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What Does it Take To Be An Appellate Lawyer in the Fed Circuit?

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on March 30, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What does it take to be an appellate lawyer? Better yet, what are the attributes of a strong appellate lawyer?

Here's a quick list of some top traits for appellate lawyers:

  • Strong knowledge of appellate procedure. Appellate procedure is complex and complicated, with specific rules on how briefs are to be written and delivered. It's very important to know the rules of court. For example, your brief could be rejected if the font size in the footnotes is the same size as the text of the brief. In the Federal Circuit, your brief could get tossed out if you neglect to include a statement of related cases.
  • Strong knowledge of the law. An appellate lawyer needs to know the law as well as the procedure. In the Federal Circuit, an appellate lawyer will usually handle intellectual property cases or cases that stem from employment by federal agencies. It's very important, if you plan to practice in the Federal Circuit, to know the laws that surround these areas of practice.
  • Creativity and the ability to think out of the box. An appellate lawyer's job is to take a case that has already been decided and employ a fresh take on it. Obviously, there are limitations based on which issues may be raised on appeal, but an appellate lawyer's job is to be able to craft new arguments given the procedural limitations. It's very important to be able to look at an argument from different angles.
  • Good Research and Concise Writing Skills. An appellate lawyer must be good at research. The appellate lawyer must also be a skilled writer, able to concisely deliver an argument. Interestingly, the ABA's Appellate Issues reports that more and more judges are reading briefs on iPads than ever before. Judges are skimming briefs, and are not wasting any time trying to figure out the point of the brief. The ability to deliver a concise, clean argument is key.
  • Intuition. A good appellate attorney needs to predict what the court wants to hear. In oral arguments, this is even more important as the court is less interested in dramatic prose than it is in the key arguments that support the attorney's position on the law.

These are just some traits that are helpful to have for those who practice appellate law. Appellate practice isn't for every lawyer. But for those who choose to venture in, it's wise to be prepared.

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