Approaching the bench

Exploring the ‘symbiotic relationship’ between lawmakers and the judiciary

Exploring the ‘symbiotic relationship’ between lawmakers and the judiciary

By Tequia Burt
Chicago Lawyer Correspondent

Illinois lawmakers generally emphasize the strict separation of powers between the judiciary and General Assembly.

“The relationship between us and the courts is arm’s length; it’s respectful and we recognize that we are co-equal branches of government,” said House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs. “But their job is to rule on the laws and determine whether or not they abide with our constitution and nothing more.”

However, cooperation between the courts and lawmakers can be essential to pushing forward key policy and legislation in the state of Illinois, according to other lawmakers and experts.

“On the whole, there’s not enough interplay between the courts and lawmakers,” said former state Rep. Scott R. Drury, D-Highwood. “I’m not saying that the court should dictate what we do, and we certainly shouldn’t dictate to the courts how they should interpret our laws. But there is a symbiotic relationship, obviously, between the judicial branch and the legislative branch. And to the extent that there could be more lockstep cooperation, I think it would help everybody in the long run.”

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Originally published in January 2019 in Chicago Lawyer

Accruing interest

Will the states step up as the federal government rolls back consumer protections? Who’s going to regulate fintech? And what, under Trump, is a bank? A look at the trends affecting banking, financial and tax law

Will the states step up as the federal government rolls back consumer protections? Who’s going to regulate fintech? And what, under Trump, is a bank? A look at the trends affecting banking, financial and tax law

By Tequia Burt
Chicago Lawyer Correspondent

As the Trump administration continues to loosen federal regulatory oversight, in particular those that protect consumers, what should banking and finance legal professionals be paying attention to?

Here are three areas to keep an eye on as regulatory uncertainty shows every sign of being an ongoing challenge for the banking and finance industry.

How will states react to the federal rollback of regulatory enforcement?

After he was appointed head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last November, Mick Mulvaney made clear his goal was to “dramatically” shift the agency’s priorities.

“Anybody who thinks a Trump administration’s CFPB is going to be the same as an Obama administration CFPB is being naïve. Elections have consequences,” Mulvaney said at a news conference on his first day on the job.

An Obama-era consumer watchdog agency created in the wake of the financial crisis as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB functions as one of the federal government’s main financial services regulators. The agency protects consumers by making sure financial companies are following the law; collecting and responding to consumer complaints; enacting protections to ensure consumers are treated fairly; and promoting financial transparency.

The CFPB has supervisory authority over banks, thrifts and credit unions with assets of more than $10 billion as well as their affiliates. Additionally, the agency has supervisory authority over nonbank mortgage originators and servicers, payday lenders and private student lenders of all sizes. During its seven-year history, the CFPB has taken on everything from the prepaid card industry to the mortgage servicing business.

During his tenure Mulvaney has moved to undermine the agency, including making a budget request of zero dollars this year, and has continually urged Congress to weaken the CFPB. The Trump administration has made a number of moves to diminish the agency’s power, including stripping the CFPB’s Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity of enforcement power. Previously, the office had forced payouts in several well-known cases, including settlements from lenders it alleged had systematically charged minorities higher interest rates.

So how will the states’ attorneys general respond to this rollback on a federal level? According to several legal experts, states, including Illinois, are poised to fill the gap.

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Originally published in November 2018 in Chicago Lawyer

Mediation killers

The top reasons mediations fall apart — and how to avoid them

The top reasons mediations fall apart — and how to avoid them - Lisa Predko

By Tequia Burt
Chicago Lawyer Correspondent

Imagine it’s mediation day. You’ve been preparing for weeks — or even months. You and one of your clients are on the same page and are working toward one goal: to settle the case.

As you sit in the mediation room and the minutes tick by, though, you begin to realize that one of the key decision-makers on the other side is not going to show up.

According to seasoned mediator Faustin “Frosty” Pipal of Chicago-based Resolute Systems, “that’s the No. 1 mediation killer, in my view.”

Pipal, who primarily oversees personal-injury, product-liability and professional negligence mediations, said that whether it’s an irate brother-in-law, a key insurance adjuster or a disgruntled business partner, the fact that the other side is not there can be a big obstacle to reaching an agreement that all parties are able to live with.

“Though not many of my cases fail, almost 100 percent of those that do, do so because one or the other decision-maker is not physically present at the mediation,” Pipal said. “It’s so important to have all persons involved in the process be in the room, where they can be a part of the give and take of the negotiation.”

“‘Being there’ is the very essence of a mediation and if someone is phoning it in, in my experience, it’s going to be harder to get the case settled,” he added.

And Pipal means that — literally. He recommended against having mediations via telephone or even online. Pipal said bluntly of online cases: “If we move toward online meetings, we’re going to have increased failure rates of mediations.”

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Originally published in September 2018 in Chicago Lawyer

Ins and outs of corporate counsel

How in-house and outside counsel can work together

How in-house and outside counsel can work together - Lisa Predko

By Tequia Burt
Chicago Lawyer correspondent

More than ever before, corporate legal departments are being viewed as strategic partners by the C-suite. The growth of complex legal and regulatory challenges coupled with increased cyber and data privacy risks have made the counsel from in-house legal teams central to business decisions. No longer considered just cost centers, the operations of the in-house counsel are being aligned with the overall strategic goals of their companies.

