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Texas Appellate Law Blog

Civil Appellate Practice Tips, Resources, and News

Appellate Practice and Procedure Lesson 2: How Appellate Lawyers Bring Value at the Trial Court Level

Posted in Appellate Practice and Procedure Course

9684049363_7f44f4829a_oThis post features the video and slidedeck for the second lecture in my Appellate Practice and Procedure course, which I introduced here. The presentation appears after the jump.

This is one of my favorite topics in the series. Getting involved in a case early creates opportunities for appellate lawyers to influence decisions that can make or break an appeal. This is far preferable to working with a cold record, after the fact, that appellate counsel had no part in developing. The appellate lawyer’s natural entry points include claim and defense analysis at the pleadings stage, expert-witness and discovery strategy, preparing and responding to potentially dispositive motions, drafting and arguing the jury charge, preserving error during trial, formulating the judgment, requesting and proposing findings of fact and conclusions of law, and pre- and post-verdict motions preceding an appeal.

Not every case justifies the expense, but trial lawyers and their clients should consider retaining an appellate lawyer skilled in these areas to sit second or third chair at trial. In this role, appellate counsel can focus on protecting the client’s interests several steps down the line, while trial counsel concentrates on getting the most favorable testimony from witnesses and delivering an effective closing argument.

Questions? Use the comment section below. Otherwise, we will resume on March 2 with Lesson 3: Handling an Appeal—The Decision to Appeal and Preliminary Matters.

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Mardi Gras or Not: When in New Orleans for Oral Argument, Where Should I Stay and Eat?

Posted in Appellate Practice, Fifth Circuit, Oral Argument

106114431_6da2a0e8fd_zWith Fat Tuesday having passed, the timing seems right to consider lodging and restaurant recommendations for those who occasionally venture to New Orleans for Fifth Circuit oral arguments.

When I asked the 607 members of the Texas Appellate Law LinkedIn Group about their preferences, the response was overwhelming. The information was so helpful that I couldn’t resist sharing the top recommendations here. Continue Reading

Appellate Practice and Procedure Lesson 1: Overview and Tools of the Trade

Posted in Appellate Practice and Procedure Course, Technology

This post includes the video and slidedeck for the first lecture in my Appellate Practice and Procedure course, which I introduced on this blog here and here. The presentation appears after the jump.

In this lesson, after introducing myself and going over the course syllabus, I discuss the nature of appellate work as opposed to other types of litigation, the upside of having an appellate practice, the anatomy of the appellate process, and the tools of the trade.

Although I put this lecture together several years ago, my observations about it being a good time to start a solo appellate practice generally hold true today. In 2009, technology had advanced such that one could run an appellate practice with a laptop, high-speed internet, a printer, and a legal research database subscription. Smartphones, tablets, and online practice-management platforms have since emerged as additional tools in the appellate lawyer’s toolbox.

Questions? Use the comment section below. Otherwise, we will resume on February 23 with Lesson 2: How Appellate Lawyers Bring Value at the Trial Court Level.

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Appellate Practice and Procedure Course Syllabus

Posted in Appellate Practice and Procedure Course

As announced here earlier this week, I will be releasing my Appellate Practice and Procedure course content beginning February 16. For those interested, the course syllabus is as follows:

Course Outline

I. Overview

A. Why Practice Appellate Law?

B. Anatomy of the Appellate Process

II. Tools of the Trade

A. Computer and High Speed Internet Connection

B. Research Databases

C. Reference Materials

D. Legal-Writing Ability

III. How Appellate Lawyers Bring Value at the Trial Court Level

A. Strategic Planning and Analysis

B. Error Preservation

C. Jury Charge Preparation

D. Motions/Responses and Trial Briefing

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Appellate Practice and Procedure Course to Be Released Online

Posted in Announcements, Appellate Practice and Procedure Course

Back in 2009, I agreed to teach Appellate Practice and Procedure at Solo Practice University, a web-based educational and professional networking community where faculty from across the country teach lawyers and law students how to practice law. I then planned and self-produced a series of eight video lectures, which remain available at SPU with a paid enrollment. I created this series to inform and inspire lawyers considering a career in appellate law, particularly in a solo or small-firm setting. A brief introductory video appears above.

Over the next two months, I will be making these presentations available on this blog without charge. The lectures—which will be released in order and accompanied by a slidedeck prepared for each session—break down the elements of an appeal, provide tips for handling each element, explore the range of services appellate counsel can provide, and discuss the resources and skills necessary to succeed as an appellate lawyer.

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Tips for Superseding Travis County District Court Judgments

Posted in Appellate Practice, Supersedeas

Along with retiring Chief Deputy Clerk Michelle Brinkman, I spoke to the Austin Bar Civil Appellate Section today on “Tips for Superseding Travis County District Court Judgments.” New Travis County District Clerk Velva Price and incoming Chief Deputy Clerk Caroline Legette—both of whom are lawyers—attended the luncheon as Section guests. As a former Chair of the Section, I was pleased to be invited as a speaker.

