Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Annual Meeting of the State Bar of Georgia. On Thursday, I was part of a quartet of lawyers who delivered the criminal and civil update of significant cases from the 11th Circuit and Georgia Appellate Courts. Thursday, at the appellate practice luncheon, Georgia family law attorney Michael Manely spoke to us about his journey to the Supreme Court of the United States in Chafin v. Chafin.

I enjoyed conversation with Michael before his talk, where he shared with me some of the details of the case as well as his business model his new model of practice, the Justice Cafe. And the talk detailed his journey from a family law trial court all the way to the nation’s highest court.

His talk is now available online.

Here was what I took away from Michael’s presentation.

  • With enough work and preparation it is possible for a lawyer to succeed at the Supreme Court with little previous experience practicing there. It is not just a court for specialists.
  • Oral argument, at its best, is conversational. Rather than come to the Court with talking points to use with the justices (as was suggested to him), he decided to be prepared to answer their questions. Michael figured that the justices likely knew how they would vote but were likely looking to oral argument for answers to remaining questions. He went for a dialogue.
  • He did not look at this as merely the opportunity to litigate a case in the Supreme Court or to be a part of a cutting-edge matter. Michael was focused on his client, whom he had represented from the beginning of the case. Appellate lawyers can become so focused on the record and the law that they lose sight of the human story at the heart of the case. Michael didn’t do that.
All in all, an engaging talk and a fascinating story.