In both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, major business and employment litigation cases will usually be tried to a judge or a jury at a trial court level. In Pennsylvania, this is the Court of Common Pleas, and in New Jersey, this is the Superior Court Law Division. After trial, if any party is dissatisfied with the results at trial, subject to very stringent timing and procedural rules, it can take an appeal. In Pennsylvania, appeals are taken to the Superior Court or the Commonwealth Court. In New Jersey, they are taken to the Superior Court Appellate Division. These are sometimes referred to as intermediate appellate courts, because both PA and NJ also have Supreme Courts which serve as the appellate courts of last resort. For cases brought in Federal Courts, the trial court is the United States District Court, the intermediate appellate court (for PA and NJ) is the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and the court of last resort is the United States Supreme Court.
So why is this important? Because in evaluating a lawsuit, whether in terms of its strength or weaknesses on the merits, in terms of its cost, or in terms of the time it will take to reach its conclusion, the likelihood of an appeal must be considered. Your trial lawyer should be well versed in the appellate process — and ready, willing and able to handle your case through appeal. If your attorney does not handle appeals and/or does not intend to handle yours, then at the very least, your attorney should consult with qualified appellate counsel prior to trial. Once the trial is over, it may be too late to preserve appellate issues and/or to arrive at the appellate stage with your case in its best posture. For this reason, waiting until after trial to speak to appellate counsel for the first time is not advisable. Additionally, if you intend to hire a new attorney to handle the appeal, you should expect to pay him/her to get up to speed on the facts and history of the case, which is not necessary if your trial attorney is also your appellate attorney.
Remember that your case being on appeal is not necessarily your choice. You may be thrilled with a jury’s verdict, but if your adversary is not, you will likely end up in an appellate court. Be prepared when you get there.