If everything checks out at the initial meeting with an appellant, the next step would be that I would prepare an opinion letter. The client would hand me the documents that he or she brought to the meeting.
I would spend at least 20 hours reviewing the documents that the client delivered to me, performing independent legal research, and drafting the opinion letter. The opinion letter would specify the issues that the client could raise in an appeal, the arguments that the client could make, the legal authorities that the client could cite, and the probability of success for each argument. The opinion letter also would provide an overall recommendation that the client should pursue or not pursue the appeal.
If my recommendation is favorable, I specify the maximum amount of fees that I would charge to handle the appeal.
If my recommendation is negative, my involvement in the case ends. I anticipate that the client will follow my advice and not pursue an unmeritorious appeal. However, the client is free to use my opinion letter as a blueprint for pursuing the appeal with another attorney. Of course, the client also is free to obtain a second opinion.
The opinion letter is extremely valuable to the client, whether or not my recommendation is favorable. If my recommendation is positive and the client decides to pursue the appeal, the client will have paid for the “start-up” time that I would have needed to spend anyway to become familiar with the case if I just had proceeded with preparing the opening brief. In a case with a favorable recommendation, the maximum budget specified in the opinion letter is based upon the fact that I already have spent some time on the case to become familiar with the issues. If my recommendation is negative, the client will have paid for sound legal advice to not pursue an unmeritorious appeal.
If the client is an appellant who already has filed a notice of appeal, I am willing to dispense with the opinion letter upon the client’s request. However, I would not be able to work with a maximum budget in the absence of an opinion letter. Also, in that situation, I would reserve the right to withdraw from the appeal, while preparing the opening brief for the client, upon determining that the appeal was unmeritorious. I would expect the client to pay for all services that I had rendered up to that point.
If the client is a respondent, there is no need for an opinion letter. But, without an opinion letter, I would not be able to specify a maximum budget for the cost to handle the appeal.