s status is. It’s the weird little issues and common issues that come up all the time. Finding a way to organize things and present them in a compact form is super important. Also, having access to content that’s verified.

I can’t express enough to people that use these services to be sure that what you’re reading is the most updated version of a statute or rule. Even lawyers go to the Texas Supreme Court website and download the January 2021 version of the rules. There are errors in those rules. Some of them are formatting errors and maybe some language duplication errors. First and foremost, what you produce, the law has to be right. Your annotations have to bring some clarity around that.

I didn’t mean to short the library of publications in terms of what you have and suggest that it was only annotated codes. I’m glad that you clarified that you are publishing a civil litigation guide. That’s what I had in mind, as far as trying to imagine the volume of work that goes into drafting something like that, soup to nuts has to be tremendous. I know you’ve got a board of editors. Are the editors also creating the bulk of the work product, the content?

What I learned, right at the beginning, was busy lawyers have no time to write substantive content, but they’re good at reading and knowing whether or not something you said isn’t accurate. What’s funny when we wrote The Family Law Handbook is there were several instances where we’re like, “We know what the code says but nobody does that.” There’s that gap between the law and practice. We’re good at cataloging and writing everything. What you have to acknowledge is your weakness in some practical applications of rules.

As we all know, for anybody that’s done appellate law, there’s only so much that goes up through appellate law courts. That’s a function of passion and money. If you don’t have either one of those, a lot of things are going to be left at the trial court level. I learned this all the time, which is why it’s great to have friends who are trial court lawyers, and who are in arbitrations, mediations and have to grind it out every single day doing stuff. They do have practical applications of rules and they get stymied by some of the things. They have to look at the language of the rule because there is no case that’s going to help them.

One of the things that I admired about Bill Dorsaneo is he knew a lot of people. He was in the trenches. He understood grinding out some problems and you could bring some attention and focus around issues that would never be revealed in appellate law. For us, we know that there’s danger in terms of advocating for things and we don’t want to take either side of the docket. You want to leave things open-ended unless the Supreme Court has closed the door on something.

You’re making me think about the few times in my career when opposing counsel cited O’Connor’s. I never quite knew what to make of that.

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O’Connor’s books were written to never be cited. The whole issue was, “Here’s a statement of law. Here’s a case, rule, statute, several cases or whatever.” You go look at those and determine whether those are applicable. Is this a correct statement? I won’t name names but there’s a local judge who told me, “If a lawyer came in and quoted O’Connor’s, I knew exactly what type of lawyer that was, a lazy lawyer.” It’s hard to disagree with that because the whole point to the products wasn’t to quote it. It was to give you information so that you could be smarter, more knowledgeable, you could start out and research from there. Don’t quote it.

It’s an efficiency tool.

Your job is to figure out what the law is. It’s an efficiency tool. It’s to cut down on the time that it takes to get from point A to point B.

They’re very valuable for that. That’s what I use them for. If I don’t happen to know the law off the top of my head, that’s where I will start. It will get me started on something and either refresh my memory or head me down the right path. They’re super useful for that. I certainly expect that Bearings’ products are going to accomplish that same thing. You got the CPRC on its way out and the litigation guide is on its way out.

At the end of 2021, discovery, trial, post-trial, more annotated codes. We’ll be tackling business and commerce code, business organizations code. The luxury of this imprint is that we can work with other authors in a way that we couldn’t with O’Connor’s and produce additional content. One area that I’ve been wanting to get in is ethics and not just disciplinary stuff, but lawyer advertising. It seems like we’ve been dabbling in DR rules for the last several years and coming out with a comprehensive guide to all of that, written by people that are either sitting on regional panels or have been involved in crafting DR rules or are at the top of all of that.

