Interview for a position as an Appellate Litigator

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Interview for a position as an Appellate Litigator

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Dec 10, 2012 2:28 pm

I have successfully obtained an interview with a DA's office in the appeals department. This is an office that I have interned for in the past and have volunteered my services for on notice that I passed the bar exam. The plan was to volunteer for the office again while I search for employment elsewhere. However, I found out about the vacancy in the appeals department, asked my contact at the office about it, sent my materials in the mail to the department head, and got a call back in about a day and a half for an interview. I'm not exactly sure if I got this interview because the department head like my coverletter/resume/references or if my contact just asked him to give me the interview (I sent my material snail mail on Monday morning and got a call back by Wednesday morning). Aside from that this will be my first experience interviewing for an appellate position.

I have a four internships on my resume, two of which were at DA offices, and I have interviewed at DA offices in the past. I have always wanted to be an ADA and work prosecution, but not necessarily from the appeals perspective. I have no experience working appeals in any of my internships, I'm not a clerk for a judge right now, I was not on moot court, nor was I on law review. I'm not sure what my odds are on this one since I can't really demonstrate through my past activities that I want to work appeals. The woman the made the call back asked me to bring a writing sample to the interview.

Any advice on how to prepare for this interview would be great. I know they are going to ask typical questions like; why our office? And, why do you want to work appeals? I'm guessing they might ask about job relevant gaps in my resume like; why weren't you on law review or moot court? Aside from that, I can't imagine what other questions they'd ask. Typically there are a lot of hypothetical questions asked during a DA interview. Can I expect that for an appeals position, and if so what will they be like? I'm guessing they might go through my writing sample on the spot and ask questions about it? Anyone that has experience interviewing for a position like this, I'd love to hear about your experience.

Thank you for your time.

CanadianWolf
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Re: Interview for a position as an Appellate Litigator

Postby CanadianWolf » Mon Dec 10, 2012 2:35 pm

To state the obvious: Demonstrated committment to prosecutorial work & strong writing skills are likely to be more important than any interviewing questions.

As an aside comment, the Manhattan DA's appellate division seeks bilingual English/Spanish (like most DA & PD offices).

P.S. I hope that they ask "When can you start?" during the interview. Good luck !

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Interview for a position as an Appellate Litigator

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Mon Dec 10, 2012 2:43 pm

I suspect they will want to find out if you will be happy doing appeals as opposed to regular prosecution. As my supervisor in the appellate division of my state's AG's office said, "Appellate attorneys don't get out much." So you may get asked about your willingness to sit and research and write, with the occasional oral argument, rather than be in the courtroom.

They may also ask about your writing and what makes you a good writer, what you think makes for a good appellate brief, that kind of thing; it also wouldn't surprise me if you got asked how you'd handle an appeal for a case you thought had no merit (that is, the government really did screw up and the verdict should be overturned).

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Re: Interview for a position as an Appellate Litigator

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Dec 10, 2012 2:49 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:I suspect they will want to find out if you will be happy doing appeals as opposed to regular prosecution. As my supervisor in the appellate division of my state's AG's office said, "Appellate attorneys don't get out much." So you may get asked about your willingness to sit and research and write, with the occasional oral argument, rather than be in the courtroom.

They may also ask about your writing and what makes you a good writer, what you think makes for a good appellate brief, that kind of thing; it also wouldn't surprise me if you got asked how you'd handle an appeal for a case you thought had no merit (that is, the government really did screw up and the verdict should be overturned).


I feel like I could answer most of those questions convincingly save the last one. How would I handle a case that I thought had no merit and that the government really screwed up? Tough question in my opinion. There is what I guess what one could call the adversarial process argument. I would do the best I could to defend the government and make a strong argument for affirmation because it is the judge's responsibility to find the correct interpretation of the law between the two opposing sides. There is also the justice argument. Prosecutor's are not supposed to fight to win, they fight for justice. If I thought that a decision would work injustice, why should I defend it? I think that is the stronger argument. The only problem of course is the course of action? Do you throw the case? Do you just make a strong statement of the law and let the chips fall where they may? Not an easy question. I'll have to think about that.

