Mayer Brown’s Federal Appellate Practice has a useful checklist of questions to ask when evaluating potential issues for appeal:

  1. Was the issue properly preserved with an objection or timely argument below? If not, you’ll likely be facing the plain-error standard in federal court, or the ends-of-justice exception in state court.
  2. Did the mistake materially affect the outcome below? Harmless error won’t get a judgment reversed in state or federal court.
  3. Is the relevant issue already settled in your circuit? Most circuits won’t let a 3-judge panel overrule a prior panel’s ruling.
  4. Can you satisfy the standard of review? Pretty self explanatory. De novo is better than abuse of discretion is better than clearly erroneous.
  5. Do any of your potential issues overlap? This goes to credibility. Any court is going to take a brief asserting 1-3 appeal points more seriously than one saying that the trial court made a dozen outcome-determinative mistakes.

*At least the Second Edition, which I’m still using, does; the link takes you to the Third Edition.