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Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist took a swipe Friday at big-footing lawyers who enter a case just in time to appear before the Supreme Court and don't bother to master the legal points at issue.

"It may be the attorney general of a state, the senior partner of a law firm, the head of some department who has done none of the work on the case in the lower courts but who is either too busy or too slipshod to truly digest the brief from which he is arguing," Rehnquist said."This sort of insouciance offends the court and can do nothing but harm the client's case," he said in a speech to an American Bar Association group of lawyers who specialize in appellate court work.

A text of the chief justice's remarks was made available to reporters.

"This seems to me inexcusable but it does happen on rare occasions," Rehnquist said.

Because most members of the current Supreme Court are prone to ask many questions, he said, "You have to be prepared . . . you must expect hypothetical questions posing slightly different factual situations from yours, and be prepared to answer them."

He added: "The only way to successfully deal with these questions is to have thought through the case in advance of argument, and try to anticipate what such questions might be."

Rehnquist, who during oral arguments occasionally seems irritated with the number and frequency of questions from his colleagues, noted that he has "virtually no control" over how often lawyers' presentations are interrupted.

Recalling being told of a Canadian chief justice who tapped his pencil on the bench when he wanted his fellow court members to stop asking so many questions, Rehnquist confessed, "I have occasionally wished that I had similar authority in our court."