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Re: Interview for a position as an Appellate Litigator

Postby Citizen Genet » Mon Dec 10, 2012 3:12 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
A. Nony Mouse wrote:I suspect they will want to find out if you will be happy doing appeals as opposed to regular prosecution. As my supervisor in the appellate division of my state's AG's office said, "Appellate attorneys don't get out much." So you may get asked about your willingness to sit and research and write, with the occasional oral argument, rather than be in the courtroom.

They may also ask about your writing and what makes you a good writer, what you think makes for a good appellate brief, that kind of thing; it also wouldn't surprise me if you got asked how you'd handle an appeal for a case you thought had no merit (that is, the government really did screw up and the verdict should be overturned).


I feel like I could answer most of those questions convincingly save the last one. How would I handle a case that I thought had no merit and that the government really screwed up? Tough question in my opinion. There is what I guess what one could call the adversarial process argument. I would do the best I could to defend the government and make a strong argument for affirmation because it is the judge's responsibility to find the correct interpretation of the law between the two opposing sides. There is also the justice argument. Prosecutor's are not supposed to fight to win, they fight for justice. If I thought that a decision would work injustice, why should I defend it? I think that is the stronger argument. The only problem of course is the course of action? Do you throw the case? Do you just make a strong statement of the law and let the chips fall where they may? Not an easy question. I'll have to think about that.

Yeah, it's tough - I should add that they may not ask it, and it's a bit like the various hypos - I don't think there's one right answer, it's more about your thought process.


I would definitely include something about how as a young attorney you would consult supervisor; most pros offices like to see young attorneys rely on senior attorneys' advice and judgment. Shouldn't be the focal point of your answer, but if something like that comes up, it's almost certain you will want to include something about it.

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Re: Interview for a position as an Appellate Litigator

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Dec 10, 2012 10:57 pm

Anonymous because I am an appellate prosecutor and don't want this tied to my job.

I can only speak to my own experience (I was also an intern in the same office I ended up, but not same division), but here are some thoughts.

The first is that there is a huge variation in what a state's appeals bureau does from state to state, so be careful about taking any "internet advice" to heart. There is a huge difference between a three-man appellate shop for a decent sized county attorney, a team of 20 rookies in a populous State's Attorney's Office, the relatively large appeals division of a state AG, or Main Justice's Criminal Division.

But, for any state-level position, I think these are the points I would think about prepping for an interview:

• Know the big decisions and players for your state appellate courts. If you're a small-ish state, make sure at the very least you have some concept of the Judges/Justices on the court of last resort, what direction they lean on law enforcement issues, and if there have been any big battles recently. In a bigger state, where a young appellate prosecutor will be probably only at the intermediate appeals level and mostly writing briefs, at least be able to talk about the attitude of the court toward law enforcement or your office.

• Explain how your personality will fit into their office. Appellate bureaus are always small. For a medium-sized state, 100% of criminal appeals are going to be handled by less than a dozen lawyers on the state/government/people's side. Explain how even though a lot of the work is independent, you are a team player, and want to learn from co-workers. Show that you understand how the office works within the larger prosecutor community. In some states, that means the AGs have to do some hand-holding with the locals when they prosecute big cases. Somewhere like New York or Los Angeles County, that means you have to understand that you're basically the brains behind a massive machine of cogs/ADAs churning out convictions (read: pleas) with little to no record. Some people in my state compare the appellate division to officers and the local prosecutors' officers to infantry. Some people have said it's like SWAT v. unis on patrol. Whatever the perception is in your state, make sure you know it. (Ask one of your trial-level buddies from interning -- they will know.)

