We at John L. Dodd & Associates, Prof. Corp. understand that you may not be as familiar with the appeal process as you might be with the trial process or alternative forms of dispute resolution. Because our work is mostly conducted by filing legal briefs and laying out our arguments in writing, it doesn’t make for the best television but is nonetheless a critical component of the legal system.
If you are not an attorney, you may not know what to expect with the appellate process please review some of the answers to commonly asked questions below.
Q:What Is an Appeal?
A:An appeal is the legal process of challenging the result of a trial if either party believes the trial court made an incorrect decision. It takes place after your trial, but it is not a re-do of your trial. It is instead a proceeding where the documents and transcripts from your trial are reviewed by three appellate justices to determine if a legal error occurred that impacted your trial. There may be a brief hearing for oral arguments, but appeals are primarily conducted in writing. An appeal is grounded in legal arguments, not factual arguments (as is the case in trial courts). As such, the appellate court will not evaluate the reasoning of the trial court, but instead focus on how it ruled by applying the law. Generally, the goal of the appellant – a person who is filing an appeal – is to get the trial court's decision overturned.
Q:What Is a Writ Petition?
A:While trial proceedings are underway, a judge might hand down certain orders that need to be challenged by appealing to a higher court. The most commonly employed writ petition is writ of mandate, but these petitions typically involve orders concerning discovery, demurrers or summary judgments, as well as orders that block motions to disqualify a judge. It is a specialized type of pleading that can be crucial to an entire lawsuit because it contains the complaint, evidence, and legal argument in one package. Importantly, writ petitions may be statutorily time-blocked with a deadline that expires in a matter of days after an order is issued. This means an appellate attorney should be contacted as soon as an adverse ruling is handed down that should be challenged by a writ petition.
Q:Should I Appeal?
A:Whether or not you should appeal is entirely up to you. This is a personal or business decision that you must make, and we will not advise you on what you should do for such a matter. That said, please bear in mind that most appeals are not successful, and the vast majority of attempts result in the appellate court affirming the decision of the trial court. This is because the Court of Appeal is generally tasked by the California Constitution to look for convincing arguments to affirm the trial court’s decision, not reverse it. The means the appellant must not only prove a legal mistake was made during trial, but that it caused harm to the appellant’s chances of succeeding. John L. Dodd & Associates, Prof. Corp. can provide an initial case evaluation to determine whether or not your case has a reasonable basis for an appeal. We will not provide numerical odds for success, but instead give you our opinion of what your chances for success may be. Whether or not you decide to move forward with an appeal is up to you.
Q:The Court Filed Its Opinion, Now What Happens?
A:If your appeal is not successful, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end. If the Court of Appeal’s opinion misstates a fact or does not address a pertinent issue, you can request the Court to review the case by filing a petition for a rehearing. This must be done within 15 days after the opinion is filed. Rehearing petitions are typically denied, but they may be a necessary step to take if you intend to fight the matter all the way up to the California Supreme Court. If that’s your goal, you must file a petition for review with the Supreme court within 10 days after the Court of Appeal’s opinion is finalized. It may take up to 60 days to find out whether the California Supreme Court will hear your case – if it does not, the Court of Appeal’s final opinion stands. If your opposition files a petition for review after you win an appeal, your attorney can write an answer that can convince the Supreme Court that the matter is not important enough to consider. If the Supreme Court grants a review, a new round of briefing will occur and will issue an opinion, generally within 90 days after argument.
Q:Why Should I Hire an Appellate Specialist?
A:A California-Certified Appellate Specialist is an attorney who has passed a rigorous exam of his or her capability and knowledge to practice appellate law. While any attorney can file an appeal, appellate specialists are uniquely qualified to do so because they have demonstrated unique qualifications to conduct legal research and formulate legal arguments in writing. Appellate Specialists, like our at John L. Dodd & Associates, Prof. Corp., also often only practice appellate law. This means they have time to dedicate to researching and writing your appeal with also affording time to be in court for a trial or shifting gears to handle completely unrelated legal services for other clients.
Q:Why Should I Hire John L. Dodd?
A:John L. Dodd and his team have more than 30 years of experience working on more than 1,200 appeals in California. Mr. Dodd is a former research attorney at the California Court of Appeal, which offered him valuable insight into how appeals work and how justices are inclined to decide cases. Because Mr. Dodd dedicates his practice to appellate work, his researching and writing skills are constantly kept sharp.
Q:How Do You Charge?
A:John L. Dodd & Associates, Prof. Corp. bills by the hour, calculated in six-minute intervals with the minimum amount of billable time set at 12 minutes. Our overhead is low, which keeps our hourly rates competitive at between $275-$400 per hour, depending upon which attorney is working on your appeal or writ petition. When hired, we require a retainer deposit that will be based upon an estimate for the amount of time it will take to complete your appeal. This is because work will be done all at once, not stretched over a period of several days or weeks.
Q:Will You Take My Case for a Flat Fee?
A:We sometimes handle a writ petition or respondent's brief on a flat-fee basis, but we generally abide by our hourly billing structure. This is because the amount of time it takes to work on an appeal can vary drastically depending upon the questions or issues involved. For some clients, this means a flat fee can actually end up costing them far more than our hourly structure. By billing our work for the actual time it takes to complete, we can help you feel assured that you are getting the most value for your dollar.
Q:Will You Handle My Appeal for a Contingency Fee?
A:It is unlikely. Because the Court of Appeal will not make any judgments allotting compensation to either party, there is no contingency fee for us to collect. In a best-case scenario, you may be granted a new trial and win damages during that trial, but that is too tenuous of a situation for us to base our fee structure upon.
Q:Can I Come to Your Office So You Can Evaluate My Case So I Can Decide Whether or Not to Appeal?
A:It is our belief that it takes longer than a strict hour-long consultation to evaluate an appeal. We will begin this process with a complimentary 30-minute phone conversation to become familiar with your appeal. Then we prefer to conduct an initial evaluation of your case, which usually requires between 4 and 16 hours, for which we charge a reduced rate of $250.00 per hour. After assessing your appeal, we will provide a written memo with our preliminary conclusions. After this, you can determine if you want to retain our services. Please bear in mind that preliminary conclusions are just that – preliminary. Our opinion may change, for better or worse, during the course of our research and the overall process.
Q:What If I Cannot Afford to Hire You?
A:Unfortunately, we do not offer pro bono assistance and can’t provide legal assistance if you are unable to afford our representation. If affording an appellate attorney is difficult but important, we suggest reaching out to your County Bar Association to seek pro bono assistance. You may also reach out to local law schools to see if there is a legal clinic that can provide similar assistance. If you are appealing a criminal conviction or juvenile court order and cannot afford a lawyer for your appeal, you may be assigned one at no expense.
Q:Will You Review My Appellate Brief?
A:No. As a full-service appellate law firm, we do not work as consultants to other appellate attorneys or laypersons filing their own briefs.