LAW OFFICES NEWS
What makes the C-K Law Group unique?
By Clinic Director Richard J. Gonzalez
The C-K Law Group—Chicago-Kent’s in-house legal clinic—is a giant among American law school clinics. With 16 practicing attorneys and two more clinical professors who operate our hugely successful externship and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) training programs, the C-K Law Group is able to offer an array and range of real-world experiences designed to infuse the legal educations of Chicago-Kent students with rare and marketable skills prior to launching their own legal careers.
While nationally known for its unique “law firm” model of clinical education based on its fee-generating structure, the true success of the program is due to the benefits that flow from that model—the variety of options available to Chicago-Kent students who have the chance to work with highly experienced clinical professors who are also among the most successful and noted attorneys within their fields, including:
- The sophisticated criminal defense practices of nationally known Clinical Professors Richard Kling and Daniel Coyne, who have a history of high-profile clients and news-grabbing cases
- The equally sophisticated civil litigation practice of one of the nation’s most successful and experienced trial attorneys, Clinical Professor Laurie Leader
- The challenging and exciting domestic relations practice of expert-in-the-field Clinical Professor Rhonda de Freitas
- The excitement of high-stakes vaccine injury litigation with a national pioneer in the practice area, Clinical Professor Ed Kraus
- The busy and rough-and-tumble tax practice of veteran Clinical Professor Jon Decatorsmith
- The cutting-edge and popular entrepreneurship practice of rising national star Clinical Professor Heather Harper
For students who seek to take advantage of Chicago-Kent’s uncommonly large externship program, the expertise of its creator, Clinical Professor Vivien Gross, and the array of externship options available in a major metropolitan area such as Chicago make for a sought-after experience that enhances marketability of Chicago-Kent graduates. And Clinical Professor Pam Kentra’s ADR/Mediation Training—which allows students to become certified mediators who handle actual legal disputes—has become a national model.
But wait—there is still more! Students interested in clinical experiences in intellectual property or in open government have the chance to work off-site with experts in those fields at their law firms.
It’s true that our “law firm” model has a great deal to do with our ability to offer so many options because of the economic advantages that flow from the model. But the real Chicago-Kent advantage is the chance it provides to work closely with such uncommonly prominent attorneys in a real-world setting that requires analyzing the economics of a successful law practice, while still staying true to the social mission and ideals that generated the start of law school legal clinics 50 years ago.
So take a few minutes to check out our offerings. The C-K Law Group believes that Practice Makes Perfect!
Learn more about the C-K Law Group’s Family Law Clinic
By Clinical Professor Rhonda de Freitas
The Family Law Clinic has helped hundreds of families see their way through the divorce process over the past 10 years. Each family is different, so there can be no cookie-cutter approach to our cases. But, in each case, we strive to achieve our clients’ goals while attempting to minimize the emotional and financial impact the process has on the entire family. We represent men, women and even children as their guardian ad litem or child’s representative. We handle divorce and separation, parentage (for never-married parents), allocation of parental responsibilities (formerly knowns as custody) and parenting time (formerly known as visitation), property distribution, maintenance and child support, grandparent visitation, domestic violence cases, and much more. We not only litigate on behalf of our clients, but we also handle mediations, collaborative law cases and arbitrations.
Students in the Family Law Clinic have an opportunity to directly impact a family in crisis. Students participate in every aspect of the practice, including client interviews, discovery, depositions and trial preparation, to name a few. Students in the clinic who have their 711 licenses may have the opportunity to handle contested hearings and to second-chair trials. This past spring, our clinic assisted a young mother whose husband had taken their child to a foreign country and refused to return him. Through a series of emergency motions and contempt proceedings, which included having the father incarcerated until the child was returned, we were able to reunite the mother and child and to provide for their longterm financial future here in the United States.
Likewise, our work with children is rich and rewarding. When parents are unable to negotiate the difficulties in their relationship, children often suffer. When a court appoints us as the child’s representative or guardian ad litem, our work takes on a whole new meaning. These children count on us to be their voice to the court and to advocate for their best interest. Students may participate in home visits with the parents and interviews with the parents and the child, and may even serve as witnesses during contested matters. These cases represent some of our most important work.
