How are appeals different from trial court proceedings?

Trial court proceedings involve depositions, hearings, motions, and perhaps ultimately a trial where a decision is made by either a jury or (in some cases) a single judge. Extensive time is spent developing the facts of a case, and ultimately trying to persuade the decision maker to rule in your favor. Often that involves certain skills required to persuade a six person jury to see the case your way.

Appellate proceedings are vastly different. The case at the trial level is usually over, and the record of that case has been created and cannot be changed. An appellate lawyer takes all that occurred below, searches for the important issues and arguments, and presents written briefs to the appellate court. Generally, the Appellant files an Initial Brief, the Appellee files an Answer Brief, and the Appellant then files one final Reply Brief. In most cases, the Court will then order an oral argument in which the lawyers appear before and answer the questions of a three judge panel (or, at the Supreme Court of Florida, before all seven Justices). The oral argument usually ranges between 15 to 30 minutes per side, depending on the Court.

The skills and rules involved in trial court proceedings and appellate court proceedings are vastly different. An appellate oral argument is far different from a closing argument given to a jury at the end of trial. A closing argument is essentially a monologue where the lawyer summarizes the facts and testimony and attempts to persuade the fact finder to rule for his or her client. An appellate oral argument involves extensive, difficult questions being asked by the appellate judges concerning what happened below, and how the law applies to the facts of the case. An appellate lawyer must be able to quickly and effectively respond to any question, no matter how unanticipated, in order to assist the appellate court in resolving the issues.

As former Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw has noted:

"(T)here is a difference between the skills needed in litigating a case before trial and appellate courts. Trial litigation - focusing on jury trials - requires jury arguments that are generally structured to lead ordinary people to decide something based on compelling emotional arguments. . . . Thus, the ability to evoke an emotional response is important in making jury arguments. In appellate advocacy, however, the emphasis switches and the attorney must stress the application of law to facts - keeping in mind the appellate court's concern for uniformity of the law and doing justice."

Hon. Leander Shaw, Supreme Court of Florida.

Does the firm practice in the trial courts?

In some circumstances, yes. The firm advises clients and their litigation counsel on complex matters in the trial courts, merging our skills in research and brief-writing with an eye toward preserving issues for appeal. Additionally, clients with high-stakes litigation matters may ask us to bring our appellate experience to the trial court by attending trials and court hearings to ensure critical arguments are preserved and important objections made. Very few arguments, no matter how clever, can be successfully raised on appeal if not first made in the trial court.

What types of appeals does Florida Appeals handle?

Florida Appeals handles all types of appeals in both state and federal courts. Actions in the appellate courts generally arise in one of three ways. First, a party always has the right to appeal a final decision of the trial court. In these cases, the matter is essentially concluded at the trial level, and the case can then be reviewed by the appellate court for reversible error. Secondly, certain non-final orders may be appealed during the course of trial proceedings, though this category of matters is relatively small. For example, an order granting, modifying or dissolving an injunction is immediately appealable because it does not make sense to wait until the end of the case (which might take years) before the court can review such an order. The third type of appellate proceedings involves what are known as “original proceedings,” or what is more commonly referred to as extraordinary writs. Sometimes, in a given situation, a party may seek the review of the appellate court through a petition for a specific type of writ given the circumstances involved. 

What does it mean to be Board Certified in Appellate Practice?

The Florida Bar defines Board Certification as “the highest level of evaluation by The Florida Bar of competency and experience within an area of law, and professionalism and ethics in practice.” Seven percent of eligible Florida Bar members (approximately 4,800 lawyers), are Board Certified in a wide range of specialties. Board Certified Florida Bar members are the only Florida attorneys allowed to identify themselves as a “Specialist,” an “Expert,” or use the letters “B.C.S.” (which stands for Board Certified Specialist). Attorney Shannon McLin has been Board Certified in appellate practice since 2004, and has served on the Appellate Certification Committee, including as that Committee’s Chair. 

You have former appellate judges working with Florida Appeals. How long were Earle W. Peterson, Jr. and Wiliam D. Palmer judges, and where did they serve?

Earle W. Peterson, Jr. was appointed to the Circuit Court bench in Lake County, Florida in 1988. Two years later, he was appointed to the Fifth District Court of Appeal where he served with distinction until his retirement in December, 2005. Additionally, during his tenure at the Fifth District, he served as Chief Judge from 1995-1997. Thus, Mr. Peterson served as a Circuit Judge for two years, and an appellate Judge for 15 years.

William D. Palmer served as Judge of Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach from 2000-2018 and served as its Chief Judge from 2007-2009. He was appointed to the court after 24 years in private practice, primarily in the areas of civil litigation, family law, appellate law, adoption law, arbitration, and mediation. He has served as Chair of the Conference of District Court of Appeal Judges, the Florida Supreme Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules and Policies Committee, the Florida Bar’s Appellate Certification Committee and Judicial Nomination Procedures Committee, the Ninth Circuit Grievance Committee, and the Ninth Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission. He has also served as president of the Council of Chief Judges of State Courts of Appeal. 

How do I retain Florida Appeals?

Our Firm traditionally charges for most appellate work on an hourly basis. However, in some circumstances, alternative billing methods are available which can provide the client with greater predictability of the total fee incurred. We are willing to explore alternative billing structures when possible. 

Is it feasible to work with or retain Florida Appeals even if I’m not located in Central Florida?

Yes. The very nature of the practice of appellate law enables clients to retain specialized appellate counsel regardless of the lawyer's physical location. Filings at the appellate court are made electronically, so proximity to a courthouse is not an issue. Further, in most cases the only time an appearance at the courthouse would be necessary is for an oral argument, which happens only once in a given case.

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Do appellate judges recognize the value of appellate specialists?

"My own experience in both roles suggests that most of the time the trial lawyer is well-advised to bring in another lawyer to handle the appeal. This is not because appellate law is so arcane that only the cognoscenti can handle it. It is really because the lawyer who handled the trial is often unable to discern the appellate forest from the trial trees. Issues that consumed the trial lawyer are often of marginal significance at best on appeal; issues that seemed trivial during trial may become critical on review."

Hon. Gary M. Farmer, Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal
Arabia v. Siedlecki, 789 So. 2d 380 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001)
(Farmer, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part)

"Effective presentation to a federal court of appeals, or to any appellate court, requires a blend of talents not necessarily found in the typical trial attorney."

Hon. Laurence H. Silberman, U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit,
Plain Talk on Appellate Advocacy, 20 Litigation 3 (1994)


What makes an effective appellate lawyer?

Appellate law is a specialized field that requires a skill set vastly different from the skills of a trial lawyer. At trial, the audience is a trial judge or a small group of jurors who are concerned with facts, while the appellate lawyer faces an audience of judges focused on the law. 

How can Florida Appeals lawyers help my trial lawyer obtain a better result at trial?

Trial lawyers must be laser focused on presenting their client's case during the trial process. However, without creating a record of the key issues during trial and preserving them for review on appeal, a favorable outcome can be overturned and an unfavorable outcome can be unassailable. Appellate lawyers can work only with the record presented at trial. Florida Appeals provides trial support services throughout the pretrial and trial processes by preserving errors for appeal, conducting legal research during trial as issues arise, and preparing and responding to dispositive pretrial and post-trial motions.

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