We’ve had a number of folks interested in producing content but it’s not easy to do. You’re looking at the long game on anything. If you want to make good content, it’s never going to come easy. I also am a firm believer in several things. Number one, customer service and dealing with lawyers and listening to them. Number two, pricing. Legal information doesn’t come cheap. When you’ve got two large publishers controlling most of the secondary content, there’s no time will they let the pricing go down and they’ll often outpace inflation. It will not necessarily be up to the standards that you might want. That’s up to every lawyer to decide, for his or her own. We also still believe in print and digital, so we’re delivering digital solutions that are devoid of having a subscription. You can put those on anything you want and carry them around. That cuts down on the time to deliver print. If it’s print fidelity and you have it, it’s yours.

There’s still something about opening the book and flipping through those.

It’s nice to have good paper and readable fonts. I’m a big fan of Matthew Butterick and all the work that we did with Typography for Lawyers. We’re happy to have him featured in our products, even though Equity is a little bit of a heavier font as far as printing is concerned. We hope that there won’t be too much bleed-through on pages. We’ll be fine.

I look forward to seeing that. The litigation guide, does it cover appellate law too, or do you plan to have a separate volume?

There are separate volumes for all of that. I’m pretty sure the only appellate law stuff we should cover is mandamus and interlocutory appeals. I feel like if we stop there, we’ll be fine. It seems like in every legislative session, the legislature introduces a new interlocutory appeal route for us. I’m almost positive we could do a book on interlocutory appeals and that would cover most of what goes up. I don’t know what you guys see in your practice as far as interlocutory appeals are concerned.

With the TCPA getting pulled back a little bit, the stuff that’s left is a little bit more specific. There’s a lot of different places where it comes up. They keep adding to it, which creates more avenues. The permissive appeal part is interesting too.

Out of curiosity, do you get a lot of restricted appeals off of default judgments? Do you get pulled into things like that?

Occasionally.

Same for me, it depends on which side of that you’re working and what your practice setting is. In my former practice when I was on my own, I would get called about that thing not infrequently.

Money is just not there.

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Legal Publishing: Legal writing is not just necessarily the words you write, but how you present them on the page that facilitates persuasion.

Folks that suffered a default judgment, more often than not, there was some other issue there. It does come up from time to time. I’ve done a few bills of review and those are fun. They’re like another version of the legal malpractice cases where you got a case within a case. It’s interesting, but the law there is so arcane and archaic sometimes that I would not deign to sit down and try to write a volume on how to handle a bill of review.

Who’s going to start chasing the interlocutory appeals on healthcare liability claims? Is that something, now that you got a new avenue, you may have a chance of knocking something out? Is that area of the law so well defined now that everything is subsumed under it?

It’s mostly that. There are far fewer healthcare liability claims than there used to be. To the extent that applies, it’s a narrow subset of things that are out there. I bet what you’re going to see is mostly the people who are already doing the healthcare liability defense work that are taking those things up on appeals as parcel of what they do normally.

You mentioned Butterick. I was going to ask you about this. I was hoping maybe you would tell this as your tip or war story that we’re going to get to. Because this is an appellate law show, almost everyone who’s reading this is going to know who Matthew Butterick is and the Typography for Lawyers book that he wrote. You played a personal role in that book, even getting written in the first place as I understand it. Tell us a little bit about that.

I approached him after he had launched a website or he had written something about document design, brief design and things like that. I think he had launched a website at that point. Nobody’s doing this. I love typography and I love thinking about it. I am interested in different ways of presenting documents. If anybody is familiar with the ‘90s and reading briefs in the ‘90s, understanding what 12-point or 14-point Times New Roman looks like, you get a sense of how drab your practice was as far as the look and feel. Matthew seemed to have a lot of ideas around that. It took a while to coax some of these things out.

He ultimately came up with a table of contents and he ran with it. He produced a beautiful book. Other than copy editing, I don’t think we did anything because he wanted full control over the product, design, layout and everything else. The education that I got from that process, listening to him, and reading his material told me a lot about the way we were doing certain things, approaches, and cues in terms of headings and heading design. Once you get locked into a certain system, it’s hard as an organization to pivot out of that. I did feel like as a product, it had something for all lawyers. Honestly, after seeing what’s happened since then, to me, it’s a huge testament to the need and the desire for that. Trying to teach lawyers that it’s not just necessarily the words you write but how you present them on the page that facilitates persuasion.

