As you flesh out your 2019 resolutions, take time to learn from some of the best. Earlier this year the National Law Journal honored some of the top appellate lawyers in the country in its annual Appellate Hot List. In it, we asked what practice advice these leading lawyers would give their younger selves. We compiled some of the best responses below.

"The voice in your head telling you to follow your instincts and heart, even when it’s not popular, is usually right."
—Lisa Blatt of Arnold & Porter
"Common sense beats a footnote every time. It is critical for advocates to master the precedents and the record, but appellate courts decide cases based on common sense and the broader principles of past decisions, not what they said in a footnote a decade ago."
—Paul Clement of Kirkland & Ellis
“We often come to work with our own assumptions about how to succeed and win for a client. It is important to be open to new things. Diverse perspectives help us evolve and better serve the growing and varied needs of our clients.”
—Jessica Ring Amunson of Jenner & Block
“Every member of a legal team, regardless of seniority or experience, has something to add; and sometimes insight comes from unexpected places. You have to be open to (constructive) criticism, willing to take a new perspective and able to make major changes along the way.”
—Mark A. Perry of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
“Don’t be afraid to think creatively. Sometimes you need to take a different tack to win a challenging appeal, so have the confidence to rethink, revamp, and reframe arguments.”
—Pratik Shah of Akin Gump

Advertisement

“A legal career is not linear; it develops in an organic way that can sometimes be hard to predict. Don’t be afraid to try new things or work on cases outside your comfort zone. And don’t forget to make time for life outside the office.”
—Kannon Shanmugam of Williams & Connolly
“While it is always important ‎to be prepared and to know the facts of the case, it is also important to listen carefully to what opposing counsel says so you can react to the arguments they make, rather than just making the argument you prepared.”
—Evan Chesler of Cravath Swaine & Moore
“There is no substitute for knowing all the facts and all the law. At oral argument, answer the judge’s question directly, no matter how painful. Be ready to concede what you have to with an explanation for why the concession doesn’t matter.”
—Juanita Brooks of Fish & Richardson
“Write in plain English. Be unfailingly accurate about the record and your use of authority. Deal diplomatically with co-counsel and opposing counsel. Understand your client’s industry and goals, which will make you both a more trusted adviser and a better advocate for your client’s cause.”
—Shay Dvoretzky of Jones Day
“The practice advice I would give my younger self is to focus on what’s right and true, not what’s clever and shrewd. That is the best way to be effective, and to earn the respect of the profession.”
—Don Verrilli of Munger, Tolles & Olson

Advertisement

“Simplify, simplify, simplify. Most appellate judges have heavy dockets and are unlikely to have time to understand a case as well as you do. The simplest argument is thus often the best argument. Omit unnecessary details; tell the judges only what they need to know.”
—Kathleen Sullivan of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan
“Put yourself in positions that make you uncomfortable—whether it’s getting up before a group of strangers to speak, appearing before a hostile judge, or briefing an unfamiliar area of law. The critical moments in an argument, or a case, invariably come when you are out of your comfort zone. So look for opportunities to test yourself in that situation.”
—Gregory Garre of Latham & Watkins