Yes, family law appellate lawyers handle appeals to the Texas court of appeals or the Texas Supreme Court. We read records, write briefs, and make oral arguments. We research rules and analyze case opinions. But, adding an appellate lawyer to your trial team can be beneficial long before filing a notice of appeal.
Early in the case, the appellate lawyer can assist with complex pleading issues. If jurisdiction is contested, the appellate lawyer can prepare and present the plea to the jurisdiction or special appearance and get the legal issues ready for mandamus (family law cases) or interlocutory appeal (civil cases). The appellate lawyer can draft special exceptions and craft special pleadings for complex claims or defenses.
Complex Legal Issues
An appellate lawyer can be a member of the family law trial team, much the same as an expert witness or jury consultant. As a second chair lawyer in the case, the appellate lawyer can take charge of complex legal issues so the trial lawyer can focus on presenting the factual issues. For example, in a challenge to a premarital agreement, the appellate lawyer can handle the legal research and briefing on the basis for the challenge, coordinate the evidence needed to meet the elements of the claim, and draft the pleadings on the issue.
Dispositive Pre-trial Motions
Summary judgments, even if unsuccessful, can help prepare the trial lawyer to make a motion for directed verdict at trial or raise a legal sufficiency point on appeal. A no-evidence motion for summary judgment can be used strategically to either eliminate unmeritorious claims prior to trial, or at a minimum get an idea before trial of the evidence and legal theories the other side may rely upon to prove the claim. So, an appellate lawyer can be especially beneficial in preparing summary judgments prior to trial to eliminate (or defend against elimination of) some tenuous claims. In a jury trial case, the appellate lawyer can file Rule 248 motions seeking determination of the trial court’s rulings on matters of law.
When a party suffers a negative ruling on a pretrial matter, such as discovery, mandamus may be a viable alternative. Or, if the trial court appoints a receiver over the marital estate, interlocutory appeal will be required to avoid waiver of error. Interlocutory appeals have accelerated deadlines to watch out for. An appellate lawyer can be useful for seeking redress in the appellate courts of pretrial rulings either by mandamus or interlocutory appeal, as appropriate.
Having an appellate lawyer sit second chair at trial can ease the pressure on the trial lawyer from focusing on preservation of error issues to concentrating on presentation of the factual issues. A motion can be made at the beginning of the trial to allow the appellate lawyer to handle all objections. (The worst scenario for a trial lawyer is to hear from an appellate judge that he or she waived error by failing to make the right or timely objections!) The appellate lawyer can draft and present motions for directed verdict, preserving error on the sufficiency of the evidence arguments for appeal. In a jury trial, the appellate lawyer can present and monitor issues pertaining to limine and jury charge. Recently, the Texas Supreme Court has moved away from broad form submission and toward granulated charge questions. Having an appellate lawyer handle the charge objections and requests for submission can ease the trial lawyer’s burden.
After trial is over, an appellate lawyer can be beneficial to ensure that requests for findings are timely filed, especially with the special deadlines for such findings in many family law cases. The appellate lawyer can handle sufficiency objections to the trial court’s ruling and proposed judgment, or objections to the jury’s verdict. Motions for new trial and other post-judgment motions are also an area of an appellate lawyer’s expertise. Preparing the issues for direct appeal after the entry of judgment, and preserving the deadlines, can be essential to presenting the case for appeal, and directly related to the appellate lawyer’s purpose.