Frequently Asked Questions – General
The Initial Interview
Going to Court
Billing Practices
The Appellate Process

The Initial Interview:

Is it free? No. We charge our usual hourly rates and expect payment at the conclusion of the interview. You pay only for the amount of our time that you use. For instance, if you meet with Christopher White for one-half of an hour, you will be expected to pay $200 – that is, his billing rate of $400 per hour (unless a lesser rate has been agreed upon in advance) multiplied by the time you spent meeting with him. We do take Discover, Visa and Mastercard.

Why isn’t it free? Our time and our expertise is the only thing we have to sell. The advice we give in the initial interview may be the most valuable information you receive in your entire case! We don’t think it should be free simply because it is dispensed in the first meeting.

What should I bring to the Initial Interview? Please call in advance and ask the lawyer with whom you will be meeting. Often, the answer is obvious: in a dispute involving a contract, bring the written agreement in dispute; in a probate matter involving the validity or interpretation of a will, bring the will; in an employment dispute, bring the employee file; etc. However, each case is unique, and to get the most out of the time you spend with your lawyer, it is always a good idea to find out in advance what he or she is interested in seeing.

Going to Court

How do I know if I have to be in court? Every court hearing in your case will be scheduled by a notice or a court order, and every court order will be mailed to you well in advance. If your presence is required, you will be contacted by our office a few days in advance. We will also contact you in advance if your court date is rescheduled or postponed. However, to avoid unnecessary trips to court, it is a good idea to call our secretaries the afternoon before to confirm the need for your attendance the following day.

Where is the courthouse? The courthouse is on the Northwest Corner of County Street and Washington Street in Waukegan. There are two parking garages on County Street just north of the courthouse.

What time should I be there? Most court appearances re scheduled for 9:00 a.m., although trials and lengthy evidentiary hearings are usually scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Always bring a book or work with you to the courthouse because a lot of waiting is involved. The judges schedule as many as 40 cases each morning. Your case will not be called or will be “passed” until all of the lawyers and parties are present in the courtroom. Unfortunately, this may mean waiting until 11:30 a.m. before your case is heard, and sometimes the judge will ask you to come back in the afternoon or on another day.

Where should I meet you? Unless we have prearranged a place to meet, simply proceed to your courtroom and keep a lookout for us. We generally have multiple cases scheduled and will be moving between the courtrooms, but we will make sure to give you plenty of time to ask us questions and work out the game plan before your case is called.

What should I wear? It is always a good idea to dress in a way that doesn’t show disrespect for the court. However, if you are a doctor on your way to the hospital, it is okay to be in your scrubs; if you are a construction worker on your way to a job, it is okay to be in jeans and work boots; if you are a mother with kids to shuttle around, it is okay to dress comfortably; etc. The judge will respect the fact that you work hard to support or raise your family if you respect the fact that your judge is working hard to manage and decide the many cases on his or her docket every day. What is definitely not a good idea is to dress as if you are on your way to the golf course, to present yourself as if you are someone of great wealth, or to do anything else to present the image of someone who is not intensely focused on and concerned with the outcome of the case. Modesty and honesty are always the best policies.

How should I behave in front of the judge? You should never address the judge directly unless the judge or a lawyer poses a question to you. If there is something important that you think should be brought to the judge’s attention, whisper it to your lawyer or write it down on a piece of paper. When answering a question posed to you by a lawyer or the judge, maintain good posture, look your interrogator in the eye, and answer firmly and convincingly. Never interrupt the judge, and if the judge interrupts you, immediately stop talking. Resist the temptation to start arguing with the other lawyer or the judge.
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Billing Practices
How do you decide what to charge me? Unless a contingent fee agreement is arranged, we bill in quarter-hour increments for time spent on your case. Our hourly rates are commensurate with our abilities, experience and reputation.

Do I get charged if I call just to ask a “quick question?” That depends. If it is truly just a quick question, it is probably one that a secretary can answer, in which case there will be no charge. If it is truly a quick question for one of the lawyers, there will also be no charge. However, if you spend five minutes on the phone obtaining legal advice, you will be charged our minimum time increment of a quarter-hour. For that reason, it is a good idea to wait until you have list of questions or issues to discuss before calling us so as to use our time most economically.

Do you charge for travel time to court and waiting time in court? One of the things that makes us very competitive in our billing practices is that we handle a sizeable volume of cases and limit our practice to Lake County. When we are in court on multiple cases, we spread the travel and waiting time among all of our clients with matters in court on that particular occasion, rather than bill you for all such time. For instance, your case might be scheduled for 9:00 a.m. but might not be ‘called’ by the judge until 11:30 a.m., meaning that we will spend at least three hours of travel, waiting, and court time on your case, but if we have a number of other cases scheduled for the same morning and can pass on some of that travel and waiting time to other clients, you may only be charged for an hour or less.
Do I get charged for the time of two lawyers when an associate asks a partner for advice? No. Only the least expensive lawyer in the room bills for intra-office meetings where the client is not in attendance. However, if your case is a complicated one, we may determine that effective representation requires the involvement of two or more lawyers for preparation and trial, in which case you will be charged for the time of all such lawyers involved.
How do I know what I am getting charged for? We typically send an itemized statement every month detailing all of the charges incurred over the past 30 days with a general description of the nature of the charge and name of the lawyer who expended the time on your case.

