Questions I am asked from potential clients
How long have you been practicing the law?
I have been a lawyer for 26 years. I went to law school at Southern Illinois University School of Law and passed the bar on the first try in 1996. Most lawyers and judges in Southern Illinois attended SIUC School of Law. Experience and knowing the judges and attorneys you will face in court is key when hiring a lawyer.
Why don’t you specialize in one area of the law?
I hear all the time that lawyers, and even other professionals, need to concentrate in one area of their profession. Nothing could be further from the truth. A lawyer that handles many types of cases is called a “general practitioner”. Abraham Lincoln was a general practitioner. I have clients that need advice concerning divorce, traffic tickets, DUI, business law, personal injury cases, contracts, estate planning, civil litigation and a lot more. I made it a point in my law career to really learn and hone my skills in many different areas. I also have a network of other attorneys and professionals, such as CPA’s, investigators, process servers, DNA experts and custody experts that I consult with and sometimes refer clients to. My clients deserve someone who can guide them in all types of legal situations. If I can’t handle it, I will get you to someone I trust to take care of your legal issue.
REAL LIFE EXAMPLE OF WHY A GENERAL PRACTIONER IS BEST FOR YOU
The following fact pattern has occurred many times over my legal career. A client (let’s call him Ned) comes into the office for a divorce consultation. When he gets to the office, he tells me his wife has filed an order of protection stating Ned has abused her. He denies the allegations. Some divorce lawyers will not handle the order of protection as it requires a lot of preparation, and the case will be litigated in court.
Some lawyers do not like contentious court battles. If the order of protection is granted, Ned will lose his FOID card and other bad things can happen. Ned also had a DUI as the divorce hit him hard. I have handled hundreds of divorces, DUI’s, and orders of protection. Ned now has three different types of legal problems, with three different judges in three different courtrooms. Ned hired me for all three cases so Ned is in good hands.
Ned’s legal problems are eventually handled to his satisfaction. Later, he is getting remarried. He wants a prenuptial agreement this time around as the earlier divorce taught him a prenup is key to avoiding messy and expensive litigation. He also wants to discuss a will and trust and engage in estate planning. My office handled the prenuptial agreement, and I referred Ned to a colleague who is the “best in the business” when it comes to estate planning.
A few years down the road, one of Ned’s kids from his first marriage did not take the divorce very well. He started hanging out with the wrong crowd and got into drugs. He was eventually charged with a felony case of drug possession as drugs were found in a car his son was a passenger in. Ned called me right away to get legal advice. He was relieved when I told him that I have handled thousands of felonies over the years. Ned told me later he did not want to have to meet and hire a new lawyer as he already had a good relationship with my office and trusted me.
Ned’s story is not unique. My office wants to help you, your family and friends. I want to be a trusted adviser that my clients can go to in their times of trouble. That’s what the best lawyers do; they help you through tough times so you can enjoy the better days ahead.
Do I need a lawyer for my legal problem?
Sometimes people call me and are unsure if they need a lawyer. They usually are considering handling their legal problem by themselves. Representing yourself in court is called going “pro se.” “Pro se” is a Latin term meaning “self” or “in one’s own behalf.” The legal profession uses a lot of Latin terms. Sometimes just the language of the legal system alone can be confusing to a pro se litigant.
In divorce cases, my answer is usually yes, you need an attorney. And not just any attorney. You need an experienced attorney that can handle your legal problems. The divorce court system is complex, with lots of rules, deadlines, and paperwork. If you miss a deadline you may lose your case instantly. If you fail to follow the rules you may lose your case instantly. If you decide to represent yourself in a divorce or other type of civil case, and the other party hires an attorney, most of the time the other attorney can outmaneuver a person who is representing themself.
CRIMINAL CHARGES and TRAFFIC CHARGES
In a criminal case or traffic case, the State’s Attorney prosecutes the case. The State’s Attorney’s Office has unlimited resources to prosecute you. The State’s Attorney will have a staff of assistant state’s attorneys and a building full of support staff. They have access to free investigators, experts and police officers. They see and interact with the court staff and judges everyday. Usually, their office is located inside the courthouse, sometimes a few feet down the hall from the judge’s chambers! The State’s Attorney has one job; to prosecute you. The prosecutors handle thousands of cases a year and have very experienced trial attorneys waiting to show their stuff, in court, against you!