Hoping to boost their value and productivity, many in-house legal teams are re-evaluating their relationships with the outside law firms that they hire. According to the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Chief Legal Officers 2018 Survey, which polled 1,275 lawyers in September and November of last year, one in three chief legal officers fired outside counsel for failing to meet expectations in 2017.

Moreover, 43 percent definitely plan or are considering terminating an outside provider or firm in 2018, and, among those who let go of a provider or firm last year, one in 10 in-sourced at least part of the work permanently.

So what does that mean for Chicago-area law firms?

At a minimum, in-house counsel at Illinois-based companies expect outside counsel to be excellent attorneys who are experts in their respective areas of practice. To avoid the chopping block, however, law firms should strive to get a deeper understanding of their clients’ companies so that they are able to overlay a business context to their legal advice. Providing stronger communication, more billing transparency, as well as offering a roster of gender and racially diverse lawyers, are also important.

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Originally published in August 2018, Chicago Lawyer Magazine

Our New Best Place

Before moving into Matt Carmichael’s former house earlier this month, my husband and I had lived in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood for almost 15 years; it was our perfect place. We bought our Logan Square two-bedroom, one-bath condo in 2006 at the height of the real-estate bubble, unfortunately. Like a lot of young Americans in their early 30s who had just bought their first piece of property, the housing bust caused us to lose the little wealth we had accumulated. But we loved where we lived, and that lessened the sting a great bit.

And what’s not to love? Our adorable condo was a mere three blocks from the Blue Line (public transit) station and just a 15-minute commute into downtown, where we both worked. I love to cook and eat good food, and in recent years, a burgeoning gourmet scene down the street is what Bon Appétit now calls Chicago’s new restaurant row. I value eating locally and organically, and the co-op at the end of my block and the Sunday farmers market made that not only possible but also easy to do. When we first bought our apartment, we weren’t married.

Then life changed. We got married in 2008 and shortly thereafter had a son. While our living quarters were more cramped, we still liked living in our little Logan Square gem. We strolled along the wide and beautiful boulevards with our baby in tow; there were at least three great parks in walking distance. We found a good home day care provider who was already taking care of my 1-year-old niece and was located just a hop, skip and a jump away. But now, when we had only driven our car on the weekends, in the interest of saving time we drove our son to day care every day even though it was only about six blocks away. We didn’t sweat it, though, because the other end of the Blue Line train station was across the street from the babysitter, and it was still a convenient commute.

However, that organic meat-share I picked up from the farmers market every other month just wasn’t cutting it, and the astronomical prices of the co-op were not an option. While the neighborhood had a mix of bodegas and chichi locavore co-ops, it didn’t have a big grocery store. So we drove to one every weekend. But we persevered – we were in our perfect place.   Then life changed again. Our daughter was born and our 3-year-old son was now ready to begin preschool. What’s more, I changed jobs and was now working from home. Our two-bedroom was no longer livable. Even though we loved it, we realized we needed more space.

Parting is such sweet sorrow

So we began the hunt for a house. The first decision we had to make was where to look. Immediately, we narrowed to Logan Square – we wanted to stay in our neighborhood. Like most well-heeled young parents in Chicago, though, the thought of navigating the lottery-based Chicago Public School system had us second-guessing our decision. Logan Square has one decent elementary school, and we did not live in its district. The school across the street from our apartment was rated as below-average, and we didn’t want to send our kids there. So we narrowed further to the area surrounding the one good school in the neighborhood. Only problem was the houses were crazy-expensive there and we just couldn’t afford it. We were being priced out of the neighborhood that we’d helped to gentrify.

We did the unthinkable and started considering the suburbs. We struck out the far-flung ones like Naperville and the like straightaway and landed on Evanston and Oak Park. There are many good reasons to live in those suburbs. They are more city-like and racially diverse than others, they have excellent schools and even the restaurants are pretty good. But as a born-and-bred Chicagoan, I couldn’t do it – those places just aren’t my city. Plus, as city-like as those suburbs are, they are still suburbs.

My husband, who grew up in multiple suburbs, hates them. The one he hates the most is Overland Park, Kan., where he spent his middle and high school years and is incidentally on Livability.com’s list of best places to raise kids. He hated it because it wasn’t diverse – and not just in its racial makeup. It was, according to him, so homogenous that it made it hard for a kid like him who wasn’t a jock, who liked punk and ska, and whose family wasn’t conservative, to thrive.

We greatly value being able to raise our mixed-race kids in a city like Chicago, which has both urban culture AND urban diversity. But was our children’s education more important than our love of Chicago? I attended very good magnet schools here that were located about an hour’s drive away from my home. Would my kids test into schools like that and, most important, did I really want that for them? We thought long and hard and decided we wanted to invest in our city. Most middle-class people with kids our age flee to the suburbs, citing the poor academic performance of CPS.

For me, it’s more complicated. There are many examples of urban families here banding together to improve neighborhood schools both for their own children and disadvantaged neighborhood children. There are all kinds of communities to be had in a city, and we are in for the long haul. And then we found our perfect house, Matt’s former home. It is perfect for every reason he listed in his blog post. While he didn’t send his daughter to the neighborhood school, it is known for being a very good area school. And it’s in walking distance. And only 12 blocks away from our former hood. But best of all, it’s just a few blocks from my sister and her family. And now my children have a big backyard to play in with their cousins. We couldn’t be happier.

Our New Best Place was originally published at Livability.com on June 24, 2014