July 01, 2013

From the Bench: Advice for Appellate Litigators

A judge offers dos and don'ts for succeeding at an appeals hearing.

Hon. Diane S. Sykes

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I came to the Seventh Circuit in 2004 after 12 years on the state court bench in Wisconsin—seven years as a trial judge in Milwaukee County and five years on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. When I speak to bar associations and law student groups, I am sometimes asked whether the quality of practice before the Seventh Circuit is any better or worse than in the state courts—particularly in the state supreme court. The short answer is that it’s hit-and-miss in both court systems. Here in the Seventh Circuit, we see some excellent appellate practitioners on a regular basis. Other lawyers get the job done reasonably well. And some are not very good at all. The same was true in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The usual follow-up question asks for my advice on appellate best practices. Here are some of the general tips I normally share. I’ve also included a few specific points about briefing and oral argument. None of this is novel or original—just tried-and-true advice, worth repeating.

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