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Practice News

The Illinois Supreme Court has announced the formation of a Committee on Equality, charged with promoting equality and fairness in all aspects of the administration of justice in Illinois Courts.

The Committee on Equality will consist of 15 judges and attorneys appointed by the Supreme Court. The membership of the Committee will reflect the diversity of the State of Illinois itself, based on age, race, gender, and background, as well as including members from urban, suburban, and rural parts of the state.

“The Supreme Court is committed to providing equal justice under the law to all who find themselves involved with the court system,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita B. Garman said. “We are dedicated to the proposition that all litigants, witnesses, jurors, and members of the public should appreciate that our courts are free from bias and prejudice and that cases are decided purely on the basis of the law and the particular facts of each case.”

In 2013, at the Future of the Courts Conference, a number of ideas and suggestions were generated during a discussion of the need to address public perceptions of fairness and equality in the actions of the judicial branch. The Court then asked the Executive Committee of its Judicial Conference to consider the various ideas and to recommend specific actions. The creation of the new Committee on Equality is one step in that process.

“The Committee on Equality has been given an important and challenging mission – to understand public perceptions of the judicial process and to propose innovative ways to make the judicial branch more understandable and responsive to the public,” Chief Justice Garman said.

Asked and Answered

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am a senior associate in an eight-attorney elder law firm in Miami. There is one owner (founder) and seven associates including myself. The owner has approached me with a proposal to over time buy out his interests. I am the only senior associate in the firm and the only associate that he has approached concerning selling his interests. Specifically his proposal is as follows:

  1. Pay him $825,000 for the practice over five years.
  2. After five years I will own 100% of the shares.
  3. My compensation arrangement will remain the same (salary plus formula percentage incentive bonus based upon my responsible attorney collections) until I have acquired 100 percent interest of the firm.
  4. The owner wants to work in the firm indefinitely after his interest are acquired as an employee or Of Counsel.

I don't know how to respond to this proposal and would appreciate your thoughts? Is it fair? Does it make sense?

A. It makes sense for him. Seriously, you are going to need much more information than this proposal.To get started you need to ask for and review the following:

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis announced on Wednesday an application process for a vacancy in the Sixth Judicial Subcircuit of Cook County.

The vacancy was created by the retirement of Circuit Judge Leida J. Gonzalez Santiago. Judge Santiago had served as a judge since 1992, when she became the first Hispanic woman elected to the judiciary in Illinois. Her retirement takes effect July 2, 2015.
Under the Illinois Constitution, judicial vacancies are filled on an interim basis by Supreme Court appointment until the next General Election. Justice Theis will make a recommendation to the Supreme Court after applicants for the position undergo a screening and evaluation process.

The Illinois State Bar Association issued two ethics opinions today:

  • Ethics Opinion 15-01: An in-house lawyer, admitted to the bar of a state other than Illinois but with a permanent office in Illinois, may practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office on behalf of his or her employer without a limited license under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 716. Such a lawyer’s practice is restricted to those activities that are authorized by 37 C.F.R. 11.5(b).
  • Ethics Opinion 15-02: A lawyer may deposit his own funds into a client trust account to pay bank service charges on that account, and should pay himself back such funds when they are no longer necessary for that purpose. Unidentified funds contained in a client trust account must, after one (1) year from the discovery of the unidentified funds, be remitted to the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois. Unclaimed funds contained in a client trust account should, after five (5) years, be remitted to the State as abandoned property.

View our full database of ethics questions on our ethics page at www.isba.org/ethics

By Judge Barb Crowder, Edwardsville

There is now a book entirely of “selfies” (photographs one takes of oneself). The concept has been around since the 1800s, yet has taken over as a new term that everyone understands. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (Romeo and Juliet). William Shakespeare may have been among those who first pointed out that the names of things do not affect what they are but even he recognized that a turn of phrase can make a concept instantly understandable.  The court system, though perhaps not in the forefront of trends, continues try to keep up by adopting terminology and policies to better help court patrons (f/k/a ‘the public’) mired in the labyrinth of unfamiliar legal procedures. In April 2015, the court adopted the Illinois Supreme Court Policy on Assistance to Court Patrons by Circuit Clerks, Court Staff, Law Librarians, and Court Volunteers to add consistency to court programs and hopefully make the court system more ‘user-friendly’. Re-naming users of court may not change their role, but it may make the court experience more understandable.

