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When it comes to the criminal appellate practice, you must understand the importance of small details. One might argue that details are a key aspect of the legal profession altogether, which is certainly true. However, paying attention to the little things at the appellate level can make the difference in whether or not a ruling is overturned.
In criminal appellate practice, one of the responsibilities of counsel is filing briefs. This is perhaps more important than usual since federal criminal appeals do not involve much in-person interaction, unless an oral argument is requested and granted. One of the important aspects of filing a brief is ensuring that every single one of the technical filing requirements outlined by the court is followed. This is no small issue because failure to comply can significantly delay the process and cause other problems.
There have been many instances when briefs have been submitted to the court and promptly returned because they did not follow technical filing rules. The problem can be an issue that seems minor. For instance, improperly binding a brief, failing to include the required excerpts, and deciding to get creative in ways that are outside of the guidelines are all problematic. Some appellate lawyers learn the hard way that the legal process is more formal in federal courts than in district courts; not to say that district courts do not require formality. The bottom line is that following procedures are especially important at the appellate level and the courts will hold counsel accountable.
To put things in perspective, consider the fact that a federal criminal appeal involves a person that’s probably desperate to have their case overturned. As they wait to resume their lives, the appellate court has just returned a brief because the cover did not align with the technical guidelines. This might seem like such a minor issue, but it happens all the time. In other words, a person’s life can remain on hold longer because a simple rule was not followed. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if the appellate process was not so lengthy, but that’s not the case. It can take months or more than a year to complete the federal criminal appeals process and obtain the findings.
There’s a possibility that sometimes the rules are not followed because they are not understood. As with any other area of life, it’s important to be diligent in finding out what’s required to achieve success. There are always professional staff at appellate courts that are available and willing to provide information regarding the process, especially as it relates to technical requirements for filing briefs. It’s also worth noting that following procedures is a great way to demonstrate your respect for the process and the court system.
While there are some appellate lawyers that don’t quite understand the importance of professionalism, many recognize the value of demonstrating respect for the court, which includes staff within the court system. Whether it’s following the rules from the beginning or recognizing that a failure to do so affects many others, you really can’t go wrong by being respectful and mindful of the process. It’s a philosophy that’s likely to pay dividends as it relates to developing a positive reputation as a competent and diligent professional.
Getting to know about the process is important for many reasons. One key reason is because it helps you understand the role of others, which might be useful down the road. When you fully understand the appellate process, you’ll want to make sure all of your ducks are in a row so that the panel of judges are able to review your briefs without having to endure technical errors or unclear arguments. If you think it doesn’t matter that much, you’re mistaken. Keep in mind that there are appellate judges reading briefs every single day and they’re likely to grow weary of appellate lawyers that don’t pay attention to the small details.