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My Client and I Want to Hire you for Appellate Representation. What Documents Do You Need to See?

When a trial attorney or prospective client contacts me about representation, I make a preliminary assessment of the appellate case. At a minimum, that assessment requires information about the nature of the case, the decision of the judge or jury, whether a court reporter was present to record the trial or dispositive hearings, and whether the trial court has entered its final judgment order. The sooner I can review PDF copies of key case-related documents, the better.

So what are the key documents? There is no one “set” of documents universal to every case, but below I list examples of documents that allow me to preliminarily assess the client’s appellate prospects and suggest “next steps” to preserve their procedural rights to pursue or defend appellate review.

1. The Complaint or Amended Complaint on which the judge or jury reached a final decision in the case.

2. The Answer or Amended Answer filed in response to the Complaint or Amended Complaint, and any Counterclaim or Amended Counterclaim.

3. Any dispositive pleading or motion filed in response to the Complaint or Amended Complaint, such as a Demurrer, Plea in Bar, Motion to Dismiss, or Motion for Summary Judgment.

4. Other motions that may be relevant to an appeal, such as a Motion to Exclude Evidence, Motion to Exclude Testimony, Motion to Strike, or Motion to Suppress Evidence.

5. Any written response filed in opposition to one of the dispositive pleadings or significant motions listed above.

6. Legal memoranda or briefs filed by counsel in support of, or in opposition to a dispositive pleading or significant motion.

7. Any letter opinions or written decisions issued by the trial court judge.

8. Any motions for a new trial, for reconsideration of a trial court ruling, or motion to reopen the evidence. In a criminal case, any motion made to withdraw a guilty plea or to dismiss an indictment or charge.

9. Interim trial court orders that resolve dispositive pleadings or motions, or that grant or deny any motion that may be relevant to the anticipated appeal.

10. The trial court’s as-entered final judgment order.

11. Any Notice of Appeal and any other post-trial notice, such as a notice of filing a transcript.

12. Any filed Appeal Bond, and any motion or bond or irrevocable letter of credit filed to suspend execution of the trial court’s judgment pending appeal.

By emailing to me PDF copies of these various documents, I can make a good start in my preliminary assessment. If the client intends to note an appeal, it also is important to order the original transcript and a searchable PDF copy of the transcript of the trial and of those hearings relevant to the anticipated appeal. If no court reporter was present for the trial or for a key hearing, trial counsel may draft a written statement in lieu of a transcript.

The transition from trial court to appellate litigation requires compliance with a number of procedural deadlines. The timely filing of the Notice of Appeal is mandatory. Appellate courts may extend other deadlines, however, a motion for a time extension must be filed on time and state adequate grounds for the requested extension.

As an appellate law attorney, I stand ready, willing and able to work with you and your clients to pursue or defend appellate litigation in Virginia and federal appeals courts. I am available to undertake the entirety of the appellate representation, or to represent the client along with trial counsel on a co-counsel basis. You may reach me by email at For more information, please visit my law firm’s website at

Norman Thomas


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