I admit it. When I’m drafting a Wisconsin Court of Appeals brief, all I think about is substance.
If “I” am the appellant, what issue of law can I raise to give me a de novo standard of review? How can I expose the trial court’s errors without putting the appellate court to sleep in the process? How can I undo the wrong done to my client?
If “I” am the respondent, how can I characterize the appellant’s issues as factual or discretionary, and so limit the appellate court’s scope of review? How can I show that the trial court’s decision was so correct that the appeal is just a waste of the appellate court’s time? How can I protect my client’s victory?
I can focus on the substance, because my assistant, Lori, is a genius. She knows the technical formatting rules better than I do. I give her my wayward bunch of sections and she returns a draft complying with all the appellate brief requirements. Margins and font. Table of Contents. Table of Authorities. Statement of the Issues. Statement on Oral Argument. Procedural and Factual Status. Argument. Conclusion. Certification. Brief cover and color. Appendix, if needed, with certification. If this isn’t genius, it’s a miracle.
Lori and I have worked together over three decades. Most attorneys aren’t so lucky, especially in this movable feast of a profession. So, if you are or expect to be involved in a Wisconsin Court of Appeals brief soon, print out Section 809.19, Wis. Stats. and tape it to your computer. Here’s a broad summary of the current formatting requirements:
For cross-appeals, follow Sec. 809.19(6), Wis. Stats.
Since electronic filing is mandatory for appeal briefs, appendices and post-decision petitions for review, it is best to register for electronic filing (go to the Wisconsin Court System website) at the start of an appeal. If you wait until the last minute, there may not be enough time to get your PIN number.
Even when we know the rules, lawyers aren’t perfect, even if we and our clients think we should be. So, no matter how careful you are, you may still receive the unexpected call from the Court of Appeals clerk. The gazillion covers you put together have a tiny mistake. Your word count didn’t include footnotes, which put you over the limit. Your briefs’ covers fell off in transit (at least electronic versions don’t use fasteners).
It’s a lot easier to deal with these hiccups when you’ve got the basic rules down. And it’s a lot easier for an appellate clerk, who remembers your prior spotless filings, to give you a little leeway.