Judge Lucy Inman: The Art of Communication

Art is a form of communication, and communication can be a form of art. As a former trial judge, former appellate judge and lawyer, Lucy Inman endeavors to improve communications between the bar and the bench. “We have a shared goal of applying the law fairly and consistently to constantly changing circumstances,” said Inman. “The most compelling legal writing requires, in addition to intellectual honesty and respect for the rule of law, creative and engaging analysis.”

A work of art, whether it’s visual, music, dance, literature or another form, is the expression of the artist who created it.”

Inman is surrounded by art in her home and her office. She began collecting artwork from friends while in college and has long supported individual artists, galleries and museums. She currently serves on the board of CAM Raleigh, a contemporary art museum.

“A work of art, whether it’s visual, music, dance, literature or another form, is the expression of the artist who created it,” said Inman. “Art can move the audience in any number of ways. Two people can take away entirely different meanings from the same work.”

Unlike artists, Inman notes, lawyers must keep important constraints in mind. “Attorneys don’t have artistic license because legal writing is necessarily constrained by the facts and the law. Also, attorneys should clearly communicate the purpose of what they are writing and explain in plain language why the facts and the law support that purpose. Ambiguity in legal writing helps no one.”

Inman was appointed to the Superior Court by Governor Beverly Perdue in 2010 and served through 2014, presiding in trials and hearings across the state. Of the thousands of rulings she made in that time, only seven were overturned on appeal.

In 2014, Inman was elected to the NC Court of Appeals, filling the seat of a retiring judge. She served from 2015 through 2022, authoring more than 450 appellate opinions, including decisions on issues of first impression in constitutional, criminal, civil and administrative law. She also helped decide appeals in thousands of cases.

The jobs of a trial and appellate judge are very different. “Trial judges make most of their decisions in the moment and often prepare written orders on deadline like daily beat reporters,” said Inman. “Appellate judges have more time to research, reflect and write opinions that can guide trial judges.”

Inman was unsuccessful in her 2022 bid for a seat on the NC Supreme Court. “That loss opened the door for a career path that’s equally motivating and rewarding,” said Inman.

She recently joined Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman as senior counsel in its Raleigh office. Judges who leave the bench typically join large general practice firms, representing businesses and institutional clients. Inman chose instead to focus on the plaintiff’s side.

“I want to level the playing field by representing people who don’t have power on their own,” said Inman.

She was attracted to work with attorneys she knew well and admired, as well as the firm’s nationwide practice, which includes complex civil litigation, mass torts and class actions. The firm’s mass tort clients include thousands of people, many of them former military personnel and their families, who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.

“Class and mass actions allow people who otherwise could not hire a lawyer to enforce their rights as a group,” said Inman. “Coordinated litigation can meaningfully change the behavior of defendants for the benefit of everyone.”

At Milberg, Inman joins Martha Geer, another former NC Court of Appeals judge and appellate specialist, and Mark Sigmon, also an appellate specialist. The trio represent the firm’s clients on appeal as well as provide support for their colleagues litigating in trial and appellate courts across the country.

“Collaborating with other lawyers to make sure we submit our best work to courts is like cooking with gas,” said Inman. “Combining our skills and insights exponentially improves the final product.”

Inman said she was sure Milberg was the right firm for her when Senior Partner Dan Bryson asked her to mentor younger attorneys while settling back in private practice. “Lucy has such a wealth of experience. Our associates and partners can learn so much from her,” said Bryson. “She has so much energy and passion.”

Inman recommends that attorneys learn to recognize when to seek another attorney’s insight and advice. “If you’ve made zero progress after an hour of diligent research or writing, it’s time to confer with someone else about your approach,” she said. “Spinning your wheels in isolation for hours or days on end doesn’t serve you or your client.”

Responsibility to Ask Questions

Inman was born in Raleigh with newspaper ink in her blood. Her great-grandfather was the publisher and editor of the Raleigh News & Observer. Her grandfather succeeded his father as editor. And her father was a photographer at the N&O, then a reporter, then the opinion editor.

“I was so proud that my father’s life’s work was to tell the truth, to shine a light on problems that aren’t going to get addressed unless we acknowledge them,” said Inman.

While earning her undergraduate degree in English at NC State, Inman worked as an intern on newspapers in the region. Her first job out of college was working as a reporter for The Raleigh Times, an afternoon paper.

“I loved it,” she recalled. “To have not only permission to ask questions but a responsibility to ask questions is a great motivator. You get to learn about people in every walk of life. Everybody.”

