Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tips for developing your appellate practice skills

OK, you did your legal writing class moot court exercise as a 1L, then joined a moot court team during your second year and competed a few rounds against other schools. But now that you're about to graduate, where do you go to get more appellate experience with real cases?  It isn't easy since most partners aren't going to hand over the reins in an appellate case by having the most junior associate in the firm argue the case.  To the rescue comes this column from the ABA's Litigation Section which offers some tips for helping brand new lawyers find opportunities to hone their appellate oral advocacy and brief writing skills post law school.

Young Lawyers Corner: Getting Appellate Experience

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Take a Pro Bono Appeal
While legal education provides a helpful foundation for practice, there is no substitute for hands-on experience. Therefore, one of the best ways to learn how to manage an appeal is to actually do one. Although a firm’s paying clients might be less than thrilled about a new associate taking over a complex appeal, there are many litigants without counsel who would be grateful for an attorney to take their case. Where an appeal would otherwise be advanced pro se, appellate courts are equally thankful to have a pro bono attorney articulate the issues on appeal and present cogent legal arguments.

Every federal circuit and many states have some form of pro bono appellate program. While some, such as the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, have minimum practice requirements, others do not. In jurisdictions without minimum requirements, new associates should review the court’s website or contact the clerk’s office to find out how to apply to take pro bono appeals. Once you apply and begin thinking of accepting an appeal, it is also important to confer with your firm’s appellate-practice group to make sure the issues presented do not conflict with the firm’s current work or clients.

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Offer to Edit Briefs
There are two important skills that new associates generally have and seasoned attorneys often lack: researching and cite checking. Even the best appellate attorneys can use a little help with their cite checking, and who better to assist than an eager young associate? Offering to take on the onerous task of reviewing citations is an excellent way to show that you are diligent and detail-oriented. Also, for those with recent clerkship experience, chances are you are familiar with the court’s preferred writing and style, and you can impress the partner by making sure the brief conforms to the court’s preferences. Mention this skill when asking the partner if you can edit and cite check a brief, and you are sure to get in on the job.

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Offer to Assist with Moot-Court Arguments
Put your moot-court experience to work by offering to assist the appellate attorneys in your office prepare upcoming oral arguments. New associates can be a cost-effective way to fill a moot panel, and the benefits are two-fold: First, the firm gets a mock judge who has recent experience with argument settings through, for example, a clerkship; second, the associate gets to see how a seasoned appellate attorney prepares a case for oral argument. You will also get familiar with the briefs and the legal issues.

Watch or Listen to Oral Arguments

While doing billable work is the primary concern for most new associates in law firms, there are some valuable learning opportunities you can avail yourself of during your non-billable time. One of these is watching or listening to oral arguments. Most federal and state courts either stream arguments live online or post prior arguments. Pick an argument by a well-respected advocate and spend 20 minutes getting a sense of how an appellate practitioner handles the process.

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Get Involved in the State Bar
Many state bars have sections or practice groups devoted to appeals. Join this group and attend a meeting.

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