Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Supreme Court fills two Cook County judicial vacancies

Andrea M. Buford
In an order entered today, the Illinois Supreme Court appointed Andrea M. Buford to a countywide judicial vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Pamela E. Hill-Veal. Buford's appointment is effective May 17 and will terminate December 1, 2014.

Buford has had her own Loop law practice since 2001. Before that, Buford practiced with Buford Peters Ware & Zanzitis and as a partner with the law firm of Jones Ware & Grenard. A 1986 graduate of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, Buford is a former president of the Cook County Bar Association and currently serves as President of the Cook County Bar Foundation. She also serves as a Commissioner for the Illinois Court of Claims.

Pamela McLean Meyerson
The Supreme Court today also appointed Pamela McLean Meyerson to the 11th Subcircuit vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Susan J. McDunn. Meyerson's appointment is effective June 7 and terminates December 1, 2014.

Meyerson has a solo law practice in Oak Park since 1989, representing individuals and small businesses in civil disputes involving contracts, construction, fair housing, consumer fraud, and other conflicts. She has also organized and advised small businesses "from restaurants to record companies, contractors to computer consultants, [and] midwives to meatpackers." Meyerson began her legal career with the firm of Antonow & Fink, moving thereafter to Goldberg Kohn Ltd.

A 1983 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, Meyerson has helped teach the Intensive Trial Practice Work at the University of Chicago's Mandel Legal Aid Clinic since 2000.

Today's appointments are noteworthy in that they are the first credited to the screening committee created by Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis. As the court's press release today notes, "Traditionally, the three justices from the First Judicial District in Cook County rotate in recommending" candidates for appointment to Cook County vacancies as they occur. However, the court has not always disclosed which justice has recommended a particular appointment.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Access to justice must involve access to lawyers

Equal access to justice is on the minds of so many in the legal profession these days. It was the theme of the recent Illinois Justice Foundation Spring Reception; a page on the Legal Assistance Foundation website proclaims, "Equal Justice Starts Here."

We are all agreed on the destination; we are, however, uncertain how to get there. The Illinois Supreme Court has established a Commission on Access to Justice to help us chart the way.

Not so long ago, the vision was much clearer: Lawyers would lead the way to equal justice. We are just past the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), when the U.S. Supreme Court mandated that states must provide indigent defendants in criminal cases with lawyers at state expense. Equal access to justice was equivalent to equal access to lawyers.

Today, though, lawyers are seen as more a problem than a solution. It may not be polite to say so directly, but lawyers are considered too darned expensive. It's not just the indigent who can not afford lawyers; quality legal representation seems beyond the reach of the not-so-poor, even the middle class. Small businesses increasingly skimp on legal representation. Some of them may not suffer for it. But only some.

Lawyers are increasingly urged to provide pro-bono representation. Illinois lawyers are required to report how many hours they donate each year; New York lawyers are now required to donate 50 hours of pro-bono time in order to keep their licenses. This approach might provide an effective stopgap if there were a critical shortage of lawyers, while law schools churned out new recruits.

But the unavailability of legal representation for so many is not due to any shortage of lawyers; on the contrary, newly minted lawyers are flipping burgers and folding pants. Law schools are being sued (so far without much success) for providing inflated statistics about employment prospects. Meanwhile, older lawyers are getting jettisoned from firms; many are abandoning the profession.

Some blame the disconnect between persons in need of legal services and legal service providers who can not find work on law schools, others on outmoded business methods generally (and the hourly fee in particular).

These surely play a role, but I believe there's a third, greater culprit: Discovery.

Discovery is the wedge that is dividing BIG LAW from the rest of us (call us little law if you like).

John Flynn Rooney reported in Friday's Chicago Daily Law Bulletin that McDermott, Will & Emery LLP
has expanded its discovery center operations to house up to 125 project attorneys working out of three locations.

That includes 90 in Chicago, up from 60; a new document review facility for up to 25 lawyers in Menlo Park, Calif.; and space for 10 lawyers at a Washington, D.C., facility.

The discovery center attorneys review and store electronic information that is used before and during litigation. The firm can have up to 175 lawyers reviewing documents simultaneously.

