Sometimes the court will issue a judgment that you disagree with, sometimes a judge will make mistakes, and sometimes you and a judge will simply disagree about the way the law works. After a stressful and expensive trial, what you want most is that the court get things right. Perhaps the judge heard a bit of testimony wrong, or forgot something important, or simply misinterpreted the law. Sometimes, the law governing a particular question is unclear.
Trial judges sometimes will agree to correct minor errors in a judgment. Where you and the judge disagree, however, fixing major errors can require the help of the Appeals Court, or even the Supreme Judicial Court. The process of an appeal is academic in nature, and focuses on identifying and correcting legal errors that the trial judge might have made. Involvement with the appeals court is often limited to written briefs submitted to a panel of judges, and appearances in court generally are limited to a short oral argument.
An appeal is not a trial. Ordinarily, the issues raised on appeal are limited to what happened during hearing in the trial court. After combing through the record, including all of the court’s orders, the judgment, and the trial record, each side submits a written argument (referred to as a brief) laying out the factual and legal reasons for or against setting aside the judgment. In the appeals court, the briefs are referred to a three-judge panel, which can either issue an opinion solely on the basis of the parties’s submissions or request that counsel appear for oral argument. Arguing before the appeals court is not at all like presenting a motion in the trial court: each side’s presentation is limited to a fixed amount of time (usually fifteen minutes), and the “argument” itself is largely dedicated to fielding questions from the justices, similar to a defense of an academic thesis.