May 30, 2017 Articles

10 Tips for Developing an Appellate Practice as a Young Lawyer

Whether you’re fresh out of law school or have been practicing for a few years, an appellate clerkship is an unbeatable learning experience.

By Cheyenne Chambers, Paul Cox, and Emily McNee – May 30, 2017

Working on appeals can be a highly rewarding experience for a young lawyer. Often, though, associates at law firms are not exposed to appellate work early in their careers. In addition, the specialized practices and procedures that characterize appeals may be intimidating to the young lawyer. However, no matter your age or experience level, it’s never too early to develop a practice in appeals. All it takes is a good plan and execution.

As the cochairs of the newly formed Appellate Practice Subcommittee on Membership, Diversity, and Young Lawyers—and as young lawyers who practice appellate law ourselves—we have developed the following list of ways to cultivate a career in appellate law. 

  1. Take a pro bono appeal. Many states offer the opportunity to work on an appeal pro bono through public defender offices, legal clinics, and juvenile representation offices. There’s no better way to learn how to prosecute an appeal than to just do it.
  2. Get involved. The appellate practice sections of the ABA and state bar associations offer great learning opportunities through continuing legal education courses, conferences, and other events. Getting involved in these organizations can also build your network of fellow appellate practitioners and potential referral sources.
  3. Offer to help. If an attorney in your firm is working on an appeal, offer to help. There are many discrete tasks involved in an appeal that can be delegated, including researching particular legal issues, proofreading a brief, drafting appellate motions, and brainstorming oral argument questions and answers.
  4. Do a moot. Helping another appellate attorney prepare for an oral argument is a great way to sharpen your analytical skills, gain familiarity with the various stages of an appeal, and network with other practitioners. If a lawyer you know has an argument coming up, offer to help with a moot.
  5. Observe oral argument. The appellate courthouse doors are open to the public. Find an interesting case on a court’s oral argument docket and learn by observing. Some courts also post audio or video of oral arguments on court websites.
  6. Write an amicus brief. If you’re plugged in with a nonprofit or community organization, offer to write an amicus brief in a state or federal appeal that the organization has an interest in. Doing so provides a great opportunity to network with potential clients and further develop your legal writing.
  7. Consider a clerkship. Whether you’re fresh out of law school or have been practicing for a few years, an appellate clerkship is an unbeatable learning experience. As a clerk, you will gain firsthand insight into the appellate process, significantly improve your writing and research skills, and get the opportunity to observe and connect with top appellate lawyers in your area.
  8. Find a mentor. Learn the ropes from someone who has experience. Many state and local bar associations offer mentoring programs through which young attorneys are paired with seasoned appellate attorneys or even judges. Or develop the mentor relationship the old-fashioned way: find a local appellate attorney whom you admire and offer to take that person to lunch.
  9. Read the blogs. Keep track of the latest developments in appellate law by following sites like SCOTUSblog and HowAppealing. There is likely a blog following appellate decisions within your state as well.
  10. Read the rules. A major part of developing an appellate practice is mastering procedure. But you don’t have to wait until a procedural issue arises in a case to learn the answer; go ahead and gain some familiarity by reading the appellate rules of your state and federal courts. That way, you’ll be primed to find the right answer when you’re actually litigating.

The subcommittee will be looking for opportunities to invite more young attorneys into the appellate practice and, hopefully, to convince these attorneys to join the Appellate Practice Committee. All committee members are invited to get involved in the effort and to encourage the young attorneys they know to sign on.

Cheyenne Chambers of Tin, Fulton, Walker & Owen PLLC in Charlotte; Paul Cox of Ellis & Winters LLP in Raleigh; and Emily McNee of Littler Mendelson PC in Minneapolis are the cochairs of the Appellate Practice Subcommittee on Membership, Diversity, and Young Lawyers. All three caught the appellate bug while clerking for wonderful appellate judges.

Copyright © 2017, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).