Deadlines are an important part of my practice. You wouldn’t believe how much time I spend re-reading rules I could practically recite by heart and counting days. Monks have their rosaries, and I have my calendar.
That’s because appellate courts are sticklers for deadlines. I’ve heard plenty of complaints and conspiracy theories over the years, but the reason why is simple: the ability to know that you’re done with litigation, and to put the matter behind you and move on with your life, is a valuable right. It’s the prize you get for winning a trial.
Appellate courts guard that right jealously, and they do so to protect appellees—not to hurt appellants or manage their own case loads. Furthermore, appellate deadlines are, for the most part, straightforward. Everyone is on notice of them. Miss them at your peril.
Does that sound like a transparent attempt to scare you into hiring me? It’s not. Here’s why: The first appellate deadlines come in trial court. In that sense, we’re all appellate lawyers, and we’re all responsible for meeting these deadlines.
By way of illustration, here are the key appellate deadlines through the filing of the petition for appeal:
- An objection must be raised with reasonable certainty at the time of the ruling. Otherwise, the Court will not consider an error except for good cause shown or to attain the ends of justice—which is to say that, as a practical matter, they won’t consider it. Va. Sup. Ct. R. 5:25.
- A trial court retains jurisdiction to modify, suspend, or vacate a final judgment for 21 days after the date of entry. Va. Sup. Ct. R. 1:1.
- A notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days of entry of final judgment. Va. Sup. Ct. R. 5:9.
- A transcript must be filed within 60 days of final judgment to be made part of the record. If the appellant fails to ensure that the record contains transcripts necessary to permit resolution of appellate issues, the Court will refuse to consider any assignments of error affected by the omission. Va. Sup. Ct. R. 5:11.
- A petition for appeal must be filed within 3 months of the entry of the order appealed from. Va. Sup. Ct. R. 5:17.
These are the big five deadlines, and trial lawyers typically take care of at least the first two. I’ve worked on an appeal where the trial team handled the first four steps. But every appeal starts in trial court–and unless you want it to end there, you have to meet these deadlines.