Students in the clinic are expected to attend to their responsibilities and thus are given as much autonomy as possible, mimicking the dynamic at a law firm. Together we help our clients make judgments about how to expend their often scarce resources, and we help them weigh the pros and cons of litigation over other means of resolution, such as mediation or collaborative law.
Former clinic students can be found every day at the Daley Center or other courthouses, practicing family law and using the skills they learned and honed here at the clinic. If you are interested in having an immediate, positive impact on your clients by assisting them during one of the most difficult times in their lives, this may be just what you are looking for.
Hone your courtroom skills in Prof. Coyne's Criminal Litigation class
Imagine a completely different type of learning. An environment where students populate a courtroom, instead of a classroom. A process where, rather than passively listening to a professor discussing exclusively legal theory, the students challenge each other to produce cogent, concise and coherent legal arguments. Where a skills evaluation rewards creativity and imagination, instead of a rote recitation of convoluted facts and abstract legal principles. Inconceivable, you say? Not at all. Imagine the Criminal Litigation class.
This is not a class for the unprepared. Preparation means enrolling in 20 hours of prerequisites: Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Criminal Defense Clinic, Evidence and Trial Advocacy, to name a few. Preparation means combing through hundreds of pages of discovery in an effort to formulate reasonable and legitimate theories of prosecution and defense utilizing the knowledge you gained in all of those prerequisite classes. Preparation means knowing the foundations for all of the evidence you decide to introduce and, more important, the foundations for all of the evidence you want to keep your opponent from introducing.
Why, you may reasonably ask, would you ever want to put in that kind of effort for a single class when you could just as easily sit in the rear of a traditional classroom and surf Facebook while waiting for the end of the semester to cram for a test that will measure only your understanding of law in the abstract?
The answer is simple and direct. Criminal Litigation is the capstone class for the Criminal Litigation Certificate Program (known colloquially as CrimLit). The goal of the program is to immerse students in the study and practice of criminal law in an effort to make them truly practice-ready on their first day in a courtroom.
Just what sort of a student would voluntarily follow this arduous path? The answer to that question varies greatly. Some students are just bored and want to be challenged. Some are true believers on a mission to prosecute criminals or defend the rights of the accused. Others simply may be somewhat masochistic and enjoy the weekly challenge of attempting to perform to exacting standards. While the reasons for participating in the Criminal Litigation Certificate Program may vary significantly, there is one characteristic shared by all students who graduate with the Criminal Litigation Certificate: They all excel at their craft.
Along this path, you will not only develop first-class litigation skills, but you’ll also gather first-class mentors and colleagues for the duration of your training and for a lifetime of practice. To further aid you in your quest, you’ll spend a minimum of one semester as an extern with a potential employer: the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Cook County Public Defender’s Office, Illinois Attorney General’s Office, Cook County Public Guardian’s Office, and Office of the State Appellate Defender, to name just a handful. This externship will require you to have an Illinois Supreme Court Rule 711 license to practice law under supervision. A heads-up here—in an effort to shape and mold your skills, your supervising attorney will most likely attempt to work you to death. Not to worry, though. As Miracle Max so eloquently put it, you’ll just be “mostly dead.” A truly small price to pay as you prepare to storm the castle.
If you are still reading at this point, some words from CrimLit alums will most likely either make you clamor for an application or, in the alternative, back away from your computer after clearing your cache.
When queried about his CrimLit experience, Jon Pilsner ’14, a staff attorney for the Office of the State Appellate Defender, said:
There are classes that teach you the law. There are classes that teach you how to lawyer. There are very few, however, that teach you both. The Criminal Litigation program—culminating in the Criminal Litigation class—teaches you how to take the law, apply it, and walk out of Chicago-Kent ready to tackle any situation that comes at you, tomorrow or in a decade. A year out of law school, I delivered the opening argument in a first-degree murder trial, something I never would have been able to do without the program's tutelage.
