When a trial court rules against you, you may have the right to appeal that judgment to a higher court, generally known as the appellate court, who reviews what happened in the trial court for any errors. If the appellate court finds an error, it may reverse. The lawyers for the parties, or the parties if they are not represented by lawyers, submit written briefs to the court and may be given the opportunity to argue the case orally. There are various appellate courts, including state and federal appellate courts, and the rules vary by court. The court to which you must appeal depends upon which court ruled against you.
Speak to someone in the trial court clerk’s office to determine in which court you should file your appeal. Many court clerk offices have staff who work primarily with parties who are not represented by lawyers. They may be called “pro se clerks.”
Review the applicable appellate court rules to determine the time frame in which you must appeal, which is usually limited to 20-90 days from the judgment. The appellate court rules will also describe how to start the appeal, the fees and the documents that must be submitted. Appellate court rules are generally posted on the appellate court’s website or can be obtained from the appellate court clerk’s office.
File with the appellate court the required fee and the first required document, which is usually called the Notice of Appeal. The appellate court rules will detail the information that must be included in the Notice of Appeal. There may also be a form Notice of Appeal on the court’s website. Note that this Notice of Appeal often must be filed with the trial court as well, so check the rules.
Obtain the requisite documents from the trial court, which will constitute the “record” on appeal. The appellate court rules will detail how to get the documents, as well as which documents are necessary. Essentially, this will be a record of the evidence presented in the trial court. Under the appellate court rules, some appeals require the “full record” or “original record.” In other words, all the documents from the trial court. Others require only specified documents, sometimes referred to as an “appendix” record. The appellate court rules will also advise who will file and how to file the record with the appellate court.
Submit your written briefs containing your legal arguments to the appellate court. All appellate courts have detailed rules regarding briefs, including page or word limitations, margin requirements, legal citation formats and required headings.
Present your arguments orally, if given the opportunity. Appellate courts do not allow oral argument in every case. Rather, you must request it, and the court will decide whether to grant it. If you are allowed oral argument, you will likely have 10-15 minutes to speak directly to the judges about your case.
Wait for the court’s decision. It is unusual for a court to decide the case at the time of oral argument. Rather, the court will likely issue a written decision some time after the argument, or after the submission of briefs if there was no oral argument. Decisions can be issued quickly, e.g. a week after argument, or slowly, e.g. many months after argument or submission of briefs.