Appellate Practice in Biglaw? Forum

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Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 15, 2022 4:06 pm

How hard is it to get into a specialized appellate group in Biglaw? I will be finishing an appellate clerkship with a semi-feeder next year and I graduated Magna from a T14. Is this sufficient or are these spots hard to get no matter the qualifications? And for anyone in an appellate group, do you actually do only appellate work? I would be happy to do motions work as well, but I want to do primarily substantive writing and I figured targeting appellate groups probably makes this most likely. Appreciate any insight.

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by DougEvans789 » Thu Sep 15, 2022 8:26 pm

That should be sufficient

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 15, 2022 8:46 pm

DougEvans789 wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 8:26 pm
That should be sufficient
It is neither necessary nor sufficient.

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by DougEvans789 » Thu Sep 15, 2022 11:22 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 8:46 pm
DougEvans789 wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 8:26 pm
That should be sufficient
It is neither necessary nor sufficient.
What? There are plenty of appellate associates with that resume. That’s not to say that OP will definitely get to do it—in any industry, some people sometimes won’t get to do work they’re qualified to do—but it’s not like OP is out of luck simply because (s)he lacks a Harvard degree or a feeder/SCOTUS clerkship

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Sep 16, 2022 7:40 am

DougEvans789 wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 11:22 pm
DougEvans789 wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 8:26 pm
That should be sufficient
That’s not to say that OP will definitely get to do it
Maybe don't call it "sufficient" then.

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Sep 16, 2022 8:15 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 7:40 am
DougEvans789 wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 11:22 pm
DougEvans789 wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 8:26 pm
That should be sufficient
That’s not to say that OP will definitely get to do it
Maybe don't call it "sufficient" then.
If people do get hired with those qualifications, they’re sufficient. Doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed - no job is.

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Sep 16, 2022 7:41 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 8:15 am
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 7:40 am
DougEvans789 wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 11:22 pm
DougEvans789 wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 8:26 pm
That should be sufficient
That’s not to say that OP will definitely get to do it
Maybe don't call it "sufficient" then.
If people do get hired with those qualifications, they’re sufficient. Doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed - no job is.
This is right on the substance, but that is not what “sufficient” means

You should apply, some people get it with your resume, plenty don’t, you might as well try. If you’re willing to take a comp drop I’d also try the appellate boutiques if you really want appellate.

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Sep 17, 2022 11:59 am

It depends on where you're applying. Some very competitive/insular appellate groups (Jones Day I&A, Gupta Wessler, Clement & Murphy) will probably screen you out on credentials. Most other firms should at least give you a look. Some firms have porous appellate groups (WilmerHale, Gibson Dunn) that let you do appellate work as a general litigation associate.

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Pneumonia » Sun Sep 18, 2022 10:35 am

Appellate boutiques won't be in reach unless you have a personal connecetion to someone involved with hiring. But that would still be the case even if your credentials were better.

Your credentials are sufficient for biglaw appellate groups--with a few caveats. First, Jones Day I&A is unique for several reasons, so leave them out of the picture unless you get SCOTUS. Second, your credentials are sufficient to give you a chance at Biglaw appellate groups; they aren't sufficient to guarantee you a long-term spot in those groups. Hardly any credentials are, including SCOTUS.

Most Biglaw appellate groups add associates as follows. Some associates are hired directly into the firm's appellate practice group, either from a fancy clerkship, or based on their summer work, or a recommendation from a professor that the partners know well, etc. Others are hired into the firm's general litigation group and then moved to the appellate group later. If you want to make that move, you need to put yourself in a position to do substantive, meaninful work for whoever controls entry to the group--and then do a terrific job. You can get in that position by doing really good work for the other lit partners, or by asking an appellate partner directly, or through happenstance by working on a trial-level matter with the appellate partner (who notices how smart you are and poaches you for her group). Your credentials likely aren't good enough for the first path (again, few are), unless you look regionally or at smaller firms, but they are plenty good for the second.

By "do a terrific job," I don't mean only on the substantive research and argument. Because appellate practice is so competitive, all of the following are equally important. Assume I am discussing a brief, or a portion of a brief. In addition to the substance: (1) The argument needs to be logically sound and logically structured. Major premises before minor premises, use syllogisms, use topic sentences etc. (2) The writing needs to be professional. You don't need to write like Scalia. But you do need to observe all the professional norms that appear in Garner's books. And your sentences need to sound good when you read them out loud. (3) You need to be pleasant to work with. This means maintaining the right balances between deference and pushback, respect and friendliness, thoroughness and responsiveness, etc. (4) You need to get the be efficient. People struggle with this one. Appellate practice, especially at biglaw firms, is very, very competitive. That drives partners to lower their rates, because they would rather do appellate work on the cheap than do motions to compel at a higher hourly rate. This same phenomenon applies to associates. You can nail (1)-(3) here, but if it takes you a ton of hours to do it, then the partner probably won't be looking to work with you again.

