Corporations Must Now Be Represented By Legal Counsel At Illinois Administrative Hearings

On March 31, 2014, the Illinois Court of Appeals held that corporations must be represented by legal counsel in administrative hearings. Stone Street Partners, LLC v. City of Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings, 2014 IL App (1st) 123654. The Court determined that administrative hearings, like judicial proceedings, involve the admission of evidence and examination and cross-examination of sworn witnesses – all of which constitute the practice of law. As a result, the Court held that a non-attorney’s appearance and representation of a corporation at an administrative hearing before the Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings was unauthorized and illegitimate.

The impact of this decision on Illinois employers is significant. Noting that Illinois Courts unanimously agree that corporations must be represented by counsel in a legal proceeding, the Court held that representation of corporations at administrative hearings, particularly those which involve testimony from sworn witnesses, interpretation of laws and ordinances, and which can result in the imposition of punitive fines, must be by a licensed attorney at law. Therefore, any corporation that is forced to defend claims that involve hearings before the Illinois Human Rights Commission, the Illinois Department of Employment Security or/and the Illinois Department of Labor must now retain counsel for representation at the hearing.

Additionally, even though Department of Employment Security unemployment hearings are much more informal than other administrative hearings and may not require representation by someone with legal knowledge and skill, the Court in Stone Street Partners adopted the position of the Illinois State Bar Association which, in May 2010, reaffirmed a March 1994 advisory opinion holding that the practice of non-attorneys giving legal advice, preparing evidence for presentation and examining witnesses and otherwise participating at unemployment hearings constituted the unauthorized practice of law. Stone Street Partners probably means that employers must now also hire counsel to represent them at unemployment appeal hearings.

If you have any questions regarding the impact of this ruling, please do not hesitate to contact any one of our attorneys.

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