Trial Attorney vs Appellate Attorney

You need an appellate attorney and not your trial attorney

My trial attorney already knows my case. Isn’t he/she in the best position to represent me in the appellate court?

Justice Ruggero J. Aldisert is a Senior U.S. Circuit Judge and served as Chief Judge of the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeal. He is nationally famous as an author and lecturer on appellate law. In his treatise “Winning on Appeal” cr. 1996 National Institute for Trial Advocacy, he commented on why parties need appellate specialists:

Many are great trial lawyers, but effective skills in the lakes and ponds with which these fishermen and women are familiar are not necessarily the same skills which are effective in the swiftly moving streams at higher elevations….

Appellate advocacy is specialized work. It draws upon talents and skills which are far different from those utilized in other facets of practicing law. Being a good trial lawyer does not mean that you are also a qualified appellate advocate….

The trial courtroom is where the great stars of the legal galaxy shine. But trial courts and appellate courts are constellations far apart in that galaxy. The two settings demand different skills, knowledge and tools…The appellate lawyer deals primarily with law, not facts, and only with professional judges, not lay juries.

Justice Aldisert correctly identified the core difference. In the trial court, trial attorneys are salespersons trying to convince a lay jury that they should believe their client and disbelieve the other attorney’s client. In the appellate courts, the appellate specialist has a different audience—veteran professional judges—–and a different purpose: convincing that audience that his/her client did or did not have a fair trial.

Many heart surgeons are fine in their expertise but although licensed to practice medicine, would not make very good brain surgeons. Attorneys are no different. Although licensed to practice law, attorneys have areas of expertise. And you need to recognize this difference.

After prosecuting or defending your case for so long, do you want the fate of your case to hinge on the skills of someone who might be an excellent trial attorney, but who has no specialized training in appellate law, who practices appellate law “part time” and who has handled maybe a “few” appeals. Or do you want your case to depend on someone who has special training, special experience, has earned State Bar Certification in Appellate Law, and teaches other lawyers the basics of appellate law?