• Something else that will weigh on how you approach your interview is whether your appellate bureau is for rookies or for people with experience. Depending on what state you're in, it could be either. Some states, everyone in appeals has 10+ years of trial work (often felonies) under their belt, and they continue to advise LEOs, argue some substantive motions, handle making the record for state's appeals, etc. For others (ASAs in Illinois come to mind), all the rookies do a few years of appeals, and just a handful make a career out of it. That you're getting an interview is a good sign -- but if you need to "compensate" for a lack of experience, it's better to know that going in so you can market your pitch.

• Writing sample. 999/1000 jobs you apply to, no one is going to read your writing sample. The appellate prosecutors will. For us, potential hires' writing samples get circulated around the office for thoughts. We've dinged people that were very personable and had stellar grades because they gave us a crap writing sample. Maybe they were just bad writers, but I always had a fear that they were just lazy with what they chose to submit.

• Finally, as to potential hypos like "what what you do with a merit-less case"--be honest. Like any other prosecutor hypo, you are going to be judged on your thought process, more than a right or wrong answer. Say you'll talk to superiors. Mention that you would float ideas with your co-workers and see what they thought -- most appellate prosecutors' offices are very collaborative and everyone is mindful of the office's reputation in front of the courts. A few bad lawyers or even one lawyer who pulls a fast one (big misstatements of the record, lying about appellate deadlines, mouthing off in oral argument) can ruin the reputation of an appellate bureau for decades; so don't give them any reason to think you'll be a bad egg. Also, contrary to an earlier post, you aren't just there to "win" -- appellate prosecutors, like those that focus solely on trial work, have a duty to justice, not a conviction/affirmed ratio. Good appellate prosecutors move to reverse on the exceptionally rare case where your team really did blow it (e.g., prosecutor backed out on a plea deal without reason, clear Brady violation).

CanadianWolf
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Re: Interview for a position as an Appellate Litigator

Postby CanadianWolf » Tue Dec 11, 2012 12:17 am

"999/1000 jobs you apply to, no one is going to read your writing sample."


Really ? I find this hard to believe. (Especially in an appellate division--although you covered yourself in this respect.)

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Re: Interview for a position as an Appellate Litigator

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Dec 11, 2012 1:33 am

Anonymous User wrote:Anonymous because I am an appellate prosecutor and don't want this tied to my job.

I can only speak to my own experience (I was also an intern in the same office I ended up, but not same division), but here are some thoughts.

The first is that there is a huge variation in what a state's appeals bureau does from state to state, so be careful about taking any "internet advice" to heart. There is a huge difference between a three-man appellate shop for a decent sized county attorney, a team of 20 rookies in a populous State's Attorney's Office, the relatively large appeals division of a state AG, or Main Justice's Criminal Division.

But, for any state-level position, I think these are the points I would think about prepping for an interview:

• Know the big decisions and players for your state appellate courts. If you're a small-ish state, make sure at the very least you have some concept of the Judges/Justices on the court of last resort, what direction they lean on law enforcement issues, and if there have been any big battles recently. In a bigger state, where a young appellate prosecutor will be probably only at the intermediate appeals level and mostly writing briefs, at least be able to talk about the attitude of the court toward law enforcement or your office.

• Explain how your personality will fit into their office. Appellate bureaus are always small. For a medium-sized state, 100% of criminal appeals are going to be handled by less than a dozen lawyers on the state/government/people's side. Explain how even though a lot of the work is independent, you are a team player, and want to learn from co-workers. Show that you understand how the office works within the larger prosecutor community. In some states, that means the AGs have to do some hand-holding with the locals when they prosecute big cases. Somewhere like New York or Los Angeles County, that means you have to understand that you're basically the brains behind a massive machine of cogs/ADAs churning out convictions (read: pleas) with little to no record. Some people in my state compare the appellate division to officers and the local prosecutors' officers to infantry. Some people have said it's like SWAT v. unis on patrol. Whatever the perception is in your state, make sure you know it. (Ask one of your trial-level buddies from interning -- they will know.)

• Something else that will weigh on how you approach your interview is whether your appellate bureau is for rookies or for people with experience. Depending on what state you're in, it could be either. Some states, everyone in appeals has 10+ years of trial work (often felonies) under their belt, and they continue to advise LEOs, argue some substantive motions, handle making the record for state's appeals, etc. For others (ASAs in Illinois come to mind), all the rookies do a few years of appeals, and just a handful make a career out of it. That you're getting an interview is a good sign -- but if you need to "compensate" for a lack of experience, it's better to know that going in so you can market your pitch.

• Writing sample. 999/1000 jobs you apply to, no one is going to read your writing sample. The appellate prosecutors will. For us, potential hires' writing samples get circulated around the office for thoughts. We've dinged people that were very personable and had stellar grades because they gave us a crap writing sample. Maybe they were just bad writers, but I always had a fear that they were just lazy with what they chose to submit.

• Finally, as to potential hypos like "what what you do with a merit-less case"--be honest. Like any other prosecutor hypo, you are going to be judged on your thought process, more than a right or wrong answer. Say you'll talk to superiors. Mention that you would float ideas with your co-workers and see what they thought -- most appellate prosecutors' offices are very collaborative and everyone is mindful of the office's reputation in front of the courts. A few bad lawyers or even one lawyer who pulls a fast one (big misstatements of the record, lying about appellate deadlines, mouthing off in oral argument) can ruin the reputation of an appellate bureau for decades; so don't give them any reason to think you'll be a bad egg. Also, contrary to an earlier post, you aren't just there to "win" -- appellate prosecutors, like those that focus solely on trial work, have a duty to justice, not a conviction/affirmed ratio. Good appellate prosecutors move to reverse on the exceptionally rare case where your team really did blow it (e.g., prosecutor backed out on a plea deal without reason, clear Brady violation).



Wow, great feedback. I really appreciate it. This office that I'm applying to is hiring newly admitted attorney's, like myself, for the appellate department. Typically new attorneys work in the grand jury or the juvenile departments, before moving on to the trial department or some specialized unit. But the appellate department will hire fresh grads. I got some research to do now though. Thank you.

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Re: Interview for a position as an Appellate Litigator

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Dec 11, 2012 1:58 am

One issue I just thought of. None of my writing samples are going to conform to the state specific rules of citation. I feel that the overall writing is solid. I wonder though, will my lack of knowledge of state specific citation rules be a potential problem? Just for reference, I went to law school in a different state.

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Re: Interview for a position as an Appellate Litigator

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Dec 11, 2012 2:09 am

For any job other than da/pd, the writing sample is the first thing an employer looks at. Courts make decisions based on the papers. And as an attorney it's the papers that you write.

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Re: Interview for a position as an Appellate Litigator

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Dec 11, 2012 8:37 pm

Anonymous User wrote:For any job other than da/pd, the writing sample is the first thing an employer looks at. Courts make decisions based on the papers. And as an attorney it's the papers that you write.


(Same appellate prosecutor who wrote the big wall of text above.)

What I quoted just isn't true. Maybe -- MAYBE -- your writing sample will get read if you make it to a final screening round for a firm. But even then, likely it will be skimmed. Most of my peer group of attorneys (law school buddies, spouse, etc.) are on the hiring committees for firms and one is the general counsel for an agency. We have all sat on panels at our alma mater law school for hiring and everyone has consistently agreed that writing samples rarely get read until the very final cut (think narrowed down to <5 people for one position). At one, a partner remarked that he only read samples under five pages.

Anyone who says otherwise is a law student with wishful thinking. Do you honesty think partners are reading thousands of pages of writing samples for the hundreds of applications they get for every position? Or that a prosecutor, who barely has time to write his own motions, is going to read a 20-page paper you wrote for Law & Basketweaving or some obscure Con Law issue for your legal writing class? People don't even like to give up time for the interview itself, let alone reviewing crap beforehand.

Yes, writing is important for lawyers. Yes, it's what makes or breaks legal practice. But it has little to no relation to how nearly all firms and most non-firm agencies conduct hiring. Like a whole lot of self-reinforcing myths out there, this makes people think that hiring is entirely merit-based, which is almost never true. But, like I said, an appellate litigation shop is one of the few places where great writing will get you in the door.

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Re: Interview for a position as an Appellate Litigator

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Dec 11, 2012 8:38 pm

Anonymous User wrote:One issue I just thought of. None of my writing samples are going to conform to the state specific rules of citation. I feel that the overall writing is solid. I wonder though, will my lack of knowledge of state specific citation rules be a potential problem? Just for reference, I went to law school in a different state.


I would take the 20 minutes or half an hour it will take to tweak your writing sample. I think it does make a difference, even if it's only subconscious. If you can score the style manual for the office (or a template) to model your work after, all the better.

CanadianWolf
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Re: Interview for a position as an Appellate Litigator

Postby CanadianWolf » Wed Dec 12, 2012 1:38 pm

Requested writing samples usually specify a maximum length. Although practices may vary, writing samples are important & do get read typically for those who pass the original screening. Writing samples are taken seriously.

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Re: Interview for a position as an Appellate Litigator

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Dec 12, 2012 6:09 pm

OP Here will an Information Update.

I recently contacted my connection at the office to ask him about the interview. The new information I have is this:

1) The person I am interviewing with is the head of the department, a 30 year veteran prosecutor, who will most likely make the ultimate decision as to whether or not I get hired.
2) There are two other people who are known to be "interested" in the position, but have yet to apply.
3) One of my friends for the past six years might be applying for this position as well. He graduated from the regional law school at the top of his class and is currently clerking for an appellate judge in state. He knows about the position from my connection at the prosecutor's office (since he also intern for the same prosecutor a year earlier). I'm not sure when he found out, or when he will apply if he hasn't done so already. All I know is that they have been trying to fill this position for a while and his clerkship ends in August 2013.
4) The appeals department is a very small tight-nick group.

The interview is going to be on Monday, so I have time to prepare and will be doing so extensively. It would appear that I don't have that much competition for this position at present, however, if my "friend" decides to apply things may not go well for me since he would appear to be the perfect applicant for this kind of position.

He has better grades than I do, he comes from the local school that everyone knows, and most importantly he is a clerk for an appellate judge. He beats the living shit out of me on paper. On a personal level I think I'm the better interviewer. Historically I've always dealt with people better than he has. When you think of my competition here, think of the stereotypical socially awkward to anti-social kind of guy who never makes eye contact and has a weak handshake. He's the kind of guy that has his mother call into his job on a weekday morning to let the people on staff know he's calling out sick. He's the kind of guy that says he's going to do something to your face, or over the phone, and than never does it or does the exact opposite 99.99% of the time. I suppose that may be part of the reason why we aren't very good friends after knowing each other and working together for the past 6-7 years. It may seem like I'm making him out to be an asshole, but deep down I think he's a good guy. I just don't understand what his deal is after all these years.

As far as the writing sample is concerned, they asked for one and I'm going to assume that they will take time to read it. Its a small group of people I'm working with in the appeals department, and as an appellate litigator in the office I'll be writing a lot with the rest of the departments. It just f^cking sucks to be going up against the seemingly perfect candidate for this job, and he's the guy I've known for years, called friend, and someone that I somewhat trusted.

In light of these facts what do you all suggest I do? My plan for these next couple of days is to: (1) go over my writing samples and bring in multiples to the interview to demonstrate my confidence in writing, (2) research the relevant appellate justice and major recent trends in the relevant law, (3) research the office more, (4) look back into my old appellate advocacy book from law school, (5) read through state citation rules, & (7) bring up in the interview the fact that they have already completed a background investigation with the office and I was willing to work for the office for free, and I can start working earlier. Aside from that, I will also take advice on this thread to heart. I also will be reading the interviewing chapter in this book http://www.amazon.com/Guerrilla-Tactics ... legal+jobs.

Sorry for the long post, but I need to get my shit together. Anything else I should be doing to give me a fighting chance?


Thanks.




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