Whether in state or federal court, civil appeals are unlike anything a client will face in the court system. Both trial and appellate lawyers are well advised to know their respective roles and even their limitations. But managing client expectations is altogether more difficult, since most lay persons are largely unfamiliar with the courts.
Doing so is essential to not only keeping the client satisfied but to achieving the best possible outcome. Gusdorff Law represents appellate clients in California’s state and federal courts. We also advise trial attorneys through our appellate consulting services. Here, we share some practical tips for ensuring your client knows what to expect from the appeals process.
Appeals Are Not a Second Chance to Relitigate
The notion of an appeal being a “do-over” is deeply ingrained. However, California and federal courts of appeal do not weigh evidence in the same manner that trial courts do. Moreover, clients should understand that the truth of their position is not the court’s main interest.
Civil litigation necessarily involves some level of emotional investment in one’s relative position. But appellate courts are primarily concerned with legal error, not the veracity of a litigant’s claims. This leads naturally to the second important topic the client must thoroughly understand.
Winning an Appeal Is Not the Same Thing as Winning the Case
Victory at the appellate level surely brings a major degree of satisfaction. This is especially true considering the time it takes to work one’s case through the courts. However, winning an appeal is not the same as winning the underlying case. For instance, the court may rule in a client’s favor and decide to reinstate a lawsuit that was dismissed by the trial court. But that only means the client starts over at trial.
Similarly, winning the right to amend a complaint means you still need to try the issues raised. The client should be informed at each stage of the appeals process what a win or a loss really means. Knowing this can help avoid disappointment and keep the client on board.
Not All Errors Should Necessarily Be Raised
Any attorney who tries enough cases knows firsthand what courts get right – and what they get wrong. Clients get to see just a sample of this. On appeal, they often want to raise every possible mistake committed by the trial judge or opposing party. After all, the objective is to win, and that means throwing everything you have at the other side. Right?
Not necessarily. Every appeal has arguments that are stronger than others. However, the seasoned appellate lawyer appreciates the goal of putting the best arguments forth. Weaker arguments are distractions that detract from the force of the stronger arguments. The client should recognize that appeals involve strategy, and strategy means not necessarily arguing every possible point.
How Much Time Is Involved in the Appeals Process?
Is the client committed to seeing the appeal all the way through? The length of the appeal varies with the complexity of the underlying case. It also matters whether the appeal is in state or federal court.
Regardless, the client should expect several months at a minimum, up to possibly a year or two. Appeals simply do not deliver results at the same speed as trial courts do. The client needs to understand this up front and prepare for the long haul.
Learn More About Our Appellate Consulting and Appellate Litigation Services
Consulting with trial attorneys is one of the most important appellate services our firm provides. We help trial teams prepare before and during trial so the client can be best positioned for an appeal. When the trial ends, regardless of the reason, we’re prepared to counsel clients on what they should expect on appeal. Our firm handles every step of the appeal with an eye towards advocating for the client’s best interests.