I should also add that Professor Daniel Coyne may be the Pai Mei the Cruel of criminal litigation education—a brutal headmaster with knowledge and experience that seemingly spans the universe. But survive the rigorous training, and you too will be able to make young lawyers throughout Illinois cry.
Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office superstar Katerina Alexopoulos ’13, currently assigned to the Special Prosecutions Bureau, describes the program that led to her meteoric rise as a prosecutor:
By far, my favorite and the most beneficial aspect of law school was the Criminal Litigation Certificate Program. Because of the clinic and classes, I came into my current position as an assistant state's attorney with a wealth of knowledge well above many of my colleagues.
Professor Coyne was, and continues to be, an incredible mentor for me. He taught the class in a courtroom setting, and we learned things that none of us could have been able to learn in a typical classroom setting or from any type of textbook. Unlike other law school classes, the Criminal Litigation classes prepared me for litigation and real-world practice. Specifically, in Criminal Litigation I and II, we litigated during almost every class. The program is well-suited for individuals who are interested in both criminal prosecution and criminal defense. Thanks to the program, I developed a strong foundation for criminal law and litigation well before I began working as an attorney. I highly recommend the program to anyone who is interested in pursuing a career in criminal law.
Jared Reynolds ’15 parlayed his certificate qualifications into a quite different position:
I am not the public defender that I initially aspired to be. I am practicing medical malpractice and personal injury litigation. If you told me two years ago that I would be practicing civil litigation, I would not have believed you. However, it is my experience in the Criminal Litigation Program that gave me an incredible edge in being a litigator. In my interview for my current position, I explained that I had absolutely no medical experience and admittedly made only a decent showing in my Torts class. However, I confidently told my interviewer that what I lacked in medical and civil experience, I made up for in my experiences of actually practicing law. This confidence came from the countless practical opportunities I had in the CrimLit program to “be an attorney” before ever being licensed. This wealth of experience included appearing in court, interacting with individual clients, litigating full trials, and so much more.
The CrimLit Program—including the Criminal Defense Clinic, CrimLit class, as well as my externships with the Cook County Public Defender’s Office—helped me find my voice in the courtroom and feel at ease articulating my arguments, both orally and on paper, before I even graduated from school. The skills that I developed in the CrimLit Program gave me a base level of being an advocate that I routinely witness to be ahead of attorneys who have been practicing for years.
Finally, I am frequently asked about my experiences in law school, and whether various classes/programs I participated in were ultimately worth it. Despite not currently practicing criminal law, I still answer every time that my experience in the CrimLit Program, and my focus on practical experiences over lecture-based learning, were the best decisions that I made in law school. Further, I tell students that if they have any interest in being a litigator, then it is imperative for them to take advantage of all of the resources that Chicago-Kent has to offer, including the Criminal Litigation Program.
At this point, only a couple of questions remain unanswered. Do you have an unbridled interest in criminal litigation? Do you have the drive and determination to pursue a course of study structured to perfect your skills? If the answer to both of these questions is in the affirmative, then you have only a single question remaining: How do I get started?
The face of C-K Law Group—Sophia Sanchez
The first person that clients and students encounter when they enter the C-K Law Group’s Suite 600 is Sophia Sanchez. Let’s find out more about her.
Q: Being a receptionist can be a busy, challenging and confining job. Sort of like being an air traffic controller. What do you like most and least about it?
A: This question really sums up the job pretty accurately. The secret is to not get too wrapped up in one task at a time but to be flexible, improvise and write everything down! However, the bane of my existence in this office would have to be the printers/copiers, which I now know have been sent to us directly from hell. So if you, at any time, hear a steady stream of expletives followed by slamming and banging, it’s usually me, battling one of many godforsaken paper jams we happen to experience during the course of an average day. Pay it no mind—it usually passes quickly, and I’m back to my usual sunny disposition.
Q: You are an accomplished dancer. How did you first become involved, and can you describe the role it plays in your life?
