Defense attorney working with a client.

How to Choose a Defense Attorney for a Successful Appeal


When you’re facing a criminal case in federal district court, it’s vital that you select the right criminal defense lawyer for you. What happens in the trial court can have a significant impact on your rights and your future, and often public defenders are too overburdened to provide the strongest defense possible in a serious federal case.

In the unfortunate event that your attorney was unable to secure a favorable outcome at trial, there’s a very strong chance that you are interested in appealing your case to the federal appellate courts. It’s important to understand that appellate practice is significantly different than trial practice, so it’s in your best interest to find an appellate attorney who specializes in criminal appeals.

To select a defense attorney for your appellate case, it is critical to have a firm understanding of what the appeal process involves and to fully research the attorneys who offer appellate services. If you are currently faced with the option of pursuing an appeal, you should not hesitate to obtain the assistance of an experienced defense attorney who can make certain that your case resolves in the best possible manner. In the process of selecting an attorney, there are some important steps that you should take, which will be discussed below.


It is often a good idea to ask your trial lawyer if he or she has any recommendations for who might be able to provide strong appellate assistance. You might also ask your friends if they can refer an attorney who can provide strong assistance in navigating an appeal. A recommendation, however, should not be enough to satisfy your search for an appellate attorney. Instead, it is critical to ask a number of questions about the skills of a potential appellate attorney. Some of the factors to consider include how long the appellate attorney has been practicing and the degree to which the attorney focuses on criminal appeals.

In addition, it’s important to look at an attorney’s track record of success in handling criminal appeals. The appellate process is extremely complicated and requires a different set of skills than representing a defendant at trial. When you talk to a lawyer that you are considering retaining for your appeal, you should ask about his or her law school experience, whether he or she has practiced in the United States Courts of Appeals, and whether he or she has obtained favorable court decisions in the past.

There is a substantial variety in the appellate skills of lawyers. Because a small number of criminal appeals are successful, it is vital to obtain the assistance of the best criminal appeals lawyer possible. While a good appellate lawyer can increase the chances that your case resolves in a positive manner, a less than stellar appellate lawyer can negatively impact the future of your case.


There are advantages as well as disadvantages to selecting your trial lawyer to pursue your appeal. One advantage is that a trial lawyer will be familiar with your case and can help resolve the complex issues involved in your appeal. If you are confident about your trial lawyer’s abilities, it might be better to select that attorney. Not all trial attorneys, however, are equally skilled at appeals. In can also help to obtain the assistance of an additional attorney in a case. In some cases, an appeal attorney might even conclude that a trial attorney did not provide effective representation. In such an instance, it may be able to obtain a new trial simply based on your trial attorney’s failure to provide effective assistance.


The exact amount that you can expect to pay for an appellate lawyer depends on a number of factors, including the length and complexity of the trial. The way in which your criminal case proceeded can also influence the cost of a case. As a result, the cost of two separate appeals is never the same. When considering cost, it’s important to remember just how much could be on the line. If you are facing a lengthy prison sentence, for example, it’s not unreasonable to invest a significant amount into your appellate representation, as the potential return on your investment could be your freedom.

Even in cases in which the direct consequences of a conviction are not as serious as a lengthy prison sentence, the collateral consequences of a conviction may justify retaining a highly qualified appellate attorney. Collateral consequences are separate from those imposed by the court, and may negatively affect your life long after your sentence has concluded. Some common examples of the collateral consequences that can be associated with even a minor criminal conviction include the following:

  • The loss of your job
  • Difficulty obtaining future employment
  • Prohibition from owning a firearm
  • Disqualification from the federal student loan program
  • Problems renting an apartment
  • Difficulty obtaining admission into colleges and universities
  • Problems obtaining a professional license

These are only some of the potential collateral consequences that can occur after a criminal conviction. A successful appeal, however, may be able to clear your good name and keep you from experiencing the potentially lifelong consequences associated with a conviction. For this reason, it’s critical that you consider a variety of factors when choosing an appellate attorney to represent you moving forward,


While the appeal process can be particularly complex, the assistance of a seasoned federal appeals attorney can make all the difference.  Our experienced appellate attorneys have significant experience practicing law in front of appellate judges and understand how to bring our clients’ cases to the best resolution possible. Lead attorney Marcia G. Shein is admitted to practice law in all federal appellate courts in the United States and the Supreme Court of the United States.

Contact the Federal Criminal Law Center today to speak with a knowledgeable attorney who can make sure that your case resolves in the best possible manner. Request a free case evaluation today.