Some Lessons From Appellate Argument


The presentation of argument on appeal is made first by written briefs. The contents of those briefs are governed by rules describing the ordering and content of each section, including a statement of facts based on the written record from the lower court, a concise statement of the issues to be addressed, and an argument section addressing each of these issues, with appropriate legal citations. The appellate court (whether state or federal) typically assigns a particular case to a panel of three judges. That panel then hears oral arguments on the numerous cases (sometimes 20 to 30) assigned to it, one after the other over the course of one or more consecutive days. Usually there are time limits for each attorney’s presentation, and these may be strictly enforced. In the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the attorney’s lectern has a light system like a reverse drag race; a green light shows at the beginning of the 15-minute argument, a yellow light shows when there are two minutes left, and a red light shows when time is up.

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