Appellate Law 101: What To Expect During An Appeal

Sometimes the court gets it wrong. While it can feel like a judgment or verdict is final, that is not always the case. The courts are designed to reach fair and impartial conclusions, and sometimes getting what’s fair requires going to the appellate court.

What exactly is an appeals court and how does it work? We go through some of the basics, so you know what to expect during an appeal.

A trial court’s decisions are subject to review by an appeals court. This means that you can appeal a ruling that went against you. Conversely, the other side may appeal if you won.

The judges in an appeals court determine whether an error was made in your original trial. There are many reasons to file an appeal, which is why it’s important to work with an attorney who understands the intricacies of appellate law.

Decisions can be appealed in a wide range of cases, including:

  • Family law
  • Commercial litigation
  • Estate litigation
  • Business disputes
  • Real estate litigation
  • Employment law
  • Administrative review

The Record On Appeal

An appeal is started by filing a “Notice of Appeal.” Sometimes, both parties want to appeal, and in those cases, the second party files a “Notice of Cross-Appeal.” Next, the appellant (the party that wants to appeal) has the clerk and the court reporters prepare the record, which includes all the filings in the trial court, exhibits, and transcripts of hearings.

It is very important that the trial court has addressed any issue you want to have heard in the Appellate Court, and that there is a record of the issue being addressed. Sometimes if there was no court reporter a summary of what the testimony was needs to be prepared, which is called a “Bystander’s Report.”

The Appellate Briefs

The appellate brief will be the most important part of your appeal. This is where the primary argument is made on your behalf. The appellant files the first brief, the appellee then files a responding brief and the appellant then files a short reply.

Unlike in a jury trial, there is no testimony. Instead, an appeals court determines whether the trial court made a mistake.
Illinois has five appellate court districts, and your case will be heard by a panel of three justices in your jurisdiction. Federal cases in Illinois are reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago.

Oral Argument

The Appellate Court may ask for oral argument; different districts have different practices. In an oral argument, each side has 20 minutes to present their case, and the appellant has an additional 10 minutes for rebuttal. Most of the time, an oral argument consists of the justices asking clarifying questions of the attorneys on both sides.

Court Decision

Once the court has heard both sides, the justices will make a written ruling. The ruling explains the facts, the applicable law, and the application of the law to the facts. Sometimes a decision is “published,” meaning that it becomes part of the law of the State of Illinois. All decisions, however, are available for public viewing on

A party that loses in the Appellate Court may appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. That court does not have to take every case, and it usually accepts only cases where there is an issue of “substantial importance,” or where two or more panels of the Appellate Court have reached different decisions on similar issues. If your case is a federal case or there are federal issues involved, you may even ask the United States Supreme Court to hear the matter. That court also has the discretion to accept a case or not. If it accepts the case, you can be sure your case is one that raises issues of national importance.

Arrange A Consultation

Find out what you can expect in the appeals process by reading our FAQs or contacting us to schedule an initial consultation. For certain matters, we offer free initial consultations with one of our attorneys. We also offer low flat rates for other initial consultations. Call to arrange your consultation today.