How long do I have to pay my bill? Typically, we charge a refundable retainer before we will take your case. Any such retainer taken will be applied against your monthly charges until the retainer is exhausted. Thereafter, we generally expect you to pay our bills promptly upon receipt of the monthly statement. If the amount due in a particular month is unusually large or there are other demands on you cash flow, please call us to discuss so that we can figure out an installment plan that will get us paid without leaving you financially strapped.
Can I pay by credit card to build up miles or reward points?
Yes, we accept MasterCard and Visa.
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The Appellate Process

What is the Appellate Court? The Appellate Court consists of a panel of three judges in Elgin, Illinois, who are available to review rulings made by the trial judges in Lake County who decide your case. The litigant who is unhappy with the decision of the trial judge and who requests review in the Appellate Court is called the “Appellant.” The litigant who wants to uphold the ruling of the Circuit Court judge is called the “Appellee.” The function of the Appellate Court is to correct mistakes made by the trial judges in their interpretation and application of the law, and to ensure that the factual findings of the trial judges are supported by at least some evidence.

What does the Appellate Court consider when reviewing trial court rulings? The Appellate Court bases its decision on all of the pleadings, motions, orders, and exhibits filed in your case, and all of the testimony, arguments, and court rulings transcribed by court reporters in your case, which in aggregate comprises the “record on appeal.” The Appellate Court also reviews briefs filed by the parties that argue as to whether errors have been committed. The Appellate Court does not consider any evidence or other matter not supported by the record on appeal.
When can an appeal be sought? Generally, an appeal may not be filed until after the trial court has made its final ruling in the case. However, some rulings made during the case, such as rulings involving injunctions, contempt sanctions, and changes of child custody, are immediately appealable. Strict timing requirements too complicated to explicate here determine the ‘window’ within which an appeal may be sought.

How long does an appeal take? Generally, an appeal takes between eight and twenty months from commencement to completion. However, for certain kinds of rulings, such as injunctions, where the trial judge’s ruling has a drastic impact on the parties, the process can be much quicker. For instance, if the trial judge enters a temporary restraining order barring the conduct of business on the basis of a non-competition agreement, and that order is appealed, the appeal would be heard within two days of entry of the order and the Appellate Court would likely rule the following day.

What does the Appellate process consist of and why are appeals expensive? Appeals are expensive because of the cost to the Appellant of having all of the trial proceedings transcribed (generally between $400 and $800 for each day of testimony), and the time it takes the appellate attorneys to prepare the briefs. The attorneys must read the entire record on appeal, the attorney for the appellant must prepare a written statement of facts disclosing everything that happened in the trial court pertinent to the issues appealed from, with citations to the record on appeal in support of every assertion made, the attorneys must research all of the reported decisions by Illinois courts that have previously addressed the same or analogous issues, and the attorneys must draft written arguments based on the record on appeal and those reported decisions. The Appellant files the first brief, not to exceed 50 pages; the Appellee then files a brief responding to the Appellant’s arguments, also not to exceed 50 pages; and the Appellant then files a second brief, not to exceed 20 pages, in reply to the Appellee’s arguments. If, after reading the briefs, the judges of the Appellate Court have questions for the lawyers, the lawyers may be ordered to appear before the Appellate Court in Elgin for oral arguments.

Is the trial judge’s ruling enforceable while the appeal is pending? Generally, yes. The parties are required to follow the trial judge’s rulings even though an appeal has been taken unless the appellant obtains a “stay” of the ruling. Usually, the only rulings subject to a stay are those affecting an interest in property or the payment of a money judgment. To obtain a stay, the appellant may be required to post a bond in the form of a deposit with the clerk of the court, with an approved surety, or into an escrow account equal to approximately 150% of the value of the property or money judgment at issue; otherwise, the Appellee is free to enforce the judgment through contempt proceedings, garnishments, levies, and the like. If a bond is posted and the Appellant wins the appeal, the collateral is refunded. If a bond is posted and the Appellant loses the appeal, then the collateral is forfeited to the extent necessary to pay the Appellee the amount of the judgment, post-judgment interest at the rate of 9% per annum, the costs of the appeal excluding attorneys fees, and any other damages the Appellee can prove by reason of the stay of enforcement. If no stay is obtained, the judgment is executed, and the Appellant ultimately wins the appeal, the Appellant must then seek restitution from the Appellee for all money or property of the Appellant disposed of by the Appellee while the appeal was pending.

When can an appeal be taken to the Illinois Supreme Court? Unless the trial judge has sentenced one of the parties to death, the Illinois Supreme Court is under no obligation to accept a petition for leave to appeal. The appeal must first go to the Appellate Court, and if one of the parties is dissatisfied with the Appellate Court’s ruling, that party can petition the Illinois Supreme Court for leave to appeal, but such petitions are rarely granted.

Are attorney fees incurred on appeal subject to contribution from the other party? Except where there is a contract that requires the breaching party to pay litigation expenses, there is no obligation on the part of the loser in the trial court to pay the expenses of the winner on appeal.