Legal cases are never done until the argument has been completed. Click To Tweet

Before we wrap up with our war story or tip that we usually like to end with, where can our readers find you? Where can they find Bearings?

BearingsLegal.com.

For the Appellate Twitter crew, you’re active on Twitter. You’re there are a lot. You participate in conversations. What’s your Twitter handle, Jason?

@JasnWilsn

Our tradition on our show is to end with a tip or a war story for our readers and you’ve given us some great info. I don’t know if you’ve got anything off the top of your head that you’d want to share.

The first case I ever argued was against James Sales on an ICC motor case and we talked about not getting too many default judgments to have to work with. Progressive Insurance was one of the companies that hired us for this appeal. It’s a $1.5 million default judgment against an insured truck driver on a case. What I would say to folks is always listen to rebuttal because you never know what’s going to happen when you’re sitting at the table. Something during rebuttal may come up that for some reason in the back of your brain, you say, “I know that’s in the record. There’s something in the record.”

In this particular case, there was. It was an issue that came up during rebuttal that I heard one of the judges ask Sales a question that implicated a rider that was attached to the insurance policy. This is back in the day. For that case, I used an easel with the giant Post-it flip pages and had written out a diagram of the statutes. At that time, we had a statute on the books, TRCS 911 B, which interfaced with the Federal ICC statute on motor carriers. I had this whole diagram out because it was too confusing in the briefs to map everything. I needed to have a visual and I had no way to put the visual in a brief. I needed to have it next to me so I could point to it at the podium.

I got done with that and I felt good about the argument, and then I hear this one thing come up. So, when I got up for my reply, I was thinking, “I want to bring this the court’s attention.” So I got the record out, and you probably have a digital record, but I’ve got the whole file on the podium. For the kids out there that have never seen these, they’re thick and big. I got the whole file out with the double punch holes at the top, 14.5-inch size. I’m going through that and I’ve got this rider marked, and I bring up the rider in my reply. It resonated and then followed it up with a letter brief to the court. We got the case kicked on that last issue.

It drove home that the case is never done until the argument is completed. If you think you got it wrapped up, you may not have it wrapped up. Maybe it’s a little different now. I don’t know. That was such a great experience because it taught me the value to don’t just sit down and not listen to opposing counsel make their argument. I know we all do. We listen to the judge’s questions and gauge everything. There may be an opportunity after you rest, “There’s something that we missed but it’s still in the record and the briefs that you can follow up and have your case twist and turn a little bit on that.”

man and woman talking over paperwork

Legal Publishing: Always listen to rebuttal because you never know what’s going to happen.

That’s a testament to knowing the record.

Judge O’Connor drove that into me. She was one of the few judges on the court at the time that read the entire record and required her briefing attorneys to read the entire record.

Jason, thanks for spending time with us. We enjoyed hearing about the O’Connor’s connection and history and what you’re up to next. We’ll look forward to following that closely and seeing you around on Twitter.

If you guys keep posting the Twitter spaces conversations as you did for Professor Willinsky, it’s great. I’d love to see them in enough time to hop on and listen to what’s going on.

We appreciate that plug and we’ll start putting out the date and times a little earlier than we have been. Thanks for mentioning that. We appreciate it.

I appreciate the invite.

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About Jason Wilson

Jason WilsonJason is a Co-Founder of Bearings Legal Resources and has over 25 years of experience writing and publishing legal materials. He was the former Vice President of O’Connor’s from its inception to its acquisition.

During his time at O’Connor’s, he learned a tremendous amount about developing quality reference materials, building a business, forming productive relationships, and knowing when to let smarter people take over.

As a native Texan, Jason is committed to being an independent resource for members of the Texas bar once again.

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