My name is Thomas Ogden and I am an attorney based out of Los Angeles. Chances are if you are visiting this website the outcome of your trial proceeding was disappointing. Your appeal is the last real opportunity to try to right the wrong you believe happened to you. It is important now to choose the right appellate lawyer. While making this decision consider that I am one of the few attorneys the California State Bar ("Bar") recognizes as a Certified Appellate Law Specialist. I have the skill set and experience to provide you the highest level of appellate advice and I welcome you to contact me for a free consultation by either telephone or email.I have created this website to provide you with some insight into the practice of appellate law.
As mentioend, I am officially recognized by the Bar as a Certified Appellate Law Specialist. Only around 180 California lawyers, out of 250,000+ California lawyers, have ever been officially recognized by the Bar as an appellate specialist. By law, only attorneys who are recognized by the Bar as a Certified Appellate Law Specialist may display the logo you see above and represent to the public they are a specialist.
I advise clients on civil writs and appeals as well as white collar appellate matters involving tax issues. I have represented clients before federal appellate courts, California appellate courts, and as high as the U.S. Supreme Court. I can assist individuals and businesses with all their appellate needs. For those with tax appeals, I have a special section, below, discussing why I am one of the most uniquely qualified lawyers in the entire country who can handle such appeal. I can represent clients before the following appellate courts:
- Federal Courts
- U.S. Supreme Court
- Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals
- Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
- Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals
- Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
- Second Circuit Court of Appeals
- California Courts
- California Supreme Court
- California First Appellate District
- California Second Appellate District
- California Third Appellate District
- California Fourth Appellate District
- California Fifth Appellate District
- California Sixth Appellate District
I graduated from Loyola Law School (Los Angeles) with a general law degree and also with a degree in tax law. I received my undergraduate degree in Asian Studies from the University of Virginia, and I am fluent in Mandarin Chinese.
Choosing the right appeals lawyer requires understanding that appellate practice differs from trial court practice. Anyone serious about winning on appeal must realize the outcome depends on the quality of the written appellate brief. Appellate briefing is the most demanding legal writing as the brief will be reviewed by three highly skilled appellate judges, appellate court staff attorneys, and chamber clerks. Trial court briefing, by contrast, gets reviewed by a single judge's chambers. Producing the best appellate brief requires a work environment that ensures the attorney has uninterrupted time and attention to focus on the task. A law practice focused exclusively on appellate work will have an environment ensuring production of the best appellate brief possible. When I handle an appeal my clients can be assured my practice has the proper environment and structure to allow production of the best appellate brief possible in your matter.
A trial court practice is a juggling act. Trial attorneys must show up to court on short notice, waste hours sitting in courtrooms, travel to and from depositions, and constantly deal with unpredictable legal moves from adversaries. Most of you reading this likely attended a trial court hearing with your trial attorney. You saw how much wasted time there was driving to court, parking, going through security, and waiting for the judge. If your trial attorney has a robust trial court practice then chances are he/she appeared before another trial court judge the next day on a different case. These interruptions are normal in trial court practice. Some of the best and brightest lawyers are trial attorneys, but smarts alone will never overcome the limitations inherent in a trial court practice. The nature of a trial attorney's practice limits that person from having the proper amount of uninterrupted time to brief an appeal.
Before becoming a Certified Appellate Law Specialist, I was involved in hundreds of trial court matters. I know first-hand the typical trial court practice is not structured to provide the proper environment to allow good appellate work to occur. Most people would agree that when you have a heart problem you see a cardiologist. Yet, in law, people far too often simply assume a lawyer can handle everything. The truth is law is like medicine in that you should seek advice from the professional who specializes in treating your problem. When you have a trial issue you see a trial lawyer experienced in your issue. When you have an appellate issue you should consult with an appellate lawyer. When I am retained for appellate work my clients rest easy knowing they have a lawyer who primarily handles appeals as opposed to one who does appeals on the side.
