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The act of presenting oneself in a court and thereby submitting to the court's jurisdiction, but only for a specific purpose and not for all the purposes for which a lawsuit is brought.
A party makes a special appearance before a state court for the sole purpose of objecting to the court's jurisdiction over that party. If the party makes a general appearance to respond to the lawsuit, instead of a special appearance, then Common Law dictates that the party thereby waives any objection to the court's jurisdiction over her. A party may object to the court's jurisdiction for a number of reasons, such as when Service of Process was insufficient or defective, there is a variance between the complaint and the summons, or the lawsuit was brought in the wrong court. When a party wants to make a jurisdictional objection, she has the right to appear for the special purpose of making that objection, but according to common law, the party must clearly and specifically state to the court that she is specially appearing.
Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure has abolished the distinction between general and special appearances for federal courts. Therefore, parties can raise a jurisdictional objection along with other defenses in a responsive pleading in federal court. However, if a party wishes to make the jurisdictional objection initially without having to prepare a full responsive Pleading, the federal courts will permit that party to do so if he specially appears.
Some states have followed the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and have eliminated for state court matters the distinction between general and special appearances. Many states still acknowledge the distinction, however, and some specifically provide for the distinction by statute.
n. the representation by an attorney of a person in court for: a) only that particular session of the court; b) on behalf of the client's regular attorney of record; c) as a favor for an unrepresented person, or d) pending a decision as to whether the attorney agrees to handle the person's case. A special appearance is different from a "general appearance" in which the attorney is committed to represent the client in all future matters, hearings, and trial of the case unless he/she is allowed to withdraw or is substituted "out of" the case by the client. Quite often an attorney will make a "special appearance" to protect the interests of a potential client, but before a fee has been paid or arranged. (See: general appearance)