She covered general assignments, the police beat, and eventually the courts. “Courts are a lot like crimes and emergencies except the dust has settled, and instead of asking who, what, where, when, we’re asking why, how and what are the consequences.”

Inman earned her law degree with honors in 1990 from the UNC School of Law and then clerked for Chief Justice James Exum of the NC Supreme Court. “He taught me that you’ve got to write an opinion in a way that the average person can understand, not just a law professor. That process helps you think through your

She earned her legal writing chops practicing civil litigation for 18 years, first in Los Angeles, where she successfully defended the actor Carroll O’Connor (better known as Archie Bunker) in a defamation trial and represented other individuals and businesses in commercial litigation.

She and her husband, writer Billy Warden, returned to North Carolina in 2000 with a 2-year-old and a second child on the way. She joined a civil practice in Raleigh representing plaintiffs in medical negligence and sexual abuse cases. In 2007, along with several criminal and civil attorneys, Inman successfully challenged NC’s lethal injection protocol. She credits her husband, professional colleagues, and many teachers for making it possible for her to practice law while raising two young children.

I loved it. To have not only permission to ask questions but a responsibility to ask questions is a great motivator. You get to learn about people in every walk of life. Everybody.”

Inman with Milberg’s Raleigh Office Associates and Law Student Interns

Sell The Sizzle

Inman often teaches attorneys about how to make legal writing persuasive and effective in both trial and appellate courts. Her most recent presentation to associate attorneys at Milberg, “From the Trench to the Bench, How to Make (or Lose) Points With Judges,” touches on her highest priorities.

Taking Care of Ourselves

Inman serves as a vice president of the NCBA’s BarCARES program, which provides free, confidential, professional mental health and substance abuse treatment for attorneys, judges, and law students. Along with other board members, she often presents CLE programs addressing stress in the legal profession and strategies to care for oneself and colleagues.

A 2017 study by the American Bar Association found that attorneys are twice as likely as the general population to suffer from depression, twice as likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, and the fourth most likely to commit suicide, behind physicians, dentists and pharmacists.

In 2022, on the day after a prominent North Carolina attorney died by suicide, Inman moderated an Attorney at Law Magazine roundtable with law school deans to discuss preventing substance abuse and mental health problems among law students.

“If a lawyer is unable to control his or her behavior or impaired in thinking and judgment, then all that lawyer’s clients can be at risk,” she said. “Because people place so much trust in lawyers and in judges, and because justice depends upon honesty and integrity, we need to make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves.”

Inman is candid about her own experiences with anxiety and depression, which she recognized and got treatment for during law school. In recent years, she has used BarCARES for short-term counseling. “I want people to know that successful lawyers and judges can struggle with mental health and substance abuse problems, that these issues only end careers when they are ignored, and that paying attention and taking care of yourself is a sign of strength, not weakness.”

Collins Saint and Inman at 2023 NCBA Convention in June
Collins Saint and Inman at 2023 NCBA Convention in June

Textures of Life

At CAM Raleigh, Inman admired a major exhibit of the work of Beverly McIver, a Black artist who grew up in a public housing project in Greensboro during the racially charged 1960s and 70s. McIver and her two sisters, one who is mentally disabled, were raised by their mother, a mill worker and housekeeper. McIver was bused to a white school and struggled to fit in.

“These paintings show us the artist’s experiences, including every color and every texture of life and emotions that range from grief to joy to pride,” said Inman. “Lawyers should strive to convey the perspectives of their clients with the same commitment, skill, and grace.

From the Trench to the Bench, How to Make (or Lose) Points with Judges

Clarity is the most powerful weapon of persuasion. If you can’t explain a point clearly, maybe your analysis doesn’t hold water and you need to rethink it. If you write a brief that’s easy to understand, even a judge who does not agree with your argument will respect you. This is basically honesty, which courts expect and appreciate.

Imagine you are explaining your case to a high school student. “Long story short” is the best way to start any written work – a letter, complaint, memo, brief, as well as an oral argument. After you’ve forecast what to expect, show your points with facts and law instead of telling the court what to conclude. Use more nouns and verbs than adjectives and adverbs. At the end, sum up your points and ask for what you’re seeking – to grant or deny a motion, to affirm or reverse the decision below.

1-3-2 Theory, also known as “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Make your main points succinctly at first (sizzle), back up those points with facts and law (steak), and at the end, remind the reader what to conclude from it all. Put all the factual and legal details needed to support your points in the middle of the sentence, paragraph, section, brief, or complaint. This technique is also helpful when looking for a place to include content that is necessary but not persuasive.


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Raleigh, NC 27603
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