SHOULD I REPRESENT MYSELF PRO SE IN COURT?
Here are some good questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to represent yourself in a legal matter, either divorce or criminal. Will you know the rules of evidence? Will you know what legal pleadings and motions to file? Will you know how to subpoena witnesses? Will you know how to prepare and serve a summons? Do you know the judge’s preferences and the rules in his or her courtroom? Will you know the sentencing procedures? Do you know how to e-file documents at the courthouse? Will you have access to case law and know how to research case law? Do you know the statutes involved in your case? Will you know how to file and perfect an appeal? Do you have a lot of extra time to work on your case? Do you know what interrogatories and a request to produce are? If you answer “no” to any of these questions, you need an experienced lawyer.
However, experienced attorneys are more expensive than younger, inexperienced lawyers. I charge a good fee for my services because I know I am worth it. More importantly, my clients know I am worth it. I have a lot of repeat business and have worked with many families to solve their legal issues over the last few decades. In the future, I look forward to working with you and your family.
How can you represent guilty people in a criminal case?
I get this question all the time. The best lawyers know that it is not their job to judge their client’s guilt or innocence. That job is for the judge or jury. It is my job to be loyal to my client and make sure they are treated fairly. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees criminal defendants the right to an attorney. The legal system is an adversarial process, which means both sides fight for their client. I am hired to protect my client and do my very best in court to win the case. I have hundreds of criminal trials under my belt and rarely lose. My office will work overtime, on holidays and Sundays, if necessary, to prepare and win your criminal case.
INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY
You may have heard the phrase, “innocent until proven guilty.” However, that phrase is not always true. People ask me all the time, how can I be charged with a crime just because someone said I did it? The answer is that the police are overworked and have a lot of cases to investigate. When called to investigate a crime, they may make judgments calls in minutes and decide who is telling the truth, even though they do not personally know the person making the allegations. A brief story about a case I handled will show you what I mean.
REAL LIFE EXAMPLE OF WHY I REPRESENT SO CALLED “GUILTY PEOPLE”
I have handled many first-degree murder cases in my career. In one of those cases, my client was charged with first degree murder and the State of Illinois was seeking the death penalty. My client was found in a car, miles away from the scene of the crime. He was driving with a friend and his girlfriend to Canada. He had no idea that the “friend” he was with had committed a murder just hours before. The police pulled over the car and he was arrested for first degree murder.
The police believed they had an airtight case. They thought the physical evidence pointed towards my client’s guilt. Under police questioning, my client repeatedly denied being involved in the murder. His “friend” initially denied my client was involved in the murder. However, the police offered him a “deal” and his story changed. He finally relented to police pressure and fingered my client.
Another attorney and I handled the case together. We both have a lot of experience in first degree murder cases. We immediately asked for the crime scene to be preserved and we hired a crime scene investigator. We also hired a private investigator.
We met with our client in jail, who was scared to death. He was literally shaking and crying. He was young, in handcuffs and had no idea why he was in jail. He insisted he was innocent. By that time, the story had broke on television and in the papers. Of course, the news coverage showed him in an orange jumpsuit and in handcuffs being led to jail. All the public saw was that the police arrested a young man who was accused of murder. He was now “guilty until proven innocent.” The police wouldn’t arrest someone, handcuff them and throw him in jail if he was innocent, would they?
The State’s Attorney was convinced he was guilty also. The judge, before hearing a scrap of evidence, set his bond at one million dollars. Our client was going to be in jail for the foreseeable future. That is when we got to work. Our crime scene investigator found fatal flaws in the police work. Our private investigator found issues with the timeline and physical evidence. We re-interviewed witnesses and poured over the police reports.
We proved that our client was innocent. The police had stopped investigating the case once charges were filed. Nobody but the defense team and his family cared about our client or whether he was guilty or innocent. No one was working for him except us. And it was only because we had an experienced team of lawyers and investigators that that young man is free today. All the charges were dismissed, and he now lives a healthy and happy life. That is why I represent all my clients to the best of my ability; I do not know when they hire me if they are guilty or innocent. My job is to use all my experience, in and out of the court room, to represent my clients with fire and vigor. My firm is ready to do that for you or your loved one.
How long is the case going to take?
