How To Choose A Law School For An Appellate Career
Appellate attorneys have difficult jobs. Often times, they need to persuade a higher court that decisions were incorrect. It makes sense then that appellate careers require special education.
Ilana Kowarski, a reporter for U.S. News, recently wrote about how applicants can pick the right law school for an appellate career.
Jay Yagoda is a Florida appellate lawyer. Yagoda tells U.S. News that appellate attorneys have a unique job compared to other attorneys.
“You have an ability to shape the law rather than just complying with it,” he says.
Look for placement rates at schools
One strategic way to look for the right school for an appellate career is to study the placement rates at certain law schools. Applicants should examine schools with high numbers of recent grads serving as judicial clerks and how many work in appellate courts at the state or federal level.
“Although not an absolute prerequisite to practicing appellate law, a judicial clerkship makes a young lawyer dramatically more likely to be hired to work as an appellate lawyer,” Chad Ruback, a Texas-based appellate attorney and former judicial clerk at a Texas state court of appeals, tells U.S. News.
Another strategy is to look for a law school that boasts a high percentage of alumni working at boutique appellate specialized firms or appellate divisions at large corporate firms.
Eleanor Barrett is associate dean for legal practice skills at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Barrett tells U.S. News that aspiring appellate applicants should reach out to career services offices and ask for examples of practice appellate alumni.
“If it’s hard to come up with examples, that in and of itself can be quite telling,” Barrett says.
Legal writing opportunities
Appellate attorneys generally are required to have exceptional writing skill since they handle a majority of brief writing. Looking for law programs with strong legal writing programs can be beneficial to aspiring appellate attorneys.
Yet, almost every law school has some sort of law writing program. Experts tell U.S. News that aspiring appellate attorneys should look for schools with multiple law journals and a law review.
“While most law students aspire to be ‘on law review,’ only a handful of students at any given law school will be selected to the school’s most prestigious law review,” Ruback tells U.S. News. “But work as an editor of any law review or journal – even one that is not the school’s most prestigious one – can be quite helpful in securing a job as a judicial clerk and as an appellate lawyer.”
Students can also gauge the quality of a law school’s legal writing program by examining the number of upper-level writing courses available. Mary Bowman is associate professor at the Seattle University School of Law and director of its legal writing program, the top legal writing program, according to U.S. News. Bowman tells U.S. News that upper-division writing courses is characteristic of strong legal writing programs.
“Many, many schools have a course in the first year and have little true upper-division legal writing programming that’s taught by legal writing professors,” she says. “Schools will satisfy the upper-division writing requirement by having doctrinal faculty teach a paper class.”
Appellate law faculty
Schools that have clinical and doctrinal law professors with appellate law expertise are indicators of strong appellate programs.
According to Jeffrey Fisher, a professor of law at Stanford Law School and co-director of Stanford’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, faculty with appellate law expertise can offer students unique insight into Supreme Court cases and how winning sides made arguments.
Appellate law courses and programs
A number of law schools offer appellate law courses and programs that give students appellate knowledge and experience.
Sarah Schrup is director of the appellate advocacy program at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law. Schrup tells U.S. News that Northwestern’s appellate-focused curriculum is open to all students and even offers a concentration in appellate law.
At Yale Law School, students can take part in the Appellate Litigation Project, where they represent pro se clients before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit under the supervision of Yale faculty.
An appellate career may be tough, but targeting schools that offer a number of opportunities for aspiring appellate attorneys can help you get a head start.
Sources: US News, US News, Yale Law School