I arrived early to make sure my MacBook would communicate with the venue’s projector and even had a backup plan, but alas, I could not get the projector to work. It may have been for the best. Supersedeas is a somewhat difficult topic, and not having slides forced me to try and engage the audience without visuals. Having Michelle present with me was a big plus, as she has more than a few war stories from her years in the trenches.

A big takeway from our discussion was to use the District Clerk’s bond calculation spreadsheet as a starting point for determining the amount needed to supersede a judgment pending appeal. The form has some rules emanating from case law and other sources built into it, and it is an extremely useful tool even if your case is not in Travis County.

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Old-School Legal Researchers: ThomsonWest Is Shuttering Westlaw Classic—and Soon

Posted in Appellate Practice, Technology

It’s been five years since ThomsonReuters (then ThomsonWest) launched WestlawNext and re-branded the legal research database many lawyers grew up on as “Westlaw Classic.” I received notice yesterday that my firm’s access to the old version will cease at the end of March, leaving WestlawNext as the only option available under our contract. This is part of TR’s planned takedown of Westlaw Classic.

I have used WestlawNext exclusively since its launch. I find it fairly intuitive, and the interface is undoubtedly more pleasing to the eye than the old version. I love being able to filter searches down to a particular appellate court, save my research into folders, and share those folders with other users on our account. WestlawNext is not perfect, but it gets the job done for our practice.

It’s a cliché, but lawyers as a group are resistant to change. Some have hung onto Westlaw Classic tightly, either because they’re comfortable with it and it meets their needs or because they just won’t take the time to learn something new. Change is hard, but it’s inevitable. If you’re still using Westlaw Classic, it’s time to evolve.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Blake Patterson 

The Last of the Perry Appointees

Posted in Courts of Appeals, News & Politics

Post updated 1/12/15.

As reported on this blog’s Twitter feed, Governor Rick Perry has appointed five new justices to various intermediate courts of appeals. They are:

  • 352nd District Court Judge Bonnie Sudderth, who will replace new Tarrant County Criminal Court at Law Judge Bob McCoy on the Second Court of Appeals;
  • Cindy Bourland (pictured), a private practitioner with Bourland Law Firm PC, who will fill the Third Court of Appeals seat vacated by new Chief Justice Jeff Rose;
  • Bexar County Court at Law Judge Jason Pulliam, who will replace newly-elected Chief Justice Sandee Bryan Marion on the Fourth Court of Appeals;
  • David Schenck, an appellate lawyer with Dykema Gossett PLLC, who will fill the seat opened by long-serving Fifth Court of Appeals Justice Michael O’Neill’s retirement; and
  • Sole practitioner Greg Neely, who will replace retiring Justice Sam Griffith on the Twelfth Court of Appeals.

Each of the new justices is filling an unexpired term and will stand for election in 2016.

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Chief Justices Rose and Marion Take Office

Posted in Announcements, News & Politics

Two Texas intermediate appellate courts have begun the new year under new leadership from judges whom the voters elevated from other positions on those courts. Jeff Rose (pictured) has taken the oath as Chief Justice of Austin’s Third Court of Appeals, and Sandee Bryan Marion has now assumed her duties as Chief Justice of San Antonio’s Fourth Court of Appeals. These promotions leave each court short one justice until the appointment process plays out.

Practicing in Austin and primarily before the Third Court, I have had the opportunity to watch Chief Justice Rose’s career develop and to get to know him both personally and as a jurist. He ran an excellent campaign devoid of party politics and has pledged to continue the good work begun by former Chief Justice Woodie Jones, who came to a court beleaguered by infighting and inefficiency when he took the helm six years ago. I expect Chief Justice Rose to lead a collegial court whose members are faithful to the law and take their responsibility to the people of Texas seriously.

Photo credit: Justice Scott Field (@ScottKingField) via Twitter

Celebrating Chief Justice Woodie Jones

Posted in Announcements, Courts of Appeals, News & Politics

The Austin Bar Association Civil Appellate Law Section, along with several law-firm sponsors (including Smith Law Group, P.C.), is hosting a retirement reception for Third Court of Appeals Chief Justice Woodie Jones on Thursday, December 11, 2014, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Headliners Club.

As many Austin-area readers know, Chief Justice Jones is winding up his second stint on the Third Court. He was elected Justice in 1998 and served in that capacity for twelve years. After a successful run in private practice, he unseated the incumbent chief justice in the 2008 election and has led the Court successfully ever since.

Justice Jeff Rose won a contested election to replace the Chief and knows he has big shoes to fill. Come out Thursday evening and help us celebrate Chief Justice Jones’s fine judicial career.