The Fifth Circuit isn't a bad place to practice if you want to be on the forefront of some of the nation's most pressing legal issues. From 3D-printed guns, to Bird Law, to immigration, abortion and voting rights, the Fifth Circuit makes news.
But how do you make it as an appellate lawyer? Above the Law says to "follow your heart." Sure! But how about those skills? And in appellate practice, those skills are primarily brief writing and oral argument. Thankfully, the Bar Association of the Fifth Federal Circuit is there to help you out, for a modest fee. The organization is putting on a two day CLE crash course in appellate advocacy this fall.
Polishing Your Appellate Skills
It's not a stretch to say that appellate advocacy is generally a more scholarly form of practice than trial work. After all, the record is there for you, removing the chance lawyers to influence what gets in before the court (and removing the need to slog through tedious discovery).
With the facts rarely in question, the heavy lifting comes in the form of writing. Almost nowhere else is writing a persuasive, effective brief as important. Over 70 percent of all Fifth Circuit cases are decided on the briefs alone, according to the Fifth Circuit bar. That means successful appellate lawyers must be masters of legal writing. (Hint, if the Fifth Circuit is anything like the Supreme Court, that means using active verbs, keeping sentences short and not getting too caught up in case history.)
After brief writing, oral arguments can help make or break a case. One of the best ways to improve oral advocacy skills is to learn by listening. Thankfully, some of the best oral arguments are available online. (The blog Associate's Mind has a good break down of some of the best SCOTUS oral arguments of the last decade or so.) So are some of the worst -- like this poor lawyer who fell apart in front of the Seventh Circuit.
Fifth Circuit Bar's Appellate Advocacy Seminar
Of course, there's no need to self-study for your legal career. The Fifth Circuit bar's CLE can help you polish up your appellate skills. Happening this October 5th and 6th in New Orleans, the appellate advocacy seminar includes a writing workshop and oral argument observation and critiques. One session overviews the "nuts and bolts" of oral and written advocacy with Fifth Circuit Judges Jerry Smith, Fortunato Benavides and Gregg Costa -- not a bad panel for a CLE.
It's not all about courtroom performance, however. Other sections cover appellate mediation, practice management, ethics and email and current topics in criminal and civil law. For only $100 for almost ten hours of CLE, it's a pretty decent deal.