If you didn't get the results you wanted in a court case, all is not lost. Whether you were denied custody of your child or are facing deportation, the appeals process gives you a shot at another day in court. 

An appeal is a formal request to have a trial judge’s decision re-examined by a higher court. This request must be made within 30 days of the judgment. An appeal does not guarantee a new trial. If the judge’s decision was fair and without error, the request for appeal will likely be denied. If, however, the judge made a mistake that may have impacted the case’s outcome, there is a good chance that your appeal will be successful.

The notice of appeal


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A notice of appeal is the document informing the court and the other party that you plan to appeal the trial judge’s decision. This is the first step of the appeals process, and it must be completed within a strict timeframe. You can file as soon as the judgment is filed, but you must do so within 30 days of receiving notice of the judgment.

If your request for an appeal is approved, the appeals court will review the case for any errors. If a mistake that may have contributed to the judgment is found, the appeals court will likely reverse the decision. In an appeal, there is no jury, no evidence, and no calling witnesses. The facts revealed in the original case will be accepted by the appeals court with few exceptions.

Appellate brief

In the appellate brief (a written persuasion filed by the attorney), you will argue that the trial judge made an error that substantially impacted his or her decision. In most cases, the opposing party will submit an appellate brief arguing why the judge’s decision was correct. The appellate lawyer will build your case in the brief before your appeal is even heard.

If you lose in a state or federal appeals court, you may appeal to the state or U.S. Supreme Court. Supreme courts get more requests for appeals than they can handle, however, so reviews are typically only granted when they involve unsettled questions of law and raise federal or constitutional issues.

The appeals process explained

On occasion, cases may be decided based solely on the appellate brief. However, many will require a discussion between the appellate lawyers and a panel of judges. During this “oral argument,” each side will be given a limited amount of time to present its argument to the court.

Generally speaking, appeals are final. Unless the case is sent to the U.S. Supreme Court, the court of appeals will likely have the final word.

In a civil appeal, either side may appeal the verdict, but criminal cases are handled a bit differently. If found guilty, the defendant may appeal, but the government is not permitted to appeal a not guilty verdict. That being said, after a guilty verdict has been made, either side may appeal the imposed sentence.

Appellate laws is effectively a form of dispute resolution. At its most basic, it is defined as handling cases on appeal, but the process goes much deeper. A knowledgeable appellate attorney will perform thorough legal analysis and employ sophisticated strategies, including at the trial level. Within the broader scope of appellate law are many specialties, and many appellate lawyers specialize in a particular area. For example, telecommunications, intellectual property, or labor and employment. “To be a good appellate lawyer is to have a set of skills that cross-cut substantive areas in the law,” says Kathleen Sullivan, a New York-based partner at Quinn Emmanuel.

Appellate attorneys may also deal with court-specific strategies, with a particular focus in state and federal appellate courts, as well as state supreme courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Call an appellate lawyer today

Regardless of your situation—whether you are appealing a civil or criminal matter, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced appellate attorney. Find legal counsel specializing in your unique area of need. The appeals process can be complex, confusing, and time consuming. Let an experienced appellate lawyer help