Background

What is appellate practice?
In an appeal, a higher court reviews the decision of a lower court, generally the trial court or an administrative agency. Lawyers specializing in this practice handle the process of appealing the lower tribunal's decision. Both the state and federal courts have avenues of appeal for civil and criminal cases. Appeals may happen in a civil or criminal case after trial, or after dismissal of a case (such as a motion for summary judgment that the court granted). In some matters, a party may have the right to appeal. For example, a convicted criminal defendant who has exhausted appeals at the state court level is entitled to seek review through the federal court system. Not all issues may be appealed as a matter of right and when accepted for review, the appellate court applies standards of review to the case. Frequently, appellate attorneys may specialize in a practice area, such as criminal appellate work, tax, environmental, or others.

What does an appellate lawyer do?
Attorneys representing clients on appeal must carefully review the entire record, including trial transcripts, evidentiary materials, and motions to determine which grounds, if any, exist as a basis for the appeal. Superlative research, analysis, and writing skills are vital, as the strength of the appeal rests on the brief. However, appellate attorneys must also be skilled oral advocates. Appellate lawyers may work at private law firms, or in state or federal government agencies. The appellate bar includes appellate judges and attorneys who work as staff attorneys for those judges. Many if not most firms that hire appellate lawyers target law school graduates who have held judicial clerkships, especially appellate clerkships. Law students or graduates interested in this area need excellent legal research, analytical, oral advocacy, and writing skills. Moot court and law journal experience are also highly regarded experiences when evaluating applicants.

What to do if you are interested in appellate practice?

Representative Relevant Courses

  • Appellate Courts and Advocacy Seminar
  • Appellate Litigation Clinic
  • Class Action Law and Practice
  • Criminal Appellate Practice Seminar
  • Supreme Court Institute Judicial Clerkship Practicum

Student Groups

  • GULC Barristers' Council: The divisions of Appellate Advocacy, Trial Advocacy, and Alternative Dispute Resolution Advocacy provide students with opportunities to hone their oral and written advocacy skills through competitive interscholastic competitions across the country.

Relevant Bar Associations

Helpful Resources

Representative Employers/Opportunities