The judges should decide on the merits, right? So what difference does having skilled appellate counsel make? Howard Bashman suggests:
One of the most important ways that an experienced appellate lawyer can be of help, even before anyone stands up in court to argue the appeal, is by identifying the strongest issues that can be raised on appeal, by setting forth the facts in a manner that is faithful to the record but also helpful to the client, and by marshalling the applicable law in a way that most persuasively supports the result being sought on appeal.Law.com - May the Best Appellate Lawyer Win, Unless the Facts or Law Dictate Otherwise, April 9, 2007.
Did you know that Justice Blackmun used to grade the counsel who appeared before him? He scored current Justices Alito, Ginsburg, and Roberts "average." Let that be a comfort to the students who have noticed that their grades are not the straight As they were used to in college. You can still achieve a thing or two even if someone gives you an average score.