Welcome to the Reuters.com BETA. Read our Editor's note on how we're helping professionals make smart decisions.
Skip to main content

Training the next generation of appellate lawyers: maximizing technology and turning the pandemic into an opportunity

4 minute read

REUTERS/Ciro De Luca

  • Gallagher & Associates Law Firm, P.A.
    See all

The company and law firm names shown above are generated automatically based on the text of the article. We are improving this feature as we continue to test and develop in beta. We welcome feedback, which you can provide using the feedback tab on the right of the page.

September 7, 2021 - The pandemic and its associated lockdowns and remote work have posed a number of challenges to teamwork and group cohesion. In particular, law students and newer lawyers have been profoundly impacted.

They have had to build a base of connections, learn new skills, and gain experience through Zoom classes and meetings, while having to go without the hands-on training they would normally receive working alongside more experienced lawyers on cases. This is particularly problematic in law firms, where most of the informal mentoring and keys to success are shared over lunch or impromptu chats in the hall.

In the area of appellate practice, some have leveraged technology to bridge these gaps in training and growth.

As the pandemic raged last year, and summer associate plans and bar exams were postponed, online educational opportunities popped up.

Two examples: the Orange County Bar Association (OCBA) founded an online Summer Appellate Academy, inspired by the North Carolina Court of Appeals' online extension of their normally local and in-person externship training.

The Academy consisted of four weekly programs free to all law students, which were taught by experienced appellate lawyers and judges, and focused on brief writing, oral argument, appellate process and procedure, and appellate jobs. The acclaimed legal writing instructor Ross Guberman presented the brief writing class pro bono.

At the conclusion of the Academy, students and new lawyers who attended all sessions received a Certificate, which they could use to demonstrate their interest in appellate work and show that they had taken the initiative to be productive and add to their toolbox during the pandemic. Some attendees later obtained externships with appellate judges.

The OCBA extended the virtual appellate offerings during the academic year as well, including a program on oral argument taught by Ninth Circuit and California appellate judges. And many of the recorded sessions of the Appellate Academy remain online for future students' viewing.

Many lawyers and law students have turned to business oriented social networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter to maintain, grow, and create relationships, and to expand their brands. Appellate lawyers in particular flock to Twitter; many judges often participate in #AppellateTwitter discussions as well.

A select number of appellate-focused podcasts have popped up in the past two years, most notably the Texas Appellate Law Podcast and the California Appellate Law Podcast. Both feature esteemed appellate judges and lawyers on topics of appellate practice.

The Texas podcast in particular focuses some of its episodes on new lawyer training and diversity in the appellate bench and bar. Also of interest to law students and newer lawyers: Professor Jonah Perlin's How I Lawyer podcast, which features interviews with lawyers in various practice areas (including appellate). It's like a virtual career fair.

Todd Smith and Jody Sanders (hosts of the Texas Appellate Law podcast) have also founded an informal Appellate Lawyers monthly room on the Clubhouse app. Appellate lawyers and judges from around the country discuss topics such as oral argument and provide advice on obtaining appellate experience as a new lawyer.

These often intimate groups of 20-30 lawyers and law students have often provided opportunities to ask appellate judges for their views on effective appellate briefing and oral argument. The informal setting allows for frank conversation.

Previously the province of solicitor general offices, appellate fellow positions have cropped up at appellate boutiques and one AmLaw 200 BigLaw firm (Buchalter). These one to two year positions are designed to give new lawyers appellate experience, and to catapult them into a federal clerkship or a longer-term appellate practice.

Appellate practice is not a highly leveraged practice; the number of attorneys each of us can train is ordinarily limited. With fellowship positions, we can train many more of the next generation, and open up the practice to more than those who come to the firm from a federal appellate clerkship.

Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias. Westlaw Today is owned by Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

M.C. Sungaila leads the appellate practice at Buchalter in Irvine, California. She has taught in law school clinics for over a decade, and her firm has committed to training the next generation of appellate lawyers through the Kaufman Appellate Fellowship program. She is also a co-founder of the Appellate Lawyers monthly room on the Clubhouse social networking app. She can be reached at msungaila@buchalter.com.

More from Reuters