This is a question that is extremely difficult to answer at times. However, I understand that my clients want the case out of their life as soon as possible and would like an answer to this critical question. No one wants to be in court, paying attorneys and having their life turned upside down for years and years. I will go over a few categories of cases to give you an idea of how the cases move through the system.
DIVORCE AND CUSTODY CASES
My divorce and custody clients ask me “how long is this going to last?” They often say “I just want to be divorced and away from him/her.” I generally advise my clients the divorce process takes time. After a case is filed, the first setting is usually two or three months after that. All of the assets and debts need to be disclosed in a process called "discovery." If custody is an issue, I have to meet with the client and get a lot of background information about the other party. Are they abusive? Do they have a drug or alcohol problem? Do they have mental issues? Do we need a private investigator to uncover evidence? Those are just a few areas we explore. We then have to gather evidence and records to support our position, which also takes time.
If there is going to be a custody hearing, I always prepare thoroughly with my client. We go over exhibits, testimony and cross examination of the other party. I believe preparation is key to winning a case. There may be temporary hearings to decide what happens while the divorce or custody case is pending. Then there is a final hearing to decide all the issues on a permanent basis.
To schedule a hearing, the court must be available to hear the case. Sometimes the court has no openings to hear the case for two or three months or even more. The reality is the court system is filled with divorce and custody cases. The courts have schedules that the attorneys must work with. If the other side has an attorney then the judge has to calendar the case to align with both the attorneys schedules and the judge's schedule.
Once a hearing has finished, the court usually “reserves” judgment and issues a ruling later. That also can take some time as the judges hear many trials each month. They need time to review all the evidence and the law so they can issue a ruling. Once the judge issues a ruling, one or both sides can appeal if they do not agree with the judge’s decision. An appeal can easily last over a year.
However, if both parties can come to an agreement before trial, the process is much quicker. I usually tell client that if there is no trial, a case can be completed in 6 months to a year. If there is a trial, it is usually a year or more.
I have handled thousands of criminal cases from littering in the street to first degree murder. I have represented clients on DUI’s, sexual assaults, domestic batteries, drug possession and drug delivery cases to name a few. The police sometimes spend up to a year or more investigating the case before I am hired. A criminal case starts with a charging instrument called a complaint or information. It is a formal legal document setting out the charges in writing. The defendant is then arrested and taken to jail. If the defendant can post bond he is released from jail. If he cannot post the bond he stays in jail. Illinois, beginning on January 1st, 2023, is going to a cashless bail system. That means that a lot of low-level felony defendants will be released without having to post bail. However, if the judge determines a person is a danger to others, or if the crime is serious, the defendant will be released without bail and cannot post money to get out. I do not like that system but I do not make the rules.
Once a defendant is charged and knows the charges against him, a court date called a preliminary hearing is set, usually within 30 days. At that hearing the judge determines whether there is probable cause for the case to move forward. The police can just read from a report and it takes very little evidence for the case to stay in the system. I have won some cases at this stage. If the judge finds no probable cause the case is over. This rarely happens but when it does, the case is over rather quickly.
If probable cause is found, a judge is assigned to the case. In Illinois, a defendant has a right to substitute a judge within 10 days of the judge being assigned the case. Having an experienced attorney is critical at this stage. Judges are human and they may have sympathy for a certain type of defendant. Or they may look at certain crimes more harshly than another judge does. No two judges are the same; they are not robots. Only an experienced attorney can help you make the decision whether to substitute a judge.
After the judge is assigned to the case, it is set two to three months later on that judge’s court docket. The first court date is a case management setting. The State usually has provided some of the police reports and evidence to the defendant’s attorney. However, inexperienced lawyers sometimes do not know what evidence SHOULD be handed over. I always go through the documents and evidence thoroughly as I have found that there is usually more evidence than what is initially given to the defense lawyer.
After discovery has been received, the State usually makes an offer to the defendant. The defendant can accept the offer, make a counter-offer or insist on going to trial. The need for an experienced lawyer is critical at this point. My experience is that there are a lot of lawyers who do not know the first thing about a trial. They are scared to death of having the pressure of a client’s guilt or innocence in their hands. I have taken over a hundred cases to trial and know how to prepare. Make sure you ask any attorney you are considering hiring about their trial experience. Ask how many jury trials they have had. Jury trials are the most important constitutional right a defendant has; it can be the difference between a client’s freedom or years behind bars.