The staff attorneys are permanent firm employees who are not on a partnership track and are paid an annual salary, [firm co-chairman Jeffrey E.] Stone said.
According to the Law Bulletin article, a team of 20 technology professionals backs up the McDermott attorneys, and the firm has invested in new document-reviewing technologies, particularly in its Silicon Valley location.

Stories like this tell me that it is time for those of us in little law to recognize that our colleagues in BIG LAW are evolving into a different profession. We should wish them well, but let them go their own way; we must no longer ape them.

And, make no mistake, we in little law have for too long tried to imitate our BIG LAW brothers and sisters.

I remember, as a baby lawyer a generation ago, how excited my elders were when new word processing technology permitted us to propound form interrogatories, just like the big firms. The big firms have aggressively pursued full discovery for decades. Once they could, smaller firms followed suit: Discovery has gone from an option to a necessity in the course of my career. I tried a case 18 years ago in which next to no discovery had been taken. The insurer pulled the file from the first defense firm it had retained (even back then there were mutterings that failing to pursue complete discovery was near-malpractice at least) and my initial task was to frantically beg and plead the court to open up discovery. I tried groveling, even, but it was no use. I was forced out to trial.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the world did not end: The weekend before the trial I went out to inspect the locus in quo with my 10-year old son. We took some pictures. I came up with a strategy and it actually worked (I got a defense verdict).

I don't think this sort of thing happens very often these days: Motion Judges in the Law Division today conduct case management conferences every 30 to 60 days, or even more frequently, on occasion, when an attorney fails to complete discovery tasks as expected. Discovery is done or it is waived -- with a written order documenting the choice. If something bad happens down the road, no one wants to have a forfeiture order proving that he or she didn't do all that was possible.

All this discovery costs money. Insurance companies may complain about the expenses, but it's the uninsured litigants who crumble under the costs.

Those of us left behind in little law are going to have to find some way to help clients resolve disputes without automatically incurring the expenses of discovery. Let BIG LAW build 'discovery centers.' We should work on early dispute resolutions, using mediation or any other tools we can develop. Realistically, if we hope to provide equal justice for all, realistic access to lawyers in a streamlined, cost-effective litigation process will have to be part of the overall solution.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Illinois Judges Foundation hosts successful Spring Reception

"Equal Justice for All" was the theme of Wednesday evening's Illinois Judges Foundation Spring Reception, held at the Chicago Bar Association.

Circuit Court Judge and IJF President Laura Liu presented honoree Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride with the Foundation's Access to Justice Award and a personalized White Sox jersey. More importantly, however, the IJF will use the proceeds of this week's fundraiser to fund an internship for an Illinois law student to work with the Supreme Court's Commission on Access to Justice. In accepting the Justice for All Award for himself and on behalf of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Kilbride announced his own generous contribution toward the internship (and it must be noted that this announcement was made before he found out that he was getting the Sox jersey).

Chief Judge James F. Holderman of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois honored the assembly with an original poem and Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans presented the IJF's annual Harold Sullivan Scholarship Award to Ms. Ariel Johnson, a 2L at Loyola University School of Law. In his remarks conferring the award, Judge Evans offered a personal recollection of the late Judge Sullivan as a friend and mentor.

Despite my obvious limitations as a photographer, I was able to obtain images of a few of the many attendees at the event.

Judge Karen O'Malley, Justice Michael B. Hyman,
Chicago attorney John T. Theis and Justice Stuart Palmer

Decalogue Society President Michael A. Strom
and Oak Park attorney Pamela McLean Meyerson

Assistant AG (and former Circuit Judge) Joan Smuda
and Chicago attorney (and former Appellate Court Justice) Gino DiVito

Dziak posts "Three-Pete" in Boston

Peter Dziak, 15, of west suburban Villa Park, won a third consecutive World Championship at the 2013 World Irish Dance Championships in Boston, Massachusetts last month.

Dziak is a student of the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance and his achievement, and the many successes of other Trinity students, are celebrated on Trinity's Facebook page. In the case of young Mr. Dziak, I believe it is safe to refer to his latest championship as a "three-Pete" without any danger of owing money to Pat Riley.

Full disclosure: Peter Dziak is the son of Joan and Dick Dziak. Joan Marie Dziak (nee Sullivan) is my cousin. And I'm very happy for Joan, Dick, Peter and all the rest of the Dziak clan.