A: I’ve been dancing all my life (on and off) starting at the age of 4, getting strict training in Russian ballet at the Boitsov Ballet School at the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue (eons ago). I moved to Florida for a few years, during which I participated in multiple community musicals as a company dancer—doing tap, jazz, belly dancing, etc.
However, flamenco has always been my passion. Since I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to it. I finally started taking lessons in flamenco about six years ago when I moved back to Chicago, and it’s been my obsession ever since. I’ve studied with numerous schools in the city and have taken countless workshops with visiting artists from Spain, though I still feel like a beginner. I’m enjoying the process though—you can never be bored when you’re constantly learning.
Q: If you didn’t live in Chicago, where would you ideally like to be and why?
A: If it were up to me, I wouldn’t live anywhere permanently. I would be a “citizen of the world” constantly traveling. Discovering new places is my jam—it’s when I feel most inspired. However, even if I were to become a vagabond in the future, Chicago would always be my home base. I’d always find myself coming back for more punishment.
Q: You are also a huge music aficionado. Who are some of your favorite musicians you would recommend to Chicago-Kent students?
A: I listen to all kinds of music spanning all the genres, but jazz does stand out as a favorite as to what I usually listen to while commuting or working. I love listening to Flamenco music too—but I can never stay still when I hear it, so I usually listen to that at home.
Some of my favorite artists (at least, right now): Danish singer, songwriter and musician Agnes Obel; bassist, singer, composer Esperanza Spalding; pianist and composer Robert Glasper; David Bowie (of course); Tom Waits is always on my play lists; and so many, many more…
Meet more of our outstanding staff!
Suzanne Blaz is a paralegal who has been assisting the sophisticated practice of Clinical Professor Laurie Leader since late 2014. Suzanne grew up on a liberal island in Indiana, escaping to the University of Wisconsin‒Madison to obtain a B.A. in history, before finally ending up in Chicago, where she obtained both a paralegal certificate with honors and juris doctor degree from Loyola University Chicago. Suzanne is a Francophile, having spent her junior year studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, but has only traveled about 25 percent of the globe according to Trip Advisor. Suzanne was recently described as a “Renaissance woman” by Professor Gross due to her varied interests and hobbies.
Eileen Casey is the administrative assistant for Clinical Professors Richard Kling and Richard Gonzalez. In her away-from-work life, Eileen works as a professional actor sometimes and as a cantor for the Catholic Church on weekends, and she is a special needs mom who is pursuing her M.A. degree at St. Xavier University with an LBS1 endorsement in the important field of special education. Her bachelor’s degree is in theater and music from Roosevelt University. She has been with Chicago-Kent since 2013.
Lori Garcia, who has been with us since 2011, works with Clinical Professors Daniel Coyne and Pamela Kentra. Lori has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Loyola University and enjoys tae kwon do as a hobby.
Joyce Westphal has been working with Clinical Professor Edward Kraus and staff attorney Amy Kraus as a paralegal in the Vaccine Injury Practice since June 2017. She has a background in software development for the title insurance industry, and worked at Mayer Brown LLP for 12 years as a litigation paralegal in the professional liability and anti-trust practice areas. She is also very involved in music and has performed as a professional violinist in the Chicago area for a number of years.
A few more things from the C-K Law Group
- We were saddened by the recent retirement of our ace assistant office manager Sue Janusz. Sue—who became an expert in keeping the financial side of our office operating so smoothly—will be so missed!
- Chicago-Kent grad Catherine Larson ’17 has joined our office as a staff attorney to Clinical Professor Heather Harper. Welcome, Cat! We are so glad to have you.
- The C-K Law Group will play major roles at the national AALS Clinical Conference to be held here in Chicago from April 30 to May 3, 2018!
- Don’t forget to consider the three great certificate program options connected to the C-K Law Group—the Criminal Litigation Program, the Litigation and Dispute Resolution (LADR) Program, and the new joint LADR/Labor and Employment Program (Workplace LADR).
- In April 2018, Chicago-Kent will host the national Transactional Clinicians Conference. The event will focus on Breaking Barriers to Entrepreneurship.