That sounds like a tall order because it is. But because so many people find appellate work compelling, there are still post-clerkship associates that tick every box every year. And by the way, a great clerkship--even SCOTUS--usually isn't "sufficient" to stay in the average biglaw appellate practice if you are missing one of the factors above. To make partner in the practice, you need to be the best ever at (1)-(4), or be really good at (5) generating appellate business. For this last purpose, it helps to have credentials that non-lawyers or in-house counsel recognize as stellar. That usually means SCOTUS.

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Sep 18, 2022 12:04 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 7:41 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 8:15 am
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 7:40 am
DougEvans789 wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 11:22 pm
DougEvans789 wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 8:26 pm
That should be sufficient
That’s not to say that OP will definitely get to do it
Maybe don't call it "sufficient" then.
If people do get hired with those qualifications, they’re sufficient. Doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed - no job is.
This is right on the substance, but that is not what “sufficient” means
Great discussion boys. I agree, A is not "sufficient" for B if it doesn't imply B (if having those qualifications doesn't guarantee OP a job)

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Sep 18, 2022 9:02 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Sep 18, 2022 12:04 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 7:41 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 8:15 am
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 7:40 am
DougEvans789 wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 11:22 pm
DougEvans789 wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 8:26 pm
That should be sufficient
That’s not to say that OP will definitely get to do it
Maybe don't call it "sufficient" then.
If people do get hired with those qualifications, they’re sufficient. Doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed - no job is.
This is right on the substance, but that is not what “sufficient” means
Great discussion boys. I agree, A is not "sufficient" for B if it doesn't imply B (if having those qualifications doesn't guarantee OP a job)
So what qualifications would actually guarantee someone this kind of job?

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Sep 18, 2022 9:21 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Sep 18, 2022 9:02 pm
So what qualifications would actually guarantee someone this kind of job?
SCOTUS

DougEvans789

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by DougEvans789 » Sun Sep 18, 2022 9:49 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Sep 18, 2022 9:02 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Sep 18, 2022 12:04 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 7:41 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 8:15 am
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 7:40 am
DougEvans789 wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 11:22 pm
DougEvans789 wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 8:26 pm
That should be sufficient
That’s not to say that OP will definitely get to do it
Maybe don't call it "sufficient" then.
If people do get hired with those qualifications, they’re sufficient. Doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed - no job is.
This is right on the substance, but that is not what “sufficient” means
Great discussion boys. I agree, A is not "sufficient" for B if it doesn't imply B (if having those qualifications doesn't guarantee OP a job)
So what qualifications would actually guarantee someone this kind of job?
On this definition of “sufficient,” no credential* is sufficient to get the job (or, for that matter, pretty much any job). “Sufficient” in this context must mean “sufficient to be in the conversation.”

*before someone says otherwise, no, a SCOTUS clerkship is not different. it is not the case that every firm hires every SCOTUS clerk who applies.

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Sep 18, 2022 11:18 pm

DougEvans789 wrote:
Sun Sep 18, 2022 9:49 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Sep 18, 2022 9:02 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Sep 18, 2022 12:04 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 7:41 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 8:15 am
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 7:40 am
DougEvans789 wrote:
Thu Sep 15, 2022 11:22 pm


That’s not to say that OP will definitely get to do it
Maybe don't call it "sufficient" then.
If people do get hired with those qualifications, they’re sufficient. Doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed - no job is.
This is right on the substance, but that is not what “sufficient” means
Great discussion boys. I agree, A is not "sufficient" for B if it doesn't imply B (if having those qualifications doesn't guarantee OP a job)
So what qualifications would actually guarantee someone this kind of job?
On this definition of “sufficient,” no credential* is sufficient to get the job (or, for that matter, pretty much any job). “Sufficient” in this context must mean “sufficient to be in the conversation.”

*before someone says otherwise, no, a SCOTUS clerkship is not different. it is not the case that every firm hires every SCOTUS clerk who applies.
I mostly agree, although I wouldn't go so far as saying a SCOTUS clerkship is "not different." While not every firm will hire every SCOTUS clerk, my impression is virtually every SCOTUS clerk can find private-sector appellate work somewhere (and can make at least income partner if they stick around). There will always be some firm willing to throw $500,000-600,000 at them just for their name on briefs, their bio on the webpage, their connections, etc. Most COA clerks don't have that safety net. Their ability to stay in appellate law long-term depends on their work product.
Last edited by Anonymous User on Sun Sep 18, 2022 11:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Anonymous User
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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Sep 18, 2022 11:20 pm

DougEvans789 wrote:
Sun Sep 18, 2022 9:49 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 7:40 am
So what qualifications would actually guarantee someone this kind of job?
“Sufficient” in this context must mean “sufficient to be in the conversation.”
“Rather than use a word we all know according to its definition, I will assert that the question’s premise is so obviously wrong that my misusing the word is obviously right.”

