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Daily Professional Development Reading is Key to a Healthy Appellate Practice

Let’s face it: if you handle indigent direct appeals, chances are you have received a case that appeared to have no meritorious issues. Unlike in other states, in Indiana appellate counsel cannot file an Anders brief, claiming there are no meritorious issues. So unless we can convince our clients to dismiss the appeal (yeah right), we have to get creative.

Staying on top of current legal trends in appellate practice can certainly help. Discovering what issues other lawyers have raised on appeal can sometimes lead to finding an issue to raise in a case that would otherwise appear hopeless.

A few months ago, I asked a few mentoring attorneys how they track current legal trends, and I compiled a checklist of tasks to incorporate in my own practice, based on their responses. I also added to the list things I already knew I needed to check regularly that are relevant to my practice.

Here is my list:

DAILY: every day I check the latest headlines on the Indiana Judiciary’s website. I also check the handdowns from the Indiana appellate courts. Finally, I use a website, Netvibes, to organize and track legal blogs I follow. I check Netvibes daily for new blog posts. The blogs I currently follow include the SCOTUSblog (great for keeping up with noteworthy cert petitions), the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog (probably the best resource I have used for my practice), and The Sentencing Project Blog (posts are not frequent but still helpful).

WEEKLY: once a week, I check the oral arguments scheduled for the Indiana Court of Appeals and Indiana Supreme Court, the weekly transfer disposition list, any proposed legislation (when the General Assembly is in session), the 7th Circuit decisions (those labeled “prisoner” are most relevant), the SCOTUS cert petitions filed (if you put in “Indiana” as a search term, it will pull up cert petitions filed from Indiana cases), any proposed and approved court rule amendments, as well as other Indiana Supreme Court orders. Finally, ProPublica has had a number of articles in recent years on forensic science. So I now check the website regularly for any new and noteworthy articles.

Generally, this process takes me only 15-30 minutes per day to complete. But it has helped me stay current with appellate legal trends and ensured that I do not miss a change in the Appellate Rules (which would invariably lead to the dreaded notice of defect).

If you’re interested in incorporating daily professional development reading into your own practice, I’m sharing the checklist I use. Enjoy!

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