Appellate practice involves different skills and strategic considerations than trial practice. On appeal, the focus shifts from developing and proving facts (through discovery, examining witnesses, and trial) to the legal issues that decide the case. Effective appellate advocacy thus demands a formulation of the issues that is focused on what is important to a panel of appellate judges deciding the case.
In formulating the issues on appeal, an appellate lawyer conducts thorough legal research; analyzes the legal issues in light of the rule-making and policy considerations that shape the development of law; and then presents the facts and those issues and arguments selected for appeal concisely in a persuasive appellate brief.
The importance of a well-crafted appellate brief cannot be exaggerated. Appellate briefs receive greater judicial scrutiny than written materials prepared at trial because they are reviewed by a panel of judges, rather than a single judge, along with those judges’ larger legal staff, under comparatively less time pressure than exists in the trial court. As one appellate court has explained, appellate work is “most assuredly not the recycling of trial level points and authorities” but instead “entails rigorous original work in its own right” and “offers counsel probably their best opportunity to craft work of original, professional, and, on occasion, literary value.” In re Marriage of Shaban, 88 Cal. App. 4th 398, 408-10 (2001).
After the appellate briefing, oral argument is an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the appellate judges regarding the issues in the case. To be effective, appellate oral advocacy must be keyed to the unique concerns of the appellate forum – avoiding emotional or fact-based pleas that may play well before a jury, but instead focusing on the dispositive legal issues, being sure to answer the judges’ questions.
In addition to the practice in the appellate courts, appellate lawyers play important roles in the trial courts. Appellate lawyers collaborate with trial counsel on strategic and tactical matters to raise all applicable arguments and make the appropriate trial record, identifying and preserving legal issues as they arise and crafting effective motions on substantive legal issues – before, during, and after trial.
Therefore, involving an appellate lawyer in a case as early as possible is important to ensure the best chance of success both at trial and on appeal.
Rex S. Heinke