Pro TLS move right there. You win.

Anonymous User
Posts: 410854
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Sep 19, 2022 2:08 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Sep 18, 2022 11:20 pm
DougEvans789 wrote:
Sun Sep 18, 2022 9:49 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 7:40 am
So what qualifications would actually guarantee someone this kind of job?
“Sufficient” in this context must mean “sufficient to be in the conversation.”
“Rather than use a word we all know according to its definition, I will assert that the question’s premise is so obviously wrong that my misusing the word is obviously right.”

Pro TLS move right there. You win.
I don't know why people are fighting over the definition of "sufficient" (it means "enough," everybody), but having a Court of Appeals clerkship with a semi-feeder judge is indeed sufficient to do appellate work. You will be able to find a firm or a boutique that will hire you on that qualification alone, and they will let you work on at least one appellate matter. If you do an okay job, you will probably be able to continue doing appellate work. If you do a terrible job, you may not. The longevity of your appellate career will depend on the firm and the judge and your personality and a whole variety of other factors. But as a threshold matter, your appellate clerkship means that you have one possible version of the minimum qualification required to be an appellate lawyer. Congratulations on what is a very, very big accomplishment for someone who wants to do appellate law! Don't let the TLS definition police get you down--they're probably just jealous or bitter.

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Sep 19, 2022 11:10 pm

Pneumonia wrote:
Sun Sep 18, 2022 10:35 am
Appellate boutiques won't be in reach unless you have a personal connecetion to someone involved with hiring. But that would still be the case even if your credentials were better.

Your credentials are sufficient for biglaw appellate groups--with a few caveats. First, Jones Day I&A is unique for several reasons, so leave them out of the picture unless you get SCOTUS. Second, your credentials are sufficient to give you a chance at Biglaw appellate groups; they aren't sufficient to guarantee you a long-term spot in those groups. Hardly any credentials are, including SCOTUS.

Most Biglaw appellate groups add associates as follows. Some associates are hired directly into the firm's appellate practice group, either from a fancy clerkship, or based on their summer work, or a recommendation from a professor that the partners know well, etc. Others are hired into the firm's general litigation group and then moved to the appellate group later. If you want to make that move, you need to put yourself in a position to do substantive, meaninful work for whoever controls entry to the group--and then do a terrific job. You can get in that position by doing really good work for the other lit partners, or by asking an appellate partner directly, or through happenstance by working on a trial-level matter with the appellate partner (who notices how smart you are and poaches you for her group). Your credentials likely aren't good enough for the first path (again, few are), unless you look regionally or at smaller firms, but they are plenty good for the second.

By "do a terrific job," I don't mean only on the substantive research and argument. Because appellate practice is so competitive, all of the following are equally important. Assume I am discussing a brief, or a portion of a brief. In addition to the substance: (1) The argument needs to be logically sound and logically structured. Major premises before minor premises, use syllogisms, use topic sentences etc. (2) The writing needs to be professional. You don't need to write like Scalia. But you do need to observe all the professional norms that appear in Garner's books. And your sentences need to sound good when you read them out loud. (3) You need to be pleasant to work with. This means maintaining the right balances between deference and pushback, respect and friendliness, thoroughness and responsiveness, etc. (4) You need to get the be efficient. People struggle with this one. Appellate practice, especially at biglaw firms, is very, very competitive. That drives partners to lower their rates, because they would rather do appellate work on the cheap than do motions to compel at a higher hourly rate. This same phenomenon applies to associates. You can nail (1)-(3) here, but if it takes you a ton of hours to do it, then the partner probably won't be looking to work with you again.

That sounds like a tall order because it is. But because so many people find appellate work compelling, there are still post-clerkship associates that tick every box every year. And by the way, a great clerkship--even SCOTUS--usually isn't "sufficient" to stay in the average biglaw appellate practice if you are missing one of the factors above. To make partner in the practice, you need to be the best ever at (1)-(4), or be really good at (5) generating appellate business. For this last purpose, it helps to have credentials that non-lawyers or in-house counsel recognize as stellar. That usually means SCOTUS.

