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What Does a Federal Appeals Lawyer Do?

Linda Julin McNamara
Attorney Linda Julin McNamara
Federal Appeals Team Lead
Former Deputy Chief, Appellate Division
Elizabeth Stepp
Attorney Elizabeth K. Stepp
Federal Appeals Team Lead
Partner & Yale Graduate
Nick Oberheiden
Attorney Nick Oberheiden
Federal Appeals Team Lead
envelope iconContact Nick

A federal appeals lawyer legally represents people who want to challenge the outcome of their case in a U.S. District Court. This involves working with your trial lawyer to preserve the important aspects of your case for appeal, invoking your right to have your case reviewed by the appropriate U.S. Circuit Court, establishing the grounds for your appeal, researching, writing, and filing the briefs and motions that argue your case, and potentially advocating on your behalf during an oral argument. If the Circuit Court is not persuaded, a federal appeals lawyer can also file a petition for the Supreme Court of the United States to review the case, as well.

The federal appeals lawyers at the national law firm of Oberheiden P.C. have represented numerous clients through this complicated and often confusing process.

Preserving Your Case for an Appeal

For the best results, your defense team should prepare for an appeal while the trial process is still ongoing. This is particularly true when it is foreseeable that you are going to have to take your case to the Circuit Court in order to get the outcome that you want. Cases like these generally involve:

  • Newly-created laws or regulations
  • Statutes that have not been interpreted by courts yet
  • Laws that have created conflicting interpretations by appellate courts

When the law is ambiguous or there are other signs that your case will not be adequately resolved at the district court level, your defense team will need to prepare your case for the next step by preserving the appropriate issues for appeal. This means raising a line of defense or making an argument that draws your case into a legal gray area. Even if it is bound to get denied by the trial judge, raising the issue means that it can serve as the grounds for your appeal.

Failing to preserve the issue before the district court means that you are going to face additional obstacles in resurrecting it when you want to challenge the outcome of your case.

Having a federal appeals lawyer on your side while the case is still in the trial phase can be important. It can ensure that the correct issues are preserved for the Circuit Court’s review.

Put our highly experienced team on your side

Dr. Nick Oberheiden
Dr. Nick Oberheiden



Lynette S. Byrd
Lynette S. Byrd

Former DOJ Trial Attorney


Brian J. Kuester
Brian J. Kuester

Former U.S. Attorney

Amanda Marshall
Amanda Marshall

Former U.S. Attorney

Local Counsel

Joe Brown
Joe Brown

Former U.S. Attorney

Local Counsel

John W. Sellers
John W. Sellers

Former Senior DOJ Trial Attorney

Linda Julin McNamara
Linda Julin McNamara

Federal Appeals Attorney

Aaron L. Wiley
Aaron L. Wiley

Former DOJ attorney

Local Counsel

Roger Bach
Roger Bach

Former Special Agent (DOJ)

Chris Quick
Chris J. Quick

Former Special Agent (FBI & IRS-CI)

Michael S. Koslow
Michael S. Koslow

Former Supervisory Special Agent (DOD-OIG)

Ray Yuen
Ray Yuen

Former Supervisory Special Agent (FBI)

Invoking Your Right to Challenge the Outcome of Your Case

While you have a legal right to appeal your case, you still have to affirmatively invoke that right – your appeal will not happen automatically.

Importantly, the timeline for invoking that right in a criminal case is tight. Under Rule 4(b) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, you have to file a Notice of Appeal in the district court within 14 days of the judgment or order being appealed in a criminal case.

Failing to timely file this Notice of Appeal means that you forfeit your rights to challenge the outcome of the district court’s decision.

By hiring a federal appeals lawyer early on, you can rest assured that the necessary paperwork is filed on time.

Establishing the Grounds for Your Appeal

You cannot simply demand that the Circuit Court review your entire case. Instead, you have to isolate particular issues that were wrongly decided or improperly handled by the district court. A few common grounds for appeal are:

  • The judge improperly interpreted or applied the law
  • There were procedural errors during the trial
  • A juror committed misconduct

Determining which particular issue is going to be appealed can make a huge difference in the outcome. In many cases, multiple grounds exist for an appeal. Pursuing the right one can drastically increase your odds of success.

