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Bar gives nod to appellate practice specialty

By  SYLVIA ADCOCK, Staff Writer

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The street where North Carolina’s two appellate court buildings sit in calm repose is only a few blocks away from the Wake County Courthouse, where defendants and witnesses gather on the front steps outside.

But although the attorneys and judges inside each building are after the same result – justice and advocacy – they are worlds apart.

Appellate practice is a specialty that requires skills that aren’t always used at trial, and at the same time does not require the speaking-to-the-jury art that a good trial lawyer can bring.

In recognition of that fact, and in a bid to improve the work that comes before the N.C. Court of Appeals and the N.C. Supreme Court, the State Bar has approved a legal specialization in appellate practice.

The idea came from members of the Appellate Rules Committee and the appellate judiciary, said Mike Weddington, chair of the N.C State Bar’s Committee on Specialization. He said the committee and the judges involved “felt like the level of skills of appellate advocacy was somewhat inconsistent. … This would be an effort to address concerns to that effect.”

Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds, a member of the Appellate Rules Committee, said he had broached the idea of an appellate specialty designation several times in the past few years. “Every now and then I would say, ‘We should rejuvenate that idea of a specialty,'” Justice Edmunds said. “And somebody would say, ‘Great idea, judge.'”

Alice Mine

Alice Mine

Finally, Edmunds called up Alice Mine, director of the State Bar’s specialization programs, and got the process rolling.

Now that the Bar council has formally approved the new specialty, it will join the list of nine others. They include bankruptcy law, criminal law (appellate, federal or state), elder law, estate planning, family law, immigration law, real property, Social Security disability law, and workers’ compensation. The new appellate specialty will supersede a specialty that already existed for attorneys who worked in criminal law.

Edmunds said that in his view, the practitioners who appear before the court “run the gamut from splendid to people who are obviously uncomfortable both by being in court and by the type of writing that has to be done.”

Appellate work is very different from other types of advocacy, said Elizabeth Scherer, an attorney with Smith Moore Leatherwood who is on the committee that is developing the requirements for the specialty.

“It’s a special skill set,” said Scherer, who limits most of her practice to appellate work. “There are some lawyers who are excellent at everything, but I don’t think I could be an excellent trial attorney. … At the appellate level, it’s much more of an academic approach.”

Justice Edmunds agreed. “Some people like trials and can’t stand appeals and for some, appeals is their meat and potatoes.”

Scherer said she likes “sitting down reading treatises – to see if I can make sense of this on paper.” And she finds the oral advocacy part challenging as well. “Being able to think on your feet,” she said.

As with other specialties, some CLE classes are expected to be offered in preparation for the exam. Matt Sawchak of Ellis & Winters in Raleigh said that the certification process, including a six-hour exam, will need to test not only procedural knowledge but also determine writing ability as well.

“In the practice of appeals, writing skill is a stronger determinant of success than anything else is,” Sawchak said.

The process isn’t expected to include a live writing test, but those interested may be required to submit sample briefs. The test will be open-book, and according to Edmunds, will also focus on gauging how well someone can “pick winning issues and argue winning issues.”

And the exam may include an oral section – a first for any specialty exam in the state.

“People say oral argument does not change minds,” Justice Edmunds said. “Oral argument does change minds.”


Recently certified specialists


The following lawyers were certified as specialists by the N.C. State Bar Board of Legal Specialization on Nov. 18.


Criminal Law

Mark Foster, Charlotte – Federal/State

Richard McCoppin, Cary – State

J. Michael Ricks, Goldsboro – State

Edd K. Roberts, Raleigh – State

Todd Smith, Graham – State

Daniel Talbert, Shelby – State


Estate Planning

David Burns, Raleigh

Evan Gilreath, Hendersonville

Amy Kincaid, Greensboro

Thomas Neagle, Carrboro

Tanya Oesterreich, Charlotte

Heidi Royal, Charlotte


Family Law

Amy Britt, Raleigh

Ray Corne, Newton

Danielle DeAngelis, Lexington

Kathryn Fowler, Winston-Salem

Sheryl Friedrichs, Wake Forest

Stephanie Gibbs, Raleigh

Elizabeth James, Charlotte

Gena McCray, Louisburg

William Medlin, Charlotte

Mark Riopel, Charlotte

Rebecca Robison, Monroe

Dawn Sheek, Thomasville

Eric Trosch, Charlotte

Charles Ullman, Raleigh


Real Property Law

Samuel Franck, Wilmington – Commercial

J.C. Hearne, Wilmington – Commercial

Douglas MacMillan, Charlotte – Commercial / Residential

Dustin Stacy, Boone –  Commercial / Residential


Social Security

Chad Brown, Elkin

Jonathan Blair Biser, Raleigh

Vance Jennings, Cary


Workers’ Compensation

Robert Frey, Dunn

Kara McIvor, High Point

Kristine Prati, Raleigh

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