CA Certificate Legal Specialist Exam Prep Tips for Appellate Law

We just held our Four-Part Exam Prep course for the Certified Legal Specialist Exam in Appellate Law. We have several other recorded packages for past exam prep programs in different subject areas available for purchase here (immigration, tax, Criminal and Workers Comp) as well.

Below is a list for how to prepare and study for the exam in Appellate Law, discussed at our Four Part Exam Prep course for the Certified Legal Specialist Exam in Appellate Law by Judith Posner of Benedon & Serlin LLP and Athena Roussos, C. Athena Roussos Appellate Law (and former grader of the exams).

You can also find our Free Exam Prep download here, which has about four hours of advice on how to prepare and take the exam, from prior programs in multiple subject areas.


With the exception of the discussions directly related to appellate law, the tips are universally applicable to all exam subject areas.  Below are some great tips!

The PURPOSE of the exam is to test your proficiency in the area of Appellate Law

  • Areas that should be well known to practitioners who specialize in Appellate Law
  • Not designed to test obscure areas

Multi-Choice Questions

  • Multi-choice questions test applicants’ knowledge of specific areas in a broad range of subjects
  • Typically involve a clear and definite answer; usually do not involve “pick the best choice”
  • Questions in past have had 4 possible choices
  • Difficulty level of the questions is varied
  • Usually, the facts in the question are pertinent (not thrown in to distract)
  • A “yes” or “no” question will usually have two “yes” and two “no” choices with different reasons given
    e., “Yes, because
    ” or “No, because
  • Expect at least some procedural questions based on the Cal. Rules of Court, i.e., some questions have a distinct answer based on the rules of court, such as number of days given for filing a certain document.

Essay Questions

  • Essay questions are short and designed to be answered within 30 minutes – make sure to save enough time for both essays in each hour writing block
  • Essay questions include more “should” type questions (i.e., what should the attorney do in this situation?), and there may be a number of possibilities to consider rather than one correct answer
  • Focus is on issue spotting and analytical skills / application of law to facts
  • Sometimes will involve more than one subject area, such as ethics/professional responsibility and briefing
  • Answer is not always clear or definite – there may be arguable sides or a number of options to discuss
  • Facts are usually pertinent and not designed to trick you; explain the relevance (or non-relevance) of the facts in your answer
  • Helpful to outline essay questions in advance of writing to pick up on facts in question and cover areas raised by question; consider ethics and client counseling issues in addition to procedural aspects of question. Go back to your outline when you are done to make sure you wrote about everything in your outline
  • If applicable in a question, make sure to consider preliminary issues, such as the standard of review and presumptions on an appeal

Subject areas

  • See the Appellate Law 2023 Exam Subject Areas (in Pincus Handbook and available online at the bar’s website here)
  • Exam is almost entirely based on California state appellate court practice but does include USSC (petitions for certiorari)

Checklist of considerations

  1. Who is my client and what are my ethical obligations?
  2. What kind of order/judgment is at issue, and is it appealable?
  3. Is there a need for a stay or immediate relief? If so, how is it obtained?
  4. Is the record complete, and, if not, how do I ensure it becomes complete?
  5. What standard(s) of review apply, and how do they impact the likelihood of success on appeal?
  6. Were the issues properly preserved in the trial court to obtain appellate review?
  7. What are the technical briefing rules and requirements?
  8. Will there be oral argument? If so, are there new authorities to bring to the court’s attention? Is there a need for supplemental briefing?
  9. Upon review of the court’s opinion, are there errors needing correction? Is a petition for rehearing or review warranted? Certiorari?
  • Is publication ordered? Should it have been?
  • Have appellate costs been ordered? What about appellate fees? Where do you seek appellate costs and fees, if ordered, and when? Is the remittitur correct?

How to Prepare / Study Plans

  • Set aside enough time to study
  • Consider forming study groups with anyone else you might know who will be taking the exam
  • Do the sample essay questions and time yourself on them
  • Consider your strengths and weaknesses and what areas you need to focus on
    • What areas of appellate law are you more familiar or less familiar with?
    • How long has it been since you took an exam? If exam skills are rusty, you may want to take more time to prepare
  • Make sure you are familiar with the Cal. Rules of Court applicable to appeals
  • Brush up on the ethics rules that apply to appeals
  • Treatises on California appellate law such as Rutter Guide: Civil Appeals and Writs, CEB or Matthew Bender Treatises are great study aids

Practical Considerations

  • Get plenty of rest before the exam: it is a long day!
  • Have a comfortable workspace that is quiet and will be uninterrupted.
  • Remember to breathe!
  • If you fall behind in timing, do not despair; do your best to keep going.
  • Think of yourself as an appellate practitioner as you’re taking the exam, i.e., how would you advise a client who came to you with these questions.

What to Expect


Exam will take place on October 24, 2023 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

See the Bar’s Scheduling Bulletin here.

  • You should have already registered for the exam. The timely filing deadline was Aug. 15, 2023. The final late filing deadline is Sept. 15, 2023.
  • Results will be released March 15, 2024.

Exam is REMOTE for most; however, in-person is available for some.


You must use a LAPTOP COMPUTER.



  • Exam will be remotely proctored, using human proctors and artificial intelligence.
  • Any suspicious activity will be flagged.

Timing and Format

  • 8:00 a.m. to Noon: Eight 30-minute essays
  • Essay questions are given in 1-hour sessions with 2 essays per session
  • 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.: 75 multi-choice questions
  • 2 sessions of roughly 75 minutes per session


Faith Pincus

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