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A Peek At The Desk (And Computer) Of An Appellate Practice Specialist

A Peek At The Desk (And Computer) Of An Appellate Practice Specialist

North Carolina State Bar's The Specialist and the NCBA's The Public Servant
(December 15, 2014)

Appellate work can be tedious. Are my margins correct? What's the correct font size for footnotes? Am I getting so bogged down in these technical details that I am not adequately focusing on the substance  of my appellate brief? While the Supreme Court of North Carolina placed restrictions on when an appeal can be dismissed for non-jurisdictional rules violations in Dogwood v.White Oak, 362 N.C. 191, 657 S.E.2d 361 (2008), details still matter to our appellate courts, and an arsenal of other sanctions remains ready to fire.

Few people intentionally seek to submit a substandard record or brief to an appellate court. However, an attorney's effectiveness as an appellate advocate is often influenced by how organized and persuasive a case's record, briefs, and oral argument are. The good news is that there are numerous (and usually free) appellate practice resources that you can consult. Here are the ones I use most often:

Appellate Rules Style Manual. This publication of the North Carolina Bar Association's Appellate Rules Committee is hands down the best "practical" resource for formatting your submissions to North Carolina's state appellate courts. This manual is improved and updated frequently, so be sure you have the latest version.

Guide to Appealability of Interlocutory Orders. Another Appellate Rules Committee resource, the Guide was first published in March 2014. While not meant to address the nuances surrounding the appealability of every type of interlocutory order, this 45-page guide collects and organizes state appellate court opinions addressing the appealability of various types of interlocutory orders. Both seasoned and novice appellate practitioners will find the guide useful.

Oral Argument Guides for the North Carolina Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of North Carolina, and the Oral Argument Comparison Charts. Also prepared by the Appellate Rules Committee, these three documents are designed to help counsel prepare for oral argument and to answer questions about protocol before North Carolina's state and federal appellate courts.

North Carolina Court of Appeals Legal Standards Database. This 65-page document "is intended to provide illustrations of the wide variety of standards of review, legal tests, and general statements of law employed at the N.C. Court of Appeals." The Legal Standards Database is well organized and collects quotes from the leading North Carolina appellate decisions by topic. Moreover, while standards of review can and do change (and, therefore, attorneys should always conduct their own independent research), the Legal Standards Database often provides a great starting point for assessing the likelihood of success on an appeal based on the standard of review.

North Carolina Appellate Rules and Procedures ChecklistA resource to assist attorneys and their legal assistants in tracking appellate deadlines, tasks, and fees. The checklist also provides corresponding cross-references to the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure and Appendices.

The Bluebook. Buried in an appendix to the Appellate Rules is a requirement that citations to legal authority "should be made according to the most recent edition of A Uniform System of Citation," otherwise known as "The Bluebook." A Court of Appeals' opinion once took note of a brief with "47 footnotes of citation, not a single one [] in proper Bluebook format," and then suggested that counsel would "benefit from obtaining a copy of the Bluebook for reference in the future." Before you find yourself at the other end of a statement like this, invest in a copy of "The Bluebook."

Per Curiam. The Appellate Practice Section's newsletters contain interesting appellate practice articles for North Carolina practitioners.

North Carolina Appellate Practice Blog. This blog is dedicated to issues of North Carolina appellate practice and procedure. The "Rules and Practice Guides" tab contains links to all of the above resources, the appellate rules, and several other practical guides. The blog has regular postings highlighting new and emerging appellate pitfalls, including practical tips for avoiding or dealing with common appellate problems.

Campbell University School of Law's Library. While most new appellate records and briefs can be found on the North Carolina appellate courts' e-filing website (, Campbell's law library has a large collection of older briefs and records. If you give them sufficient time to pull those briefs and records, Campbell's law librarians will allow you to review those filings and, if necessary, copy them for a small fee.

Stumped by an issue of appellate practice and procedure? No time to prepare an appeal? Feel like your case could benefit from consultation with someone who regularly practices before North Carolina's appellate courts? Well, you are in luck. The North Carolina State Bar certifies appellate practice specialists. Certification by the State Bar is designed to help consumers and trial counsel identify appellate practice attorneys who have experience and skill in practicing before North Carolina's appellate courts. Many appellate practice specialists are willing to work with trial counsel and to help them navigate the appellate rules.

One final note: Do not forget that appeals are governed by the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure and its appendices. While the resources mentioned above will help you find and navigate the appropriate Appellate Rules, sometimes there is no substitute for pulling the rules and appendices and reviewing them yourself.

Article originally published in the North Carolina State Bar's The Specialist, December 2014 issue, and is posted with the permission.

Elizabeth Brooks Scherer
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