10:28 AM

Missouri lawyers recognized for appellate advocacy

The Missouri Bar Foundation recently selected three lawyers for the 2021 David J. Dixon Appellate Advocacy Awards. This award was created by The Missouri Bar Foundation to recognize outstanding achievement in appellate practice by young lawyers practicing in the state. The award is named after the late Judge Dixon, whose tenacity, professionalism, and judicial skills exemplify superior appellate practice.

Emily Danker-Feldman, Damien de Loyola, and John C. Steffens are this year’s recipients of the David J. Dixon Appellate Advocacy Award.

Danker-Feldman’s dedication to her work is evident in her love of words and deep empathy for individuals, especially those in the justice system. “I prefer to get people out of prison than to put them in,” she explains.

Danker-Feldman received her bachelor’s degrees in economics and English from Georgetown University and obtained a dual degree in law and social work from Washington University, where she was also President of OUTLaw, the LGBTQ*[FF1]  law student organization.

In May 2020, Danker-Feldman joined the Midwest Innocence Project as Supervising Attorney and Director of the Innocence Clinic at the University of Missouri School of Law. In her roles, she supervises the review and litigation of prospective DNA cases involving eyewitness misidentification in Missouri and teaches a Wrongful Convictions seminar course as well as leads an Innocence Clinic.

“I became a lawyer because mass incarceration, with its targeting of people of color, struck me as one of the most pressing human rights violations in the United States,” Danker-Feldman stated. “In my experience, power comes down to who must see and understand and accommodate whom, whose experience is legible and whose isn’t. People—incarcerated people, wrongfully convicted people, people with a criminal history—deserve to have their stories heard.”

Damien de Loyola grew up in Jefferson City and went on to attend the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Graduating with bachelor’s degrees in history and secondary education as well as a certificate in women’s and gender studies, he then went on to the University of Alabama, receiving a master’s degree in history, and later graduating from the University of Missouri-Kansas City with both a law degree and a master’s degree in public administration.

Since 2012, de Loyola has been with the Missouri State Public Defender System and is the District Defender for Area 69, one of the appellate-postconviction offices in Kansas City.

De Loyola is passionate about the work he does on behalf of others. “I am primarily driven by the desire to ensure all people in this country, irrespective of how much money they have, the crimes of which they are accused, or any other factor, have their rights protected and respected,” he explains.

“I am also driven by all of my colleagues in the Missouri State Public Defender System. My office is full of smart and dedicated people who are always willing to help. It is a wonderfully collaborative and supportive environment in which to practice law.”

John C. Steffens comes from a small town in Southeast Missouri. He attended the University of Missouri for both his undergraduate degree in journalism and law school. Although he spent a few years working for a large firm in St. Louis, he chose to move closer to home in 2013.

Since that time, Steffens has been with The Limbaugh Firm in Cape Girardeau. He maintains a civil trial practice in state and federal courts in both Missouri and Illinois, focusing primarily on commercial disputes, real estate disputes and wrongful death/personal injury work for both plaintiffs and defendants.

Steffens offers the following advice to new lawyers aspiring to similar recognition, “I believe too many attorneys think appellate practice requires long briefs with numerous points and oral presentations with big, showy arguments. I think the opposite is true.”

“The judges reviewing your case are smart. They are going to understand the law. Your goal is to convince them to apply it in a certain way to your case. So, figure out the few things about your case that are most likely to convince them you are right,” Steffens explains. “That should be front and center in your brief, using as simple and direct language as possible. When you are preparing to argue your case, try and anticipate the questions you will get and prepare your answers for those questions. Some of those questions may not have even come up at the trial level. At the time of the argument, get directly to the points you have decided to make and when you are done, sit down.”

The Missouri Bar Foundation and The Missouri Bar congratulate these young lawyers on their passion and dedication to their profession. Each will receive a $750 stipend. Visit MoBar.org to learn more about annual awards and here to view a list of all past recipients of this Missouri Bar Foundation award.