The daily differences between trial court and appellate court practice are largely unknown to the consumer given how subtle they are. Those differences, however, are enough to affect your success on appeal. Besides these practical differences, appellate lawyers also require mindsets different from that of trial lawyers. It is a mindset one cannot turn on and off at will as it is a professional attitude crafted over years that has become ingrained as habit. Justice Ruggero Aldisert, a famous federal trial and appellate court judge, observed thousands of trials and appeals. He concluded the trial attorney may not have the best mindset to handle the appeal:
"Many [lawyers] are great trial lawyers, but their well-honed skills in familiar lakes [i.e., the trial court] do not necessarily translate to unpredictable, swift moving rivers [i.e., the appellate court]… Appellate advocacy is specialized work. It draws upon talents and skills that are far different from those utilized in other facets of practicing law. Being a good trial lawyer does not mean that you are also a qualified appellate advocate...I think of good trial lawyers as able salespersons, a function they do not always recognize and one that many of them probably would deny...But salespersons have different customers, dissimilar audiences, disparate objectives, and diverse timeframes. At trial the major objective is to persuade the [trial court], often a panel of lay jurors, that credibility lies on the side of your witnesses, and to show that the evidence, although controverted, favors your client...The trial courtroom is where the great stars of the legal galaxy shine. But trial court and appellate courts are constellations far apart in that galaxy. The two settings demand different skills, knowledge, and tools...The appellate lawyer deals primarily with law, not facts, and only with professional judges, not lay juries...I am often asked: “What is the quality of appellate advocacy today?” There is no quick answer. ..I am reluctant to assign percentages in the form of a general evaluation, but suffice it to say that there is a vast wasteland of mediocrity out there."-Justice Ruggero Aldisert.
Justice Yegan, another famous California appellate judge, observed further that the trial attorney who handles the appeal may be a liability to the client's cause:
Trial attorneys who prosecute their own appeals...may have "tunnel vision." Having tried the case themselves, they become convinced of the merits of their cause. They may lose objectivity and would be well served by consulting and taking the advice of disinterested members of the bar, schooled in appellate practice.
Justices Yegan and Aldisert suggest caution before choosing to continue with the trial attorney on appeal. Their insight contradicts many peoples' thinking the trial attorney should handle the appeal based on a belief the trial attorney knows the case the best. As the justices imply, such assumption is misguided. As litigation is an exceptional life event non-lawyers have little experience in understanding the legal practice. They too often fail to realize it is the skilled appellate specialist who has the training, experience, and insight on how to develop a trial record into a strong appeal. The arguments for continuing with the trial attorney are further mitigated as the trial attorney has a legal duty to share with the appellate attorney thoughts about appeal.
The justices confirm the trial attorney's expertise differs completely from that of the appellate lawyer. The trial attorney is mostly on a fact-finding mission and using those facts to persuade the judge or jury. The appellate attorney's mission is to determine if legal error occurred. Justice Aldisert's point is the trial attorney's expertise in fact-finding is no longer relevant once the trial court proceeding is done as no new facts are allowed into the dispute. The appeal will now be governed by a body of appellate law relevant to all cases. That body of appellate law is the single most important law relevant to any case on appeal. Most trial attorneys are not expert on that body of appellate law as they spend most of their time in trial practice. The distinct body of appellate law is the reason that the Bar considers as specialists those attorneys consistently handling appeals.
Justices Yegan and Aldisert diplomatically provide practical advice on why to consider retaining the services of appellate counsel. Be aware, however, there sometimes exist sinister reasons why you should be cautious with letting your trial attorney handle your appeal. For instance, your trial attorney's ineffectiveness may be a relevant issue on appeal that benefits you. If your trial attorney handles the appeal then human nature says he probabaly will not bring up to the appellate court his own ineffective conduct as that admission might subject that attorney to a malpractice suit or Bar investigation. The only sure way to figure out your trial attorney's effectiveness at trial is by retaining a new lawyer to examine the matter. A logical time to have a new lawyer look at a matter is on appeal.
A trial judge's action towards you can also be grounds to develop into a strong appellate point. If your trial attorney appears before that trial judge consistently then your trial attorney wants to have a great relationship with that judge. That attorney likely will not raise judicial misconduct issues on appeal for fear of offending the trial judge. That attorney is conflicted between his business interests and zealously serving you. I never have this conflict-of-interest as my litigation practice was specifically designed to focus exclusively on appellate court work.
Finally, law is made at the appellate court and not at the trial court. When an appellate court rules on an issue it often becomes binding precedent (i.e., law) on future cases. An appellate court's lawmaking power, however, is limited to what the parties present on appeal. An appellate court is not free to grab any issue it sees in a case and use it to announce new precedent. The parties' attorneys control what the appellate court can rule on. If your trial attorney mostly makes a living in trial court practice then assume that trial attorney will avoid raising appellate issues, helpful to you, but having potential to establish precedent bad for that attorney's business. Again, when I handle an appeal this conflict-of-interest never arises as I am in the appellate business and not trial court business.
Figuring out what attorney is best suited to handle your appeal is a daunting task. The California Board of Legal Specialization ("CBLS") was created as an official arm of the Bar almost 50 years ago to help you select the right lawyer. To be clear, CBLS is not a lawyer marketing company that one sees everywhere that a lawyer can buy a credential from. CBLS's mission is to certify meritorious lawyer candidates for expertise in areas like appellate law. CBLS certification is the gold-standard of attorney certifications as it was the first program of its type and is well known as having the most rigorous credentialing standards. Only California appellate attorneys approved by CLBS can represent to the public they are a "Certified Appellate Law Specialist" and display the official Bar logo you see at the top of this webpage.
