To choose an appellate lawyer you need to understand the appellate process and then research appellate lawyers who practice in your jurisdiction. Speak with at least a few, asking the questions suggested below, and then settle on one in whom you have confidence and who can work within your budget.
Where do I start?
If you need a criminal appeals lawyer it probably means you were convicted of something, either by your plea of guilty or after a trial. If you trust your present lawyer, a good place to start is to ask her for a recommendation. Better yet, ask her for three recommendations. Invest the time to speak with each. If you have lawyer friends, ask them for recommendations. If you know others who have been convicted of crimes and appealed, ask them as well. You can even do an Internet search under the name of your city and "appellate lawyer." Pretty soon you'll have a fair number of names of lawyers you can interview.
But how do I evaluate a lawyer?
When you interview a prospective lawyer, you should ask all the obvious questions: How long have you been practicing? What jobs have you had over the years? What portion of your practice is devoted to criminal appeals? You should then ask for a copy of one or two briefs they have recently written. You may not be an appellate lawyer yourself but you'll get a feel for the lawyer by reviewing her written product. If you have a lawyer friend ask her opinion of the brief. Ask the lawyer for a couple of judicial opinions written with respect to the lawyer's appeals. If you have access to a legal research service such as Westlaw you can input the lawyer's name and see how many "hits" you get -- the more hits the more active the lawyer likely is.
Are there really big differences between appellate lawyers?
Yes, there are huge differences, which, in some cases, can make the difference between success and failure. However, don't be fooled: once you need an appellate lawyer your "cancer" has spread, and statistically very few criminal appeals are successful. But a good appellate lawyer will, overall, increase the odds of success.
Should I use my trial lawyer for the appeal?
There are pros and cons to using your trial lawyer for the appeal. On the "pro" side, the trial lawyer is already familiar with the case and, particularly where the trial proceedings were long and complicated, may be able to handle the appeal for a lower fee. Additionally, if you have have confidence in your trial lawyer you may want to stick with a "sure thing." On the other hand, not all trial lawyers are appellate lawyers and the skill sets, while overlapping, are quite different. Additionally it's often a good idea to get a "new set of eyes" on a case for the appeal. And, last but not least, a new lawyer may conclude that the trial lawyer did not provide effective assistance of counsel. Such a claim, however, is generally not raised on the "direct appeal" (although some jurisdictions have a different rule) but rather would be raised as part of a "collateral proceeding" such as in a habeas corpus petition, should the appellate court affirm the conviction.
How much should I expect to pay for an appellate lawyer? Should I pay a flat fee or an hourly?
Before I quote a fee for an appeal I want to know: how long was the trial? Has the transcript already been prepared? Were there co-defendants in the case and if so, who are their lawyers? I will want to speak with the trial lawyer to get his sense of how the trial went and what issues they believe are ripe for appeal. What was the sentence? Has a notice of appeal already been filed? This last point is important because if the notice of appeal is not filed on time you may lose your right to appeal.
What costs are usually not included in the fee?
When you hire a lawyer for an appeal, he typically is agreeing to handle the appeal in the first appeals court, unless you agree otherwise. That means he'll write the brief and, possibly a reply brief (after the opponent's brief is received) and then will argue the appeal, if the court's rules permit. You should obtain the lawyer's agreement that, if you lose, he will also file a petition for rehearing if the court's rules permit and it seems advisable. You can also ask whether, if you lose, the fee includes filing any additional appeals. For example, if your conviction is affirmed at the first appellate court you may -- depending on the rules of your jurisdiction -- request further review from the state's highest court. Additionally, you are permitted to file a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. These applications always are long shots, however, and you may or may not want to make them part of the appellate fee.
Cost of an Appeal
Depending on the length of the trial, the number of possible issues and other factors impacting its likely complexity, the cost of an appeal might be anywhere from $10,000 to $150,000 or more, plus expenses. "Expenses" for an appeal are typically limited to transcript costs and printing the brief and appendix, and can cost from a few hundred to a several thousand dollars. Usually my clients prefer a flat, all-inclusive fee, but others prefer to pay on an hourly basis; most lawyers will offer both options. Generally, however, a flat fee makes the most sense for an appeal.