My first two years out of law school found me working for a downtown Chicago law firm and practicing in an area of law that didn’t really interest me: workers’ compensation defense. I worked on the behalf of employers and insurance companies, and it was impossible for me to feel much passion for the work.
So, in late 2008 I went solo and began taking criminal cases; first in misdemeanor court but within a month or so I was handling felonies at 26th & California in that old Chicago courthouse that is both famous and infamous. I was extremely passionate and hungry when I began my criminal practice. I was actually helping people rather than a corporate bottom line. I put 100% of myself into my practice.
But very soon I became intimately aware of how broken the Chicago criminal justice system is. I came to feel that defendants were rarely given due justice but were rather processed by an uncaring system. I pressed on and fought the good fight. I grilled Chicago police officers in motion hearings and trials. I stood up to prosecutors and judges who told me my clients should plead guilty. I handled the tough cases no other attorneys wanted. And every day I tried to make a difference.
But I burned out.
By the time my fourth year handing felony cases was almost finished, I began to feel unhealthy. Substance abuse was not an option. I kept going to court and fighting. And in my fifth and final year of practice I had some great trial results.
A first-degree murder client was found not guilty of that crime but guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder, which meant the jury decided my client had acted in unreasonable self-defense. His prison sentence was a fraction of what a first-degree conviction would have brought: more or less a life sentence–at least 65 years. In fact, that client was paroled last summer after only five years in prison. My very last trial was an armed robbery with a firearm case that ended in a not guilty verdict. Even at the end of my time in Chicago I was still good in court.
And so, I spent a year closing my practice and left in the summer of 2013. I knew then that some day I would return to my profession. It wasn’t the work that had burned me out: it was the city. I am a son of Springfield; not a big-city boy. But the experience from slugging it out in those Chicago felony courtrooms almost every day was priceless. If you can practice criminal defense law successfully in Chicago, you can do it anywhere.
I have returned to my hometown and look forward to building another practice by helping those who need it.