The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Allyson Ho, Partner and Co-Chair of the Appellate and Constitutional Law Practice Group; Lauren Blas, Partner—Litigation
Allyson Ho co-chairs Gibson Dunn’s Appellate and Constitutional Law practice group. She has argued multiple times before the U.S. Supreme Court and presented over 65 oral arguments in federal and state courts nationwide. She has a distinguished record of service at the highest levels of government, serving as Special Assistant to President George W. Bush, counselor to Attorney General John Ashcroft, and law clerk to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Judge Jacques Wiener of the Fifth Circuit. Allyson serves as a public member of the Administrative Conference of the United States, a trustee of the Supreme Court Historical Society, and a member of the Washington Legal Foundation’s Legal Policy Advisory Board and the New Civil Liberties Alliance’s Board of Advisors.
Lauren Blas is a partner in Gibson Dunn’s Los Angeles office. She has briefed over a dozen appeals and has argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the California Court of Appeal, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court. She was also a core member of the appellate team in New Jersey’s successful challenge to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) before the U.S. Supreme Court. She clerked for Judge Sandra Ikuta on the Ninth Circuit.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
We represent clients in high-stakes appeals involving complex or novel issues. Our practice is national in scope, and we brief and argue cases in state and federal appellate courts all over the country, including in the U.S. Supreme Court and state supreme courts. We handle traditional merits appeals and arguments, as well as interlocutory appeals, petitions for certiorari or review, and other appellate motions. Our appellate lawyers also regularly consult on trial teams and on critical or dispositive motions in the trial courts.
What types of clients do you represent?
We represent a wide range of clients, from Fortune 100 companies to individuals to state and local governments. Recent examples include Nissan, J.C. Penney, the State of New Jersey, Parsons, Yahoo, Deloitte, the University of Texas at Austin, Facebook, and Salesforce, among many others.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Allyson: I’m privileged to represent some of the world’s best companies in some of their most important, high-profile matters in courts across the country. I recently argued and won a complex case for the founder of one of the fastest-growing apps in the world. And I have the privilege of filing briefs in cases across the country on behalf of violent crime victims; the nonprofits who support them; and the legislators who’ve enacted laws, so their voices can be heard.
Lauren: Many (though not all) of my appellate matters involve issues adjacent to my trial court practice, which focuses on class action and employment work. As just two examples, we recently persuaded the Ninth Circuit to decertify a class of thousands of California employees and helped to clarify the scope of a California statute governing conduct in business, service, or professional relationships in an appeal on behalf of Ashley Judd against Harvey Weinstein.
How did you choose this practice area?
Allyson: My path to appellate law cut through two appellate clerkships, where I had the privilege of observing the best appellate litigators in the country brief and argue cases. Appellate law requires the ability to focus on complex, intellectually challenging issues while taking a practical perspective that is ultimately about solving clients’ most pressing problems.
Lauren: Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work with several lawyers whom I admire who happened to do appellate litigation. I was hooked. As a curious person with a broad set of interests, I liked that appellate practice is more of a “procedural” specialty: You master a set of rules and an analytical approach, and then you apply those rules and that approach to a diverse set of circumstances.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Allyson: The great thing about being an appellate litigator is that there really is no typical day—some days I’m strategizing with clients at the outset of litigation about legal theories and communication strategies, while other days I’m preparing for oral argument by being peppered with tough questions at a mock argument.
Lauren: My practice is a mix of trial and appellate work, but on a typical appellate day, I’ll spend time doing one of five things: reading the record; conducting legal research; drafting the brief, motion, or petition; preparing for an oral argument; or strategizing with the team or client. I find I need a large block of time to really get into a brief, which sometimes means that briefs are written at odd hours of the day or night.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Allyson: Clerkships offer an unparalleled opportunity to hone your writing and analytical skills; observe the good, bad, and ugly in brief writing and argument and learn from all three; and develop lifelong mentorships and relationships with judges and other clerks.
Lauren: Write, write, and write some more, whether in a clerkship or another setting. Training in oral advocacy is helpful but not required; you’ll learn a lot from working with the senior lawyers on your team.
What do you like best about your practice area?
Allyson: I love having a practice that spans all different kinds of clients, industries, and legal issues—it fosters a creative approach to problem-solving where you can discover a principle in one area of the law that’s actually very helpful in another.
Lauren: I love that appeals provide space to do deep thinking about legal issues and what the law ought to be. And I appreciate that at the end of the process, you get a thoughtful, written opinion analyzing all of the issues. Of course, it’s nice to win, but even if you lose, you (hopefully) feel as though you’ve been heard.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
People often think you have to have an appellate clerkship and in some circles, a Supreme Court clerkship—to do appellate work. Clerkships are certainly common in our practice and are wonderful experiences to have, but Gibson is also a very meritocratic place. If you want to write appellate briefs and can prove that you can, sure enough, you will!
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
Junior lawyers have a very substantive role on our appellate teams, including helping to master the record, researching legal issues, outlining and drafting sections of a brief, and helping to prepare senior lawyers for oral argument.
What is your routine for preparing for oral arguments?
Allyson: It depends on whether I’ve done the briefing or am being brought in to handle the argument. If the latter, I always like to start by talking with the trial team and gleaning the benefit of their experience and insight. I also like to give the briefs to a non-lawyer and ask what stands out to them, what questions they have, and what appeals to them (no pun intended). Their perspective is often closer to that of busy, generalist judges and law clerks than subject-matter experts.
Lauren: I start by re-reading all of the briefs and drafting a skeletal argument outline. I then re-read all the cases, build out my outline further, and identify any areas where I’d like to dig deeper. I work with my teammates to come up with a list of hard questions and then draft the answers. I then distill my long outline into something pithier and refine it further after a moot. It’s fun to come up with fresh openings or angles that will draw the court into the argument.