Oppression through Litigation

David vs Goliath: How Corporate Interests Dominate Civil Appellate Litigation & What We Can Do About It

A gap in access to expert appellate legal representation has enabled wealthy corporations to shape the legal landscape to their benefit. Plaintiff-side appellate litigators are trying to change that.

Simone Unwalla

January 31, 2023

When someone sues a corporation for violating their rights, the path to success isn’t easy. In courtroom dramas on TV, the story usually ends when the jury comes back from their deliberations and finds in favor of the brave individual who took on the corporate giant. In real life, the plaintiff doesn’t get to celebrate their victory after winning a big trial. Instead of the screen fading to black, the real-life plaintiff must shift their focus to the next obstacle: the appeal. This is another round of litigation in front of a new audience, the appellate court. Appeals present a particular challenge to individuals seeking accountability from powerful, wealthy corporations. Corporate defendants have teams of legal experts that specialize in winning appeals and developing the law in the process. Plaintiffs typically don’t. The imbalance drives case outcomes and produces a body of legal precedent that heavily favors corporate interests.

This article explores the gap in expert appellate representation that is transforming our legal landscape and restricting the ability of individuals to secure justice when they are victims of corporate harm. Plaintiffs’ lack of access to appellate representation has systemic consequences, and the issue deserves more critical attention. In this moment – when business interests are influencing our courts more successfully than ever before – appellate representation on behalf of plaintiffs can do an enormous amount of good. Law students interested in appellate work should be aware of this imbalance and its consequences, and legal institutions should do more to encourage careers working on behalf of plaintiffs on appeal.