First and foremost, the purpose of the new policy is to clarify to non-lawyers what services can actually be given to help people who come to the courthouse. No clerk or librarian enjoys frustrating an already upset individual by parroting the phrase:  “I am sorry but I am not a lawyer and cannot answer that question/help you know what to write/what to file”. Not to mention when the irate and frustrated individual begins to scream at the staff person, no one is satisfied.

Q. I know I can’t take a proprietary interest in the subject matter of litigation but does that prevent me from using a lien to secure my fees?

A. IRPC 1.8(i)(1) states that a lawyer “shall not acquire a proprietary interest in the cause of action or subject matter of litigation the lawyer is conducting for a client, except that the lawyer may: acquire a lien authorized by law to secure the lawyer’s fee or expenses.”  Comment [16] to that rule reminds a lawyer to check which liens are authorized by law in their jurisdiction. 

ISBA members can browse past ISBA Ethics Opinions, access our Ethics Hotline, and other resources on the ISBA Ethics Page.

[Disclaimer. These questions are representative of calls received on the ISBA’s ethics hotline. The information provided below is meant as an educational tool to highlight potentially applicable Illinois RPC or other ethics resources that might help the lawyer answer the question posed. The information provided isn’t legal advice. Because every situation is different, often complex, and the law is constantly evolving, you shouldn’t rely upon this general information without conducting your own research.]

Asked and Answered

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am a new law firm administrator for a 16-attorney firm in Chicago. This is my first law firm and after attending a few partner meetings I am concerned about how and where to start getting some ideas and projects implemented. I have a lot of ideas and would appreciate your suggestions.

A. Lack of focus and accountability is one of the major problems facing law firms. Many times, the problem is having too many ideas, alternatives and options. The result, often, is no decision or action at all. Ideas, recommendations, suggestions, etc., are of no value unless implemented.

Look for ways to insure that all time spent on management is spent wisely. At first identify a few (maybe three) management initiatives that you can move forward fairly quickly and get implemented. Then build upon these successes.

Don’t hide behind strategy, planning, and endless debate. Attorneys love to postpone implementation. Find ways to focus the firm and foster accountability from all.

  • Keep strategy and planning simple.
  • Undertake a few projects at a time that can be realistically accomplished.
  • Delegate tasks across the firm.
  • Build upon initial successes and move to more complex strategies, which will require more difficult degrees of change.
  • Adopt management structures that enable the firm to act decisively and quickly. Replace structures that do not support such a culture.

Don't attempt to initially, in the short term, take on management projects that the firm is unwilling or unable to implement.

Three judges have been appointed to terms on the Judicial Conference of Illinois Committee on Education.

  • Circuit Judge Robert J. Anderson of DuPage County, a member of the Judicial Conference, was reappointed to the Committee on Education for a term expiring June 30, 2021 or until he is no longer a member of the Judicial Conference.
  • Circuit Judge Colleen F. Sheehan of Cook County was appointed as an advisor of the Committee on Education for a term expiring June 30, 2022.
  • Chief Circuit Judge Craig H. DeArmond of Cumberland County was reappointed as an advisor of the Committee on Education for a term expiring June 30, 2022.

Dean Harold J. Krent (left) and ISBA President Umberto S. Davi
Dean Harold J. Krent (left) and ISBA President Umberto S. Davi
IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law has received the Illinois State Bar Association's (ISBA) first Excellence in Legal Education Award for its innovative Praxis program. Dean Harold J. Krent accepted the award on behalf of the law school at the ISBA's annual meeting June 19.

IIT Chicago-Kent is the first recipient of the award, created by the organization's Committee on Legal Education, Admissions and Competence to honor a law school program that emphasizes "real-world skills" for its students. The law school's Praxis certificate program was launched in the fall of 2014.

"The law school is honored to accept this award on behalf of so many at Chicago-Kent who have worked to make Praxis succeed," said Dean Krent. "Together we are responding to calls from the legal community for new graduates who are thoroughly trained in both the skills and the art of legal practice."

Students in the Praxis program learn to think and talk about their education in new ways, explore issues of law practice management, and learn how to build and market their own portfolios. Upon completion of all the program requirements, students earn a Praxis certificate upon graduation. Students enrolled in the Praxis program may concurrently enroll in an additional, subject-matter certificate program offered by IIT Chicago-Kent.

Our panel of leading appellate attorneys review Thursday's Illinois Supreme Court opinions in the civil cases In re Marrige of Mueller and Hadley v. Subscriber Doe and the criminal case People v. Downs.

CIVIL

In re Marriage of Mueller

By Karen Kies DeGrand, Donohue Brown Mathewson & Smyth LLC