What is the Difference Between a Trial Versus Appellate Attorney?

Distinguishing the difference between a trial and an appellate lawyer, requires one to first understand the structure of the court system in Indiana and the function of each of the two types of courts: trial and appellate courts. Obviously, a trial lawyer handles matters before trial courts and an appellate lawyer handles those before appellate courts. But what does this really mean about the difference in required skill sets or the specific functions of each lawyer? This blog discusses court structure and function and what the difference is between trial versus appellate courts and trial vs. appellate lawyers.  

Located in each county are the county courts, which may consist of any number of circuit and/or superior courts. A greater number of circuit or superior courts will be located in counties with a greater number of residents. This means that some counties will have two circuit or superior courts, while others might have four or more. County courts preside over the majority of new cases filed within the county, under state law, including, but not limited to, all divorces, child custody disputes, probate estates, small claims, civil matters and criminal cases involving felony charges. They will also preside over some misdemeanors. Many cities and towns also house a city or town court, which presides over traffic and ordinance violations and low level misdemeanors alleged to have been committed within the city or town limits.  

These courts are trial courts, sometimes referred to as the lower courts. Trial courts accept filings from all the parties to a case, resolve issues regarding trial or final hearing preparation and procedure, preside over final hearings and trials, and then make an ultimate decision in the case. The trial court where an action is originally filed retains jurisdiction over the case after the final decision is made, so any new issues or disputes arising between the parties are heard in that same court. 

Trial lawyers practicing in the trial courts prepare the initial pleadings to open new cases, conduct discovery, negotiate with the opposing party’s attorney, request court intervention when disputes arise concerning trial or final hearing preparation and procedure, and then represent their client at trial or final hearing. This representation includes, but is not limited to calling and questioning witnesses, submitting documentary or other non-testimonial evidence, making legal objections and arguments, and preparing any final written pleadings requested by the court.  

Appellate courts are very different from trial courts in their structure and function. There are two levels of appellate courts in Indiana; the Court of Appeals and Tax Court, and the Supreme Court. These courts may also be referred to as the high courts. A party who disagrees with the final determination of a trial court may “appeal” the decision, asking the Court of Appeals to review any or all of the decisions made by the trial court, both before and at trial or final hearing, for errors which may cause it to overturn, or reverse, any of those decisions. The ultimate goal of which is to have the final decision reversed and the trial court ordered to modify it or hold a new trial. A party to a case who is adversely affected by a Court of Appeals ruling may then appeal the case to the Supreme Court, which has ultimate decision making power.  

The Appellate courts do not allow new evidence or hear witness testimony. These courts only review the pleadings previously filed with the trial court, the testimony given and evidence admitted at trial, or during specific hearings, written arguments of the parties, called appellate brief, and the orders of the trial court which are being disputed to determine if any reversible error was made. In order to be reversible, an error must be one that’s probable impact, in light of all the evidence in the case, is sufficient enough to have affected the substantial rights of the parties. 

Attorneys practicing in the appellate courts do not conduct discovery, call or question witnesses, or represent a client at trial. Instead, an appellate lawyer will read the trial court transcripts of witness testimony, review evidence admitted at trial, and conduct legal research to determine if any of the trial courts orders or decisions are potentially reversible on appeal. The attorney will then write and submit a brief to the appellate court containing legal arguments for or against reversal of the trial court’s final decision. Appellate Briefs are unlike any pleadings filed with the trial court, as they are far more complex and detailed as to the facts of the case, rulings issued by the trial court, and the laws which require the trial court’s decisions to be reversed or left alone.  

The experienced attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. can assist you with causes in both the trial and the appellate courts. This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. It is for general educational purposes. The blog is not intended to be relied upon for any legal matter or issue. The blog is not legal advice. This is an advertisement. 


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