If I had to choose one quality that is most important to success as an appellate lawyer, it would be “good business sense.” It may surprise you to hear me say that. The classic stereotype of an appellate lawyer is someone walking around with his head in a book, or speculating about the long-term impact of the latest blistering dissent in the Supreme Court, or debating burning issues like footnotes and font choice in appellate briefs. Of course, there’s some truth in that picture. I take as much pleasure as anyone in handicapping cases in the Supreme Court (and I have a strong preference for 14-point Book Antiqua and no footnotes). But none of that leads to success without good business sense. Clients are looking for advocates and advisors who will understand their business goals, not just the intricacies of their legal arguments. And, of course, good business judgment is essential to building a successful law practice, whether in appellate litigation or any other specialty.
The large-firm setting comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. Building any new practice takes time and investment, which may require seeking buy-in from the firm’s leadership. This may not be easy, given the pressures large law firms face in today’s market. In addition, an appellate practice may fit differently within a large firm’s economic model than a substantive or industry-focused practice would. But at the same time, large firm practice offers many advantages—in terms of relationships, resources, and profile. With that in mind, I’m happy to share some of the strategies that I use in my own practice and that animate the appellate practice group we have developed at Winston & Strawn.