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How An Appellate Lawyer Can Help You

by | Aug 5, 2019 | Appellate Law

Mounting an appeal can seem like a daunting task for a trial attorney. It is a time-consuming process that requires a very different set of skills than trying a case does. The goal is no longer to convince a lay jury that your version of the facts is the right one. Your audience is now a panel of knowledgeable, sophisticated appellate judges who expect a detailed analysis of the law and facts presented in a concise, well-written brief, and who may grill you during oral argument on a nuanced point of appellate law that you may be ill-equipped to address.

There are many ways that an appellate lawyer can help you. An appellate lawyer comes into the case with no preconceived notions, and can therefore provide an objective assessment of the merits of your case and help you to identify potential winning arguments, including ones that you might not have even considered. In addition, an appellate lawyer is well-versed on appellate procedure, applicable standards of review, and the expectations of appellate judges. The unique knowledge and experience of an appellate lawyer can be a valuable asset to you and your client. Most important, an appellate lawyer is a skilled writer and researcher who can prepare a well-written brief setting forth your best appellate arguments in a clear and concise presentation.

“Appellate lawyers bring a fresh perspective to a case, which can be a useful antidote to the tunnel vision you are likely experiencing, having lived through your case for many months or even years.”



Appellate lawyers bring a fresh perspective to a case, which can be a useful antidote to the tunnel vision you are likely experiencing, having lived through your case for many months or even years. Appellate lawyers are often able to find potential issues in the record that trial attorneys are unable to see because they are too close to or too vested in the case or they may not even know what to look for. Moreover, you and your client will undoubtedly receive a more objective assessment of the merits of an appeal from an appellate attorney who has not lived through the case like you have.

Being able to identify legal issues in a trial record that judges may be particularly interested in is an important skill of an appellate attorney. Indeed, during oral argument judges sometimes focus on what might seem to trial lawyers as obscure or irrelevant legal theories. Experienced appellate lawyers are uniquely qualified to respond to any and every inquiry, however esoteric the point may be.


Appellate courts follow an entirely different set of procedural rules. There are very specific requirements for appellate filings and important deadlines that, if missed, can be fatal to an appeal. Experienced appellate attorneys have been through what is often a lengthy process many times and can walk you and your client through each stage of the appeal, from filing a notice of appeal or notice of discretionary review, to compiling and submitting the record for review, exchanging briefs, and appearing before a panel of judges for oral argument.

Appellate lawyers bring to the table valuable knowledge of the appropriate standard of review, as well as appellate law, both procedural and substantive. They are also familiar with the backgrounds and personalities of the appellate judges who will hear the case, including how they have ruled on cases similar to yours and whether they ask a lot of questions during oral argument. Not having to research all of these matters at the outset of an appeal will save trial attorneys without appellate experience a lot of precious time.



Many trial lawyers do not consider themselves strong writers. Indeed, a successful trial practice does not rely on the written word, rather it is a trial lawyer’s oratory skills that are paramount. For appellate lawyers, the primary mission is to write a comprehensive brief, setting forth a persuasive legal argument that is well-supported by case law and the applicable statutory or regulatory framework. Thus, experienced appellate lawyers are, first and foremost, skilled writers. They are also adept at mastering the record; researching legal principles, both procedural and substantive; and understanding subtle legal distinctions and emerging legal trends.

Trial lawyers are notoriously busy practitioners, often going from one trial to the next, with court appearances, depositions, discovery, client meetings and travel scheduled in between. This can leave little time for the thoughtful reflection, exhaustive research, and detailed brief writing that effective appellate representation demands. Bringing in appellate counsel to handle the appeal allows trial lawyers to do what they do best, while we can do what we do best as appellate lawyers.


If you are considering an appeal on behalf of a client and are interested in an appellate consultation, I welcome you to contact me. I have extensive experience handling appeals in state and federal courts throughout Washington State.