I generally advise my clients that if they take a plea offer to a criminal case, the process can be expected to last 6 months to a year. However, if there is a jury trial, the process can take a year to two years.
I handle all types of traffic cases, from seat belt tickets, speeding tickets, accident tickets, no insurance charges and many others. My office has a system in place where our clients do not have to appear in court. We allow our clients to pay my fee with a credit card and save them the trip of coming into the office. I personally go to court and handle the negotiations myself. If you have a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License), I make sure you keep your CDL. I always work to make sure your traffic ticket is handled efficiently, and you get the best outcome. I usually appear in court two or three times and the process usually takes anywhere from 2 months to 6 months.
The above examples are general guidelines. Some court cases take less time and some more. I always want my clients to have as little time in court as possible and strive to get the case completed in a timely manner. However, I will not sacrifice your future by handling a case hastily or in a hurried manner.
How much is this case going to cost me?
This is the million-dollar question. I know financial matters are important to my clients. I always have a contract that the client reviews and signs. I make sure that the client knows the potential cash outlay that may occur. In the legal world, there are different levels of attorneys. There are younger, inexperienced attorneys that are cheap. There are firms that do a “volume business” and they charge low retainers. Then they hand the case to a young associate and the senior attorney takes most of your money. The “volume” law firms have little time to spend with you as they have so many cases they are just trying to move them along the line.
My law office is one attorney; me. I do not take hundreds of cases a year. That would not be fair to me or you. I select my cases based on whether the client and my office are a good fit. We are dedicated to making sure you can contact me or my office staff at anytime. We make ourselves available to work on your case when it is needed, not just when we can “find the time.” I ask you to take a look at my google reviews. I take pride in what my clients have said about me and my staff. Those are real people that left reviews, and I think it speaks volumes of what I have tried to build over the last few decades. Click here to view Google Reviews.
Almost all lawyers who practice civil law require an initial retainer for a civil case. A divorce is a civil case. You will find the retainer fees vary in Southern Illinois from $1,000-$10,000. My minimum retainer is $5,000.00 for all civil cases. Sometimes I will require $7,500.00 to $10,000 depending on the difficulty and time involved in the case. I have found some people shop around for low retainers. However, understand that the retainer is just the first step. Whether you put down $500.00 or $5,000.00, the attorney bills an hourly rate. A low retainer is just a gimmick. I do not believe in gimmicks. I know that most important civil cases are going to require time and money.
Civil lawyers also charge an hourly fee. The hourly fee can be anywhere from $100-$400 an hour in Southern Illinois. Hourly fees in Chicago and New York can start at $400.00 and go up to $1,000.00 an hour. I have set my hourly fee generally at $350.00 an hour. Like a client told me recently, you get what you pay for. The low hourly fees are for new attorneys with little experience and young associates at the big volume firms. The client recently paid a low hourly fee and was disappointed that the associate attorney never called her back or discussed her case.
When it comes to fees, think about how much the case means to you. Do you want the best possible outcome in your case? Do you feel better knowing your attorney has practiced law for decades? Or would you be content with a new attorney who is learning the law, on your dime? In civil cases, especially divorce, your whole future depends on the outcome of the case. How much is your future worth? How much did you pay for your last car? $10,000? $25,000? $30,000? $80,000? Is your future worth as much as your car? I am always up front about my fees and willing to discuss them with you if you decide to hire me as your attorney.
If you need a civil attorney for your divorce or other civil matter, please call my office to schedule a free ten-minute consultation. I will give you a quote on pricing.
CRIMINAL and TRAFFIC CASES
Most lawyers in Southern Illinois charge what is called a “flat fee” for criminal and traffic tickets The “flat fee” is different than an hourly fee. A flat fee is the total cost for representation. There is no hourly billing, and you pay the flat fee and no more. For less serious crimes and traffic offenses, I set a flat fee for my initial retainer. If there is no hearing or trial, the client owes no more. If there is a hearing or trial, which would include more work and time, I charge an additional flat fee. The fees are clearly stated in the contract that the client reviews and signs. For more complicated and higher-level crimes, such as first degree murder or a sexual assault case, I require a retainer and charge an hourly fee.
If you are charged with a criminal offense or have traffic tickets, feel free to call my office. I schedule free ten-minute phone calls to discuss your case and give you a quote on pricing.