Apellate Law

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torchiestacos215
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Apellate Law

Postby torchiestacos215 » Mon Apr 13, 2015 12:02 am

I've read a good bit about Apellate Law and apellate lawyers, but I'm still not sure exactly what they do. Who employs apellate lawyers? Can one become an apellate lawyer right after law school? What is the pay like in this field?

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zombie mcavoy
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Re: Apellate Law

Postby zombie mcavoy » Mon Apr 13, 2015 12:14 am

three things: 1) fuck yeah torchies, 2) it's appellate, and 3) it's probably not something you should seriously consider when making your law school decision, as it's a pretty elite branch of the profession, at least at the federal level, and you're going to need really good grades to get in the position to eventually get a crack at doing this kind of work, and it's tls law that you cannot predict really good grades as a 0L.

tomwatts
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Re: Apellate Law

Postby tomwatts » Mon Apr 13, 2015 8:58 am

An appellate litigator writes briefs and does oral arguments. And that's basically it; there's very little client interaction, no fact-gathering at all, and very little in the way of motions. What this means, in practice, is that an appellate litigator spends most of his or her time reading judicial opinions deciding cases, reading statutes, reading regulations — basically, reading law — and writing about how the law applies (or ought to apply) in some particular case. Every few months, after you've filed your briefs, you go to court and judges ask you (hostile) questions about your position and why it makes sense.

Many law firms have appellate groups, and a lot of government bodies (the federal government, some agencies, some states) have appellate specialists. In a law firm, it's likely that you are a general brief-writer, which means that you may be brought into a case at the trial court level in order to write a brief regarding a motion for summary judgment or some other dispositive motion; this is not terribly different from an appellate brief, but it's a different location in the process, so it looks a little different. If you're a government appellate litigator, you probably just work on appeals (no dispositive motions in trial courts).

Most appellate litigators are in DC. In a law firm with multiple offices, the DC office has most, if not all, of the appellate staff. In the federal government, the appellate staff is in DC. States will usually locate their appellate litigators in the state capital, although there are some exceptions (e.g., California).

This practice area is extremely hard to get into. You really have to go to a top school (probably no lower than CCN, and HYS would be better) and be near the top of your class. Being on the flagship law review is a major plus, and some kind of journal work is basically a requirement. Doing (very) well in a moot court competition is also a plus. Also, you have to have a judicial clerkship after law school; there's basically no other way (although I think I know of one exception among my friends). A federal appellate clerkship is probably required, and a feeder judge helps a lot. A Supreme Court clerkship helps even more, but that's even harder to get. (To put it in perspective, about 1% of HLS gets a Supreme Court clerkship.)

As to your specific questions, yes, one can become an appellate lawyer right after law school, although probably you need a clerkship (or two) to get you started. The pay is the same as for anything else; firm will start you at 160K and move you up the usual pay scale. Governments will pay substantially less.

On law firm appellate practice: Attracting a sufficient quantity of work to hit your hours for the year and be considered for partner is really hard in this field, because you need to get substantive experience (i.e., actually argue cases), and in law firms, the most senior person on the case is the one who does that. So the only way to get that experience, really, is to work for the government. So expect to leave the firm and get a government job for a few years, at least.

Oh, and I'll add that appellate practice is really, really fun if you like law and reading and writing, mostly by yourself. I'm doing an appellate internship right now, and I like it a lot.

EDIT: Totally forgot about criminal appellate. See below.
Last edited by tomwatts on Mon Apr 13, 2015 11:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.

BigZuck
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Re: Apellate Law

Postby BigZuck » Mon Apr 13, 2015 9:23 am

It sounds like being an appellate lawyer is like being a law student full time, minus class plus more moot court competitions.

CanadianWolf
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Re: Apellate Law

Postby CanadianWolf » Mon Apr 13, 2015 9:37 am

Appellate work is most common in the field of criminal law. Federal government has appellate lawyers both on the prosecutorial & defense sides, of course. Even the NYC DA's office has an appellate division (big plus if you're bilingual English/Spanish in some appellate divisions).

Appellate work is more like law school than like litigating. It also can be an exercise in "arts & crafts" because of the formats required by some jurisdictions for hard copy filing. Many, maybe most, jurisdictions require attorneys to file electronically. This is a blessing.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Apellate Law

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Mon Apr 13, 2015 10:26 am

Yeah, the learning curve going from law school to appellate is way less daunting than going from law school to practice, since you spend law school reading appellate opinions and it's all on paper, so to speak.

And I will agree about the criminal side of things. tomwatts' description is excellent, but it is possible to go into appellate relatively early in your career without quite the same accolades if you go into criminal law. At the state level, it depends on the state, but some at least have devoted appellate sections in their PD & AD's offices, and you can get those jobs out of school. A state appellate clerkship is usually preferred, but those aren't as hard to get as the clerkships tomwatts mentions.

(I'm not sure how the bilingual thing plays in since everything that's filed in court is going to be in English, and everything presented at trial will be translated?)

I realize of course that for many people here that's not what they think of when they say "appellate law" (they're thinking of Ted Olson on gay marriage or John Roberts pre-SCOTUS).

CanadianWolf
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Re: Apellate Law

Postby CanadianWolf » Mon Apr 13, 2015 10:46 am

Bilingual testimony/documents are reviewed for possible mistranslations either on its face or in context.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Apellate Law

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Mon Apr 13, 2015 2:44 pm

I would imagine it would have to be documents, because when is testimony bilingual? Isn't there a court interpreter providing English translation, which is the official record?




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