Appellate practice is a specialized area of litigation. Although many lawyers both try and appeal cases, some lawyers do only appellate work. Appellate lawyers spend most of their time at their desks, reviewing the record, researching the law, and writing briefs.
Lawyers who specialize in appellate practice generally work in large or mid-size law firms or in state or federal government organizations. In government, appellate lawyers work for state or federal appellate defenders, state justice departments, and state and federal commissions. Appellate lawyers also work as staff attorneys for appellate judges in both the federal and state courts.
Appellate practice positions can be highly competitive — positions are few and employers are very selective. Most employers look for lawyers who have clerked for an appellate judge for at least one year after graduation. Appellate practitioners need to have outstanding legal research and persuasive writing skills, strong analytical skills, and good organizational abilities. They must also have the confidence and the oral advocacy skills to be able to present their positions to the appellate court in oral argument.
These are the entry level courses that — at a minimum — employers expect a student interested in this specialty to have. In addition, a student interested in criminal law should take at least one related clinical program (see below).
Students interested in this practice area should consider including one or more of the following courses as electives.
- Civil Procedure II
- Constitutional Law I
- Constitutional Law II
- Trial Advocacy
- Oral Communication (last offered in 2014)
These courses deepen or broaden the skills and substantive information that a lawyer in this field needs and also provide advanced courses for students interested in a specialty within this area of practice.
- Administrative Law
- Advanced Criminal Procedure
- Business Organizations I
- Contracts II
- Federal Jurisdiction
- Insurance Law
- Tax I
- Torts II
(Note that whether a particular course is scheduled depends on faculty availability and student demand.)
Clinical Programs, Internships and Externships
The Criminal Appeals Project gives students an opportunity to be directly involved in the appellate process. Under the direct supervision of clinical faculty, students work in pairs on one or two criminal appeals in state or federal court. The clinical, which is available to second- and third-year law students, requires a two-semester commitment so that students can see a case through from start to finish.
Students work in various civil units of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, including the Criminal Appeals Unit. The program offers law students a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience in public advocacy and litigation. Externs practice trial, appellate and administrative law with some of the state's most well-respected litigators, working on matters statewide importance.
In the Wisconsin Innocence Project, UW law students under the direct supervision of clinical faculty investigate and litigate claims of innocence in cases involving inmates in state and federal prisons in Wisconsin. The project is open to students who have finished their first year of course work.
The Judicial Internship Program places students with trial and appellate judges throughout Wisconsin, including placements with the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the federal district courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin. Student work varies but usually emphasizes research and writing.
Student Organizations and Related Activities
The American Inns of Court is a legal mentoring organization rooted in the 800-year-old tradition of the Inns of Court in England. The goal of the American Inns of Court is to raise the standard of the legal profession by focusing on the development of skills, ethics, and professionalism. The James E. Doyle American Inn of Court, which meets in Madison, is comprised of judges, lawyers, law professors, and law students who meet approximately once a month. Inn programs provide creative, practical, interactive instruction in all areas of legal practice, particularly litigation. A dinner following the program provides a collegial atmosphere that encourages networking between all members, mentoring and skills development, and the exchange of concepts, ideas and techniques. If you are interested in becoming a student member of the James E. Doyle American Inn of Court, contact Professor Marsha Mansfield.
There are three student journals — Wisconsin Law Review, Wisconsin International Law Journal, and Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender & Society — that give students an opportunity to assist with and contribute to the Law School's scholarly publications. These publications provide invaluable training in legal research and writing.
Moot Court is a mock appellate advocacy program that provides invaluable experience for students in brief writing and oral advocacy.
Here are some of the full-time faculty and instructors who teach or have an interest in this subject area:
In addition to our full-time faculty, the Law School's adjunct faculty members — prominent practicing lawyers and judges — bring their specialized knowledge and experience to the classroom.