OP here. Thanks for the insight. Do the lawyers in the specialized appellate groups at the big shops literally only do appellate work? Ideally, I’d like to do a mix of motions and appellate work for a few years and then transition to government. I know it is incredibly difficult to make partner as an appellate specialist, but is it actually hard to just stick around in the group for a few years?

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Pneumonia » Tue Sep 20, 2022 8:47 am

Anonymous User wrote: Do the lawyers in the specialized appellate groups at the big shops literally only do appellate work? Ideally, I’d like to do a mix of motions and appellate work for a few years and then transition to government. I know it is incredibly difficult to make partner as an appellate specialist, but is it actually hard to just stick around in the group for a few years?
No, they do not do only appellate work. Most are usually doing at least 25% other work, usually more like 40% or higher. (People like Paul Clement, Kannon Shanmugan, Lisa Blatt, and other names you heard in law school do closer to 100%). But that “other” work is usually substantive. Drafting jury charges, substantive motions, complicated admin law, etc. As an associate in the appellate group, you will be on call when a partner in another group needs good writing, or careful thinking, etc. The upside is that you get to think hard all day. The downside is that you also must do that. Can’t go on autopilot.

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Sep 20, 2022 10:46 pm

OP, I am in an appellate group (I think somebody used the word “porous,” which I think is accurate) in a v30. 7-8 year lit associate. About 50% of my work is appellate briefing, and the rest is a fairly brief-heavy trial level general civil lit practice.

My only credential going in was relatively competitive fedclerkship. I probably could have landed a competitive ssc or maybe less competitive coa afterward but I just didn’t feel like clerking again and the requisite geographic flexibility would have been a pain. Frankly, I didn’t realize how much I’d like appellate work relative to other lit work until I started doing it or I may have put in the sacrifice to get another gold star.

So how did I get “in”? I was at least partially responsible for a number of trial level wins (relatively speaking). And I did all the things that a prior poster mentioned, or I would like to think I do/did at least.

If you can write dispositive winning briefs at the trial level, those will often be appealed. If partner/client likes what you did on trial level, and they should if you win, they’ll give you heavy involvement when the resulting decision gets challenged at the appellate level.

Then once you win some appeals as appellEE on your own cases, you’ll start to get noticed as somebody who can do that kind of work. That’s when, in my experience, you start getting contacted about writing appellANT briefs when you had no involvement with the underlying case.

TLDR really is just research/write/analyze well and take every opportunity to do a first draft of a brief/section that you can. Wins, or at least praise/rep will follow the good writing. The desirable work will follow the wins/rep. As somebody not coming out of coa clerkship, it’s been a long road and I’m still probably not “there” yet.

My two cents.

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Sep 21, 2022 1:15 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Mon Sep 19, 2022 2:08 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Sep 18, 2022 11:20 pm
DougEvans789 wrote:
Sun Sep 18, 2022 9:49 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 16, 2022 7:40 am
So what qualifications would actually guarantee someone this kind of job?
“Sufficient” in this context must mean “sufficient to be in the conversation.”
“Rather than use a word we all know according to its definition, I will assert that the question’s premise is so obviously wrong that my misusing the word is obviously right.”

Pro TLS move right there. You win.
I don't know why people are fighting over the definition of "sufficient" (it means "enough," everybody), but having a Court of Appeals clerkship with a semi-feeder judge is indeed sufficient to do appellate work. You will be able to find a firm or a boutique that will hire you on that qualification alone, and they will let you work on at least one appellate matter. If you do an okay job, you will probably be able to continue doing appellate work. If you do a terrible job, you may not. The longevity of your appellate career will depend on the firm and the judge and your personality and a whole variety of other factors. But as a threshold matter, your appellate clerkship means that you have one possible version of the minimum qualification required to be an appellate lawyer. Congratulations on what is a very, very big accomplishment for someone who wants to do appellate law! Don't let the TLS definition police get you down--they're probably just jealous or bitter.
“Sufficient to get a job that will let you work on one (1) appeal” is obviously not what anyone else on this thread is discussing

But yes that is a realistic likelihood with a semi-feeder COA clerkship

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Sep 21, 2022 1:22 pm

Nobody has mentioned this yet, but the conventional wisdom is that if you really want appellate, it’s easier to get outside of DC/biglaw. Texas in particular has a very large (relatively speaking) midlaw appellate bar that’s less competitive. California also has a good-sized appellate bar. Though a lot of non-biglaw private-practice appellate work is in SSCs on things like contract and tort cases.

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Sep 21, 2022 4:46 pm

OP, feel free to PM.

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Re: Appellate Practice in Biglaw?

Post by imonaroll » Wed Sep 21, 2022 4:46 pm

Accidental anon--OP, feel free to PM.

Seriously? What are you waiting for?

Now there's a charge.
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