February 2016 C-K Law Group Newsletter
FROM THE DIRECTOR
By Professor Richard J. Gonzalez, Director of Clinical Education
This is our first e-newsletter, designed to introduce you, or re-introduce you, to the nation's largest in-house clinical education program, located here at Chicago-Kent, boasting 21 teacher-practitioners. The Law Offices of Chicago-Kent is the only fee-generating law firm within an American law school, providing students with the unique opportunity to gain academic credit practicing law and assisting a clinical faculty that includes some of the top lawyers in their fields.
I am proud of the caliber of our clinical faculty. Richard Kling and Daniel Coyne are nationally known criminal defense attorneys with scores of high-profile cases in their histories. Laurie Leader is one of the nation's pre-eminent labor and employment attorneys and serves as co-executive editor of the premