What is Appellate Practice? – How To Become an Appellate Lawyer

Appellate courts are responsible for reviewing rulings made by lower-level courts. If an individual or entity is dissatisfied with a trial outcome, the judicial system allows for appeals through the appellate courts.

Appellate practice entails presenting cases for the second hearing in an attempt to overturn a ruling or get a more lenient sentence. Appellate lawyers come into play when an accused party wants to challenge the outcome at a higher-level court.

Becoming an Appellate Lawyer

The appellate practice derives its name from the term ‘appeal.’ To appeal is to contest an initial ruling with the hope of being favored by a new decision. In cases where accused people believe a trial court issues a negative judgment on questionable legal grounds, they are entitled to appeal through appellate channels.

An appellate attorney is a lawyer who specializes in appeal cases. Appellate lawyers represent their clients in a bid to prove that an initial ruling was biased, exaggerated, or concluded without proper considerations.

But appellate courts don’t function based on new evidence. They only examine the credibility, legality, and legitimacy of the original ruling, based on the evidence and testimony presented. U.S. Appellate courts do not consider new evidence from the defense team.

Appellate courts review cases by reading transcripts, examining presented evidence, evaluating the defense arguments, as well as oral arguments from the prosecutorial parties. It is the role of an appeal lawyer to identify loopholes in the ruling, prepare the specific appeal, and compile relevant supporting documents.

An appeal case without a firm basis has little to no chance of succeeding in the appeals court. As such, appellate lawyers provide advice to clients who want to contest rulings against them. If there appears to be a lack of a legal disparity in the original judgment, an appellate attorney likely will recommend against appealing.

In civil cases, both parties may appeal. In criminal cases, however, only the defendant can appeal the verdict, in most states. In the end, the role of an appellate court is to prove the presence of or lack of errors in the lower court’s interpretation of the law, given the evidence presented.

The Appeal Procedure

A dissatisfied party looking to appeal a verdict or sentencing is called the appellant, or the petitioner. The opposing party is known as the appellee or, in some cases, the respondent. To launch an appeal case successfully, the appellant, through a legal team, must file a notice of appeal.

When a notice of appeal is submitted, the appellant has a limited time to file a brief. The appellant’s brief contains facts and legal arguments that form the basis of the appeal. The appellee, too, must provide an answering legal brief.

Appeal courts function in different ways. They can make decisions based only on the briefs provided. Most often, however, an appellate attorney tends to prefer physical hearings where they can deliver oral arguments.

The time allocated for oral arguments varies depending on the level of the appeals court. For instance, the Supreme Court usually provides an hour for oral arguments. Each party gets 30 minutes to present their respective cases. Lower-level appeal courts typically allow 10-15 minutes for oral arguments.

When a case gets presented for consideration, the appellate court judges meet to discuss the matter. The team of judges review the appeal arguments and reach a majority opinion, which they subsequently present in writing. A judge on the appellate panel who disagrees with the majority ruling also may issue a dissenting opinion.

The Appeal Court Can:


If the judges’ ruling is in line with the initial decision, they affirm it. This affirmation means that the appellant failed to prove that there were bias or erroneous legal issues associated with the initial ruling. An appeal-court affirmation suggests that the case won’t get reversed and that the initial decision stands. The appellant can, however, appeal the verdict to yet a higher court.


In appellate practice, a reversed decision is the best outcome for the appealing party and attorney. A reversal occurs when the appellant court elects to overturn the initial ruling. Reversals occur when the reviewing courts disagree with the approach, conduct, or decision of the lower court.


When a case gets remanded by an appellate court, it means that the reviewing court decided to send the case back to the lower-level court. A remand occurs when the court of appeals determines that initial handling of the case warrants reconsideration by the lower court.


An appeal case gets vacated when the appellant court overturns the initial ruling without necessarily differing or disagreeing with the lower courts. Cases get vacated when the appeals court believes the lower court-based sentencing on inapplicable legal principles.

The Importance of Appellate Courts

Appellate courts are vital to the U.S. judicial system. The presence of these courts ensures that citizens can get fair and uniform justice. Without them, some judges might be tempted to operate outside the acceptable legal boundaries based on bias.

Appeal courts ensure that judges follow the laws. Knowledge of potential appeals for cases in which a judge rules keeps judges in check and prevents the incidence of a malicious ruling.

Appeal courts are crucial in protecting the country’s legal system from pitfalls. Humans are innately bound to make errors and, as a result, it is imperative to have a superior court in place to review potential blunders in the legal process.

Senior appeals courts also assist in interpreting laws. For instance, reversing a ruling might help set a precedent for future similar cases. A new precedent might help realign legal perspectives and create uniform laws that apply to everyone in a particular jurisdiction.

Why Specialize in Appellate Law?

When a case gets appealed to a superior court, it requires the services of appellate litigators. While some appellants might choose to retain their trial litigators, it is not always advisable. Unlike a case starting from scratch, appeal cases start from the halfway mark and, as a result, reduce the likelihood of yielding success to the appellant.

Practicing appellate law allows attorneys to help create or adapt laws. As an appellate advocate, then, you stand a chance of making history by challenging rulings and inspiring new laws.

Appellate lawyers take on the daunting role of acquiring cases and looking for loopholes in rulings or manners of conduct. Also among the benefits of appellate practice is the recognition that comes with it. Successful appellate advocates get viewed as expert legal interpreters and, as a result, tend to deal with high-profile clients.

The Activities of an Appellate Advocate

As an appellate advocate, your role will be to help each appellant make a substantial claim in court. Because an appealed case has already drawn a ruling, you will have to work closely with the defense team to identify potential loopholes or problems. Following are some of the main activities of an appellate litigator:

  • Analyze the records and trial outcomes, then provide an opinion: An appellate lawyer is required to provide legal counsel to clients seeking assistance in appealing initial rulings. Your first task will be to analyze the case records to determine whether the case is likely to succeed at the appeals court.
  • Work hand-in-hand with the client to determine your strategy: To succeed in the appeal case, you must develop a workable plan based on the initial outcomes. That is, you will be required to come up with a strategy that targets the specific flaws of the initial trial.
  • Narrow down the critical areas for appeal: For an appeal case to be successful, an appellate lawyer must understand the ins and outs and the potential regions of interest in each case. Therefore, you will need to narrow down the most critical issues and determine how to exploit associated failures successfully.
  • Study the case: Because no new witnesses or evidence have a place in appeals cases, appellate lawyers must take their time to evaluate every detail of the claims brought before them. Without understanding the dynamics of the case, it will be challenging to succeed in this limited legal environment.
  • Draft the reports: As mentioned earlier, an appellate lawyer must first draft a notice of appeal, which then gets forwarded to the appellate judges. Appellate litigators must be adept at writing highly relevant and compelling reports.
  • Argue before the court if need be: In case the appellate judges allow for oral representations, it will be your responsibility as the lawyer to present a compelling argument once given the opportunity. You must have all the facts in place and know how to highlight the critical issues within the limited timeframe.

Must-have Skills for an Appellate Lawyer:

Analytic Skills

Because an appellate advocate deals with ongoing cases, analytical skills are essential to understanding the dynamics of a case. Appellate lawyers must be able to collect and examine the information and solve new problems while also guiding overall decision-making.

To succeed as an appellate lawyer, then, you must have an outstanding collection and analytical skills. Such competencies are vital if you are to understand the finest legal details of the case and provide expert assistance to your clients.

Legal Research

It goes without saying that an appellate lawyer needs to understand legal precedents. Having vast knowledge about essential legal concepts will enable you to unearth technicalities that can boost your overall argument.

Also, an appellant lawyer must understand the basics of conducting legal research. Expert advocates have to make arguments based on precedents set in previous cases.

Written Advocacy

For you to succeed as an appellate advocate, you must possess exemplary skills in written advocacy. Appeal judges are virtually always dealing with a backlog of cases, so you must submit precise, accurate, and informative records throughout the appeals process.

As such, an accomplished appellate lawyer will possess commendable writing skills. Judges tend to reject cases that lack enough depth to warrant an appeal. The attorney must know what is most relevant to include and stress in their appeal reports, so judges don’t have to dig for the germane arguments.

Oral Advocacy

Appellate lawyers must be prepared to make efficient and compelling presentations. The time allowed for oral arguments often is limited to 30 minutes at the Supreme Court, so lawyers must learn to pack all relevant material into a short time.

Commendable oral skills will ensure that you know precisely what to focus on when you make an oral argument for your client.

Client Relations

Unfortunately, appellate lawyers are usually the last hope for appellants trying to reverse the verdict or sentencing of the lower courts. As a result, appeal litigators must relate positively and empathetically with their clients.

Some clients might be frustrated while others might want to rush the appeals process. Whatever the situation, a competent appellate lawyer must be skilled at containing their client’s nerves and ensuring strong communication to improve opportunities for success.

Strong Negotiation Skills

Taking a case to an appeals court and successfully reversing a verdict is no walk in the park. It takes strong negotiation and analytical skills, and you must be a talented oral and written negotiator if you are to succeed as an appellate lawyer.

Appellate lawyers also need to negotiate with clients, especially when advising them on appropriate strategies that can be incorporated to boost the chances of success.

Attention to Detail

Appellate lawyers must scour legal records and testimony to identify flaws in legal procedures. With this in mind, they must be adept at maintaining the highest level of concentration, especially when conducting research. Without taking time to investigate even the tiniest of details, you can’t find well-masked potential weaknesses in a case.

To succeed in an appeal, appellate lawyers must conduct extensive research about previous associated cases that are relevant to the ongoing battle. Acute attention to detail is a must. Keeping a keen eye on minutiae will put you ahead of the opposing team and increase your chances of victory for your client.

Why Clients Seek the Services of an Appellate Lawyer:

Fresh Perspective

Appellate attorneys provide new perspectives that might be overlooked by trial advocates. Some people might argue that an excellent trial attorney is enough to win an appeal. But that’s not always the case. Appeal cases are an entirely different animal. The best people to handle an appeal are those who specialize in providing a unique perspective.

Moreover, due to experience in handling appeal cases, appellate lawyers usually know what details to focus on and which ones will not be relevant in the appeal. This insight helps increase the possibility of arguing a successful appeal, especially when the case genuinely had legal anomalies.

Expertise in Appeals

Similar to how antitrust or statutory lawyers understand their particular fields, so too do appellate lawyers. Appellate advocates understand precisely what judges look for in appeal cases. The experience provides lawyers with the knowledge of how to deliver only information that applies to the appeals process versus the trial.

Because an initial ruling gets made before a case gets appealed, changing a court’s verdict can be an intimidating undertaking. By hiring appellate attorneys, however, clients improve their chances of exploiting misconduct or misinformation that can influence decisive change.

Appeal attorneys are well-versed in legal precedents and are always well equipped to provide suggestions and solutions.

Knowledge of Building Strong Appeals Cases

Appellate lawyers are continually expanding their understanding of building robust appeals cases. Understanding trial-court mishaps is anything but straightforward. It requires experience and ingenuity to identify errors in previous rulings.

To create a valid appeal report, you must identify compelling arguments that highlight errors and technicalities in the initial trial or sentencing. An appellate lawyer must not wear the hat of a trial attorney when constructing an appeals case. Instead, the appellate attorney must avoid repetition of the initial trial and focus only on details specifically pertinent to the appeals process.

Final Notes

Becoming an appellate attorney can play a role in escalating a lawyer’s career to the next level. You’ll develop a keen understanding of state and national laws and precedents to navigate the sometimes-tricky and always-unpredictable world of appeals.

Appellant lawyers are among the best-paid attorneys going, so you stand to make a load of cash by specializing in appeals. But that doesn’t come without long hours, indestructible nerves, and sheer confidence in your legal knowledge. You must be a skillful researcher who won’t stop digging until you unearth the buried treasure in a massive case file.

You must be talented at delivering persuasive written and oral arguments and possess stellar writing skills. You must be prepared to look for loopholes by scouring every sentence in case files and strategizing compelling arguments based on precedent or in creating a precedent.

As an appellant lawyer, you’ll work and communicate effectively with your client, from the first examination of a case to the ruling from the appeals court. The burden of proof is upon your shoulders, and you must go the extra mile to bring justice where the legal system has floundered.