Obtaining CBLS appellate law certification is difficult to achieve. That is why there are so few appellate specialists. A candidate must have substantially engaged in the practice of appellate law for at least 5 years before candidacy is even considered. A candidate must then spend months preparing for a bar type exam covering appellate law. The exam is developed for two years by a team of appellate law specialists. Many lawyers who believe they know appellate law fail the test. Those who pass the test are then scrutinized further by CBLS based on peer review, education, and experience before being awarded a specialist credential. A minimum of 9 attorneys or judges familiar with a candidate’s appellate work must review and make an overall positive recommendation of the candidate to CBLS. A candidate must then prove substantial appellate work experience and appellate education to CBLS. The candidate's application and recommendations are then evaluated by two CBLS panels of legal specialists composed of about 20 attorneys for final approval. The CBLS application and review process, alone, takes about 12-18 months.
Once CBLS approves a candidate that person must maintain the credential. A Certified Appellate Law Specialist must also take around 35% more hours of continuing legal education than regular attorneys. That specialized education must be in appellate law areas approved by the CBLS. Every five years a CBLS specialist is then required to go through a rigorous re-certification process similar to the original application process. No other attorney credential out there comes remotely close to the rigors of CBLS certification. Again, CBLS is the only official California attorney credentialing process in existence. Any other attorney credentialing you see is a product of private attorney marketing companies. In fact, it would probably make most cringe to realize what standards are involved in the non-CBLS credentials you now see everywhere.
People assume attorneys practicing in trial court practices have substantial appellate experience. The sparse number of CBLS Certified Appellate Law Specialists confirms otherwise. The unapparent reality is few trial court attorneys practice appellate law daily or to a level consistent enough to meet the rigors of getting certified by the CBLS. Documented appellate law experience is one of the major criteria the CBLS scrutinizes in its candidates. Attorneys not engaged in a consistent practice of appellate law will not qualify for certification as an appellate specialist.
Most attorneys who have robust trial court litigation practices have little opportunity to appeal their matters consistently as almost every case settles. If a case settles at the trial court level, as upwards of 95% do, there would be no reason for the trial level attorney to appeal. Macro-economic settlement data confirms trial court attorneys are in the business of settling cases. Although Hollywood and the media make it seem like actual trials are normal this is not true as most lawsuits settle. There will naturally be few Certified Appellate Law Specialists as few trial attorneys have enough opportunity to appeal matters and develop the demanding portfolio of appellate experience the CBLS requires. When on appeal one should retain the services of an attorney who is focused on appellate work. The CBLS's appellate legal certification provides one of the best ways to determine if your attorney has the skill set to handle your appeal.
For those of you with appellate issues involving tax law this section should be of particular interest. I am the only lawyer in California the Bar recognizes as a Certified Appellate Law Specialist and Certified Tax Law Specialist. Such dual certification is unprecedented in the Bar's history as no other lawyer has ever been recognized by the Bar as a specialist in both disciplines. Tax law certification parallels the same rigorous requirements as for appellate law certification, discussed above. In California, there are only about 380 lawyers that the Bar recognizes as specialists in tax law. Tax law certification, like appellate law certification, is reserved only for an exclusive group of lawyers the Bar considers exceptional at tax law.
If your appeal involves tax issues then you should note I have official and recognized mastery in the two areas of law relevant to your needs. Tax law is so specialized that most attorneys who practice it spend an additional year in law school earning a tax law degree beyond the general law degree. I earned my LLM degree, "With Distinction," from one the nation's top-ranked tax law schools. Due to my mastery of tax law, I was recently publicly appointed by the Bar as a Tax Law Advisory Commissioner charged with advising and making recommendations to the Board of Legal Specialization regarding tax law. I currently sit as chairman of the Bar's Tax Law Advisory Commission to the Board of Legal Specialization.
The points I make, above, explaining why a trial attorney may not be best suited to handle an appeal are equally applicable for appellate matters involving tax issues. If you have issues regarding tax appeals (including white collar criminal issues) then I can provide you with the best of both worlds as I am a specialist in tax law and appellate law. If your appellate matter involves tax issues then there likely is no one in the entire country more qualified than myself to assist you. I welcome you to contact me to discuss your tax appeal.
I welcome you to contact me for a free consultation. I can be contacted at either e-mail, Info@AppellateLitigator.com, or telephone at (626) 344-8270.