A skilled federal appeals lawyer knows that controlling which question the Circuit Court will be charged with answering is very important.

Appeals are Won or Lost in the Legal Briefs, Rather Than at a Trial

Most of what a federal appeals lawyer will do is behind the scenes, at least from the perspective of their client. During the pre-trial and trial phase of the case, much of the legal work consists of gathering information from witnesses and the client, and putting together evidence to present during the trial. During the appeal, however, the work consists mainly of deeply researching the nuanced area of the law that serves as your ground for appealing the outcome of the trial, writing a legal brief based on that research that explains why the Circuit Court should grant your appeal, and filing that brief in court.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this legal brief. It describes to the Circuit Court judges what happened in the district court, explains why what happened was wrong, guides the Circuit Court through the relevant law on the issue, and concludes that the only way to right the wrong is to overturn the lower court.

The prosecutor in your criminal case will also be presenting a brief. Theirs will try to persuade the Circuit Court to deny your appeal and will explain why the district court’s ruling was correct.

In many cases, your defense team will have the opportunity to respond to law enforcement’s brief, and vice versa.

The Oral Argument

Many appeals cases are conducted entirely on the basis of the briefs that are filed in court. However, the Circuit Court may schedule an oral argument if the judges on the court have any pressing questions concerning the case that are not answered in the filings.

During this oral argument, both your federal appeals lawyer and the prosecutor will present a summary of the pertinent parts of their argument and answer questions from the judges. These oral arguments can be tense, with judges asking numerous questions about the case.

Appealing the Outcome to the Supreme Court

After hearing the evidence and arguments for and against overturning the district court, the judges on the Circuit Court will issue an opinion on the case. This ruling can:

  • Affirm the district court’s ruling
  • Overturn the district court’s ruling and remand the case with instructions on how to fix the problem
  • Overturn the ruling and issue a new trial

If the Circuit Court’s opinion is not in your interests, you have one more appeal at your disposal. You can appeal your case to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Appealing a case to the Supreme Court, however, is a far more difficult process than appealing a case to a federal Circuit Court. Your federal appeals lawyer would have to file a petition for a writ of certiorari, urging the Supreme Court to intervene in your case. They rarely do so. Only two to three percent of all of these petitions are granted.

While the odds are long, taking the effort may still be in your best interests.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Appeals Process and Oberheiden P.C.

What is a U.S. Circuit Court?


In the federal court system, there are three levels:

  1. District Court
  2. Circuit Court
  3. Supreme Court

The district court is where your trial is held. If errors are made or the law is misapplied, the Circuit Court can be asked to review the case. There are 13 Circuit Courts in the U.S., most of which have jurisdiction over a small handful of states.

Will I Get a New Trial?


Not in the Circuit Court, no.

This comes as a surprise to many criminal defendants who want to appeal their case.

The role of the Circuit Court is to review the outcome of the district court and see if anything went wrong during the process that could have altered the results. Generally, the factual circumstances that the district court determined will be left untouched and taken for granted. After all, Circuit Court judges cannot see how the trial unfolded. They know that they are in a poor position to determine whether someone was acting credibly or not when giving their testimony. Therefore, they generally assume that the factual background of the case is correct and will focus instead on the point of error that you raise on your appeal.

You may get a new trial, though, if the Circuit Court rules in your favor and demands the district court to retry the case.

Why Should I Hire Oberheiden P.C. to Handle My Appeal?


Oberheiden P.C. has a staff that exclusively consists of senior-level lawyers, all of whom have at least a decade handling criminal cases just like your own. Many of them only came to Oberheiden P.C. after a long career in law enforcement agencies like the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). That experience has given them invaluable insight into how the law enforcement agency is likely to pursue your own case.

Why Doesn’t Oberheiden P.C. Call Itself the Best Appellate Law Firm?


We would rather let our work and our happy clients say those sorts of things about our firm, instead.

Federal Appeals Lawyers at Oberheiden P.C.

Having a skilled federal appeals lawyer is essential if you want to fight for your rights and your future after a setback at trial.

The federal appeals attorneys at Oberheiden P.C. can help you get the outcome that you deserve.

Contact them online or call their law office at (888) 680-1745.

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