At least seven U.S. Justice Department lawyers have left the civil division’s appellate staff in recent months, an unusual and sudden spike in departures that has diminished the team of lawyers defending U.S. government policies in federal appeals courts across the country.

Between March and July, the departures depleted a staff in a key litigating component that is unaccustomed to such high turnover in a short amount of time, according to veterans of the civil division’s appellate team. One former Justice Department lawyer said the departures represent a “huge percentage” of the staff.