What is the Process for a Civil Appeal?

icon of a courthouse - appeals process concept

If you’re thinking about filing a civil appeal, the process can be lengthy and complex. There are certain rules and procedures that must be followed. However, in order to file an appeal, you cannot simply be dissatisfied with the results of the case — a mistake of law or a procedural error must have been made in the lower court that ultimately affected the outcome of the matter. If you believe you have grounds for an appeal, the following is a basic outline of the appellate process.

Hire an Appellate Attorney

There is a lot at stake when you’re appealing the court’s decision in your legal matter. By hiring an appellate attorney, you will be working with counsel who specifically handles cases at the appellate level. This type of work is very different from trial work, and it’s important to have an attorney on your side who knows how to prepare and argue an appeal. An appellate attorney will understand the specific procedures associated with the appellate process and possess the skills needed to identify all appealable issues in the record.

File the Notice of Appeal

There is a limited amount of time to file a Notice of Appeal. This is the written document that notifies the court and the other side that you are appealing the order of judgment in question. The Notice of Appeal initiates the appeals process and must be served on all parties in the case. The filing also marks the beginning of the time frame in which the appellant (the party seeking appellate review) must submit a brief and serve it on the appellee (the party against whom the appeal is being filed).

Once the Notice of Appeal has been filed, the appeal must be “perfected.” This means preparing the case for review by the appellate court. Specifically, this part of the appeals process involves preparing the record or appendix, writing the appeal brief, and getting the case on the appellate court’s calendar.

Prepare the Appendix or Record on Appeal

The chance that your appeal will be successful is largely dependent upon the preparation that goes into it. To file an appeal at the state or federal level, a “record” or “appendix” must be prepared for the appellate court to review. This is the official account of what occurred at the trial level and must accompany the appeal brief. The record or appendix (depending on the jurisdiction) typically includes the transcripts of the trial court proceedings in question, and filings from the trial court, such as court orders, pleadings, and motions, that are relevant to the issues you are raising on the appeal.

Write the Appellate Brief

A well-drafted appellate brief is the most crucial component of the appeals process. This is the written memorandum that must be submitted by each side and establishes their legal arguments for or against appellate relief. For many appellate cases, this may be each side’s only chance to present their argument — cases are often decided based on the brief alone without oral argument.

Depending upon the rules in the specific jurisdiction, an appellate brief must usually contain the following:

  • Procedural history — This portion of the brief should describe the history of how the case progressed to the appeal.
  • Statement of facts — The statement of facts set forth in the brief should be a persuasive narrative regarding the facts that gave rise to the legal action.
  • Legal argument — This section is a summary of the reasons why you should prevail in the case and explains why the lower court’s decision should either be affirmed or reversed.
  • Conclusion — The conclusion in an appellate brief is typically a sentence that asks the court for the relief being sought.

Once the appellant’s brief has been served, the appellee has a limited amount of time in which to file an opposition (or “respondent’s”) brief. After receiving the appellee’s brief, the appellant may serve and file a reply brief. It’s important to be aware that each appellate court has its own procedures and regulations that must be followed when it comes to writing and formatting an appellate brief. Each brief must comply with the court’s rules regarding content, page limits, fonts, and formatting.

Persuade the Court During Oral Arguments

Oral argument allows both sides the opportunity to appear in court before the panel of specific appellate judges assigned to hear your appeal. This is not like oral argument at trial level. Each side only has a short amount of time in which to highlight for the appeal judges the most important factors in deciding the appeal. The panel of judges often interrupt arguments to ask questions and clarify points.

The arguments made at the appellate level are scheduled for a specific date and time. Oral argument is not guaranteed, and it must usually be requested. Failure to do so can result in waiver.

Contact an Experienced Appellate Attorney

In the event an error was made by the lower court in your case, it’s vital to understand that there are strict regulations, timelines, and procedures for filing an appeal. It’s critical to work with a knowledgeable appellate attorney who can guide you through the appeals process and maximize your chances of a successful outcome. The appellate attorneys at Hegge & Confusione, LLC know how to skillfully draft a brief and are adept at presenting effective arguments before appellate courts. Contact us today for an assessment of your case.