Helping Trial Lawyers Navigate the Appellate System

Breaking Through to the Other Side


A month or so ago, “COVID-19,” “coronavirus,”  and “social distancing” had not yet made their way into our everyday vocabularies. The stock market was up, and unemployment was low. The first U.S. coronavirus death had just occurred in Washington state.

What we are experiencing as I write today is unprecedented in American history. Stay-at-home orders issued to curb the virus’s spread and avoid overloading our health care system have brought the economy to its knees. Massive layoffs are occurring across industries. Courthouses have been closed, and jury trials have been postponed. The Texas Supreme Court has issued several emergency orders, extending statutes of limitations, abating residential eviction proceedings, clarifying possession schedules in family law cases, and delaying service for garnishment writs to collect consumer debt.

The pandemic is transforming the legal industry. Technophobes are being forced to adapt. Lawyers are working from home by necessity, not by choice, and are finding new ways to serve their clients. Courts are holding hearings over Zoom and broadcasting publicly on YouTube, keeping their dockets moving and the courts open. I can’t imagine where we’d be if the Supreme Court had not mandated e-filing statewide just a few years ago. And last week, the Supreme Court did something unthinkable until recently when it held oral arguments over Zoom

Bar associations and other organizations have adapted too. For example, since the virus took hold, the Austin Bar Association has dedicated a page on its website to relevant news, updates, and resources and is updating it daily. Unable to hold live events, the Austin Bar is increasing its online CLE offerings and is scheduling webinars tailored to issues the pandemic will likely bring to the forefront. Presentations will cover domestic violence, bankruptcy, landlord-tenant matters, employment relationships, legislative updates, and technology tips. Pro bono needs will abound, and the Austin Bar is doing its best to anticipate and address those needs proactively.

While fallout from the pandemic presents a tremendous opportunity for lawyers to help others, we should not neglect ourselves. Working from home can be wonderful, but it can also be very difficult when combined with maintaining the household and caring for our families. Those who experience depression or addiction have had their normal coping mechanisms curtailed or taken away. Keep the faith—we will get through this—but don’t forget to take care of yourself as well.

What does the future look like? Our lives and practices will undoubtedly change, perhaps in some ways for the better. We’ll better appreciate things we might have taken for granted before—coffee or lunch with a friend, working out at the gym, date night out with a spouse or partner, or attending a sporting event.

Lawyers are resilient. It’s our job to rise up and lead. It’s time to fulfill our role once again and show the world how to persevere.

todd smith - austin texas

D. Todd Smith
About the Author

D. Todd Smith is an Austin-based civil appellate specialist who works with trial teams from the earliest stages of litigation. In trial courts, he takes the lead on strategic analysis and briefing, jury charges, and potentially dispositive motions, all with a focus on preserving error and positioning cases for appellate review.

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