My dad retires this month after 32 years of public service as a tax lawyer for the State of New York. I still have no idea what he does on a daily basis. I understand that it involves numbers.

My brother, Patrick, also works with numbers. They must be different numbers, because he doesn’t know what Dad does for a living, either. Pat had just sent me an email about how strange that is when I noticed that the the following search had brought a reader to the blog:

day in the life of an appellate lawyer

How about that for an opportunity? I could answer a reader’s question, and at the same time make sure that my own kids can answer the questions that were puzzling my brother and me. (As you can see from their picture, they are terribly bothered by such concerns.)Daddy's job is funny!

So what is a day in the life of an appellate lawyer like?

Pretty much like a day in the life of any other lawyer. Except awesome.

As a former philosophy major and ginormous nerd, I may be a little biased. But as far as I can tell, my job lets me focus on all of the good parts of being a lawyer (legal analysis, writing, argument) while ignoring the downside (discovery, PowerPoint, cufflinks) and actually contributing to the development of the law.

The highlight of my job is when I get to do an oral argument–really, to have a conversation with judges or justices about what the law is and how it should work. Those discussions are enormously fun and rewarding. But they don’t come every day, or every week, or sometimes even every month; they’re special, and they are the reward for all of the hard work we’ve put in on an appeal.

But the lower-key stuff can be be pretty interesting, too. Some days, I get to research and just think about legal issues for hours. Other days, I bounce from case-to-case working with trial counsel on legal issues. There’s really no such thing as a “normal” day in my practice. That said, here’s something pretty close to typical, based on an amalgation of some recent days:

  • 6:05 Wake up. Feed dog. Water children. Peruse internet. Seek coffee.
  • 7:15 Get dressed. This merits discussion. For some reason, adding the word “appellate” to my job description means that I am allowed–even expected–to dress like something out of Louis Auchincloss. (Case in point, my sartorial soulmate and fellow appellate lawyer, Kendall Gray.) Bowties, striped ties, pocket squares, and button-down collars are de rigueur. If I felt like pushing the envelope, I could probably get away with either a pocket watch or a pipe. But not both.
  • 7:30: Brutal 15-minute door-to-door commute.
  • 7:45 Arrive at office. Tend to obsessive-compulsive need to check deadlines, maintain inbox-zero. More coffee.
  • 8:12 Continue researching obscure point of appellate jurisdiction for brief. Ponder legal framework, policy concerns, and doctrinal underpinnings of same. Sketch whirlybird diagram mapping connections. Begin outlining brief. Scrap outline. More research.
  • 12:00 Lunch at desk. Skim RSS feeds for interesting news. Find some, but cannot share because Tweetdeck is not working.
  • 12:10 Try to update Tweetdeck for the 74th time. Fail.
  • 12:13 Beg IT for help with Tweetdeck. Fail again.
  • 1:00 Go to court to support trial counsel at hearing on post-trial motions. Help preserve points for appeal. Ensure that record reflects opposing counsel’s waiver of key objection. Effectively win appeal in trial court. Don’t say a single word on the record. Pass notes like giddy schoolgirl.
  • 2:45 More coffee.
  • 3:00 Attend moot court for partner’s oral argument before Supreme Court of Virginia. Appoint self chief justice. Dominate questioning. Unintentionally anticipate line of inquiry Justice Mims would actually raise later at argument. Argue structural justifications for fairly debatable standard of review. Declare self “winner” of moot court.
  • 4:30 Back to researching jurisdiction. Brainstorm with senior partner. Not profitable.  Imagine results of LEXIS search for “brain w/s ‘senior partner'”.
  • 4:45 Continue research. Minor breakthrough. Re-map argument and begin outlining brief.
  • 7:00 10-minute commute home.
  • 7:30 Dinner with wife. Discuss kids’ day and her soccer team.
  • 8:30 Walk dog. Discuss appellate jurisdiction.
  • 10:00 Go to bed. Ponder own lameness.
  • 10:15 Get out of bed, find blackberry, email self argument outline.
  • 10:22 Call work, leave self voicemail to ignore email, outline better argument. Irritate dog, who suspects that it is time for breakfast.
  • Sometime thereafter: Go to sleep.

It’s a wonder that I get paid to do this.