Trials and appeals are two very different things. A lawyer who is good at one may not necessarily be good at the other.


A trial is like a play. The judge or jury is the audience. Your lawyer is the director, and the witnesses are the actors. Your lawyer calls witnesses and uses documents to tell a story. As far as the law is concerned, at the end of the trial we know what the facts are—they are whatever facts the judge or jury found (that is, whichever story they believed).

Appeals are not like that. They are not a second shot at deciding the facts. Those facts are set in stone in the trial court. Appellate courts don’t worry so much about what the facts are; they care about what those facts mean in the broader context of the law, and they try to correct any legal errors that the trial court made.

On appeal, lawyers don’t call witnesses and offer exhibits and put on a show. They do extensive research, prepare written “briefs” (that is, thorough written arguments), and present their arguments in a live discussion to a panel of judges or justices.

So if a trial lawyer is like the director of a play, an appellate lawyer is like a graduate student working on a dissertation. You can see how those are different skill sets.

Johnson, Rosen & O’Keeffe has substantial experience handling appeals in Virginia’s state and federal courts. Our partner, Jay O’Keeffe, is a frequent speaker on appellate topics. He publishes a blog, De Novo, that covers Virginia appellate law. We handle both criminal and civil appeals. Some of our representative matters include:

  • Lewis v. City of Alexandria, 756 S.E.2d 465 (Va. 2014)
  • Hill v. Crum, 727 F.3d 312 (4th Cir. 2013)
  • S.L.M. v Dorel Juvenile Group, Inc., 514 Fed. Appx. (4th Cir. 2013)
  • Van Buren v. Grubb, 733 S.E.2d 919 (Va. 2012)
  • Bonham v. Weinraub, 413 Fed. Appx. 615 (4th Cir. 2011)
  • Rascher v. Friend, 689 S.E.2d 661 (Va. 2010)
  • Dunn Construction Co., Inc. v. Cloney, 682 S.E.2d 943 (Va. 2009)
  • Kennedy v. Joy Technologies, Inc., 269 Fed. Appx. 302 (4th Cir. 2008)
  • Evans v. NACCO Materials Handling Group, Inc., 810 S.E.2d 462 (Va. 2018)
  • Sky Cable LLC v. Coley, 886 F.3d 373 (4th Cir. 2018)
  • Osburn v. Va. Dept of Alcoholic Bev. Control, 810 S.E.2d 210 (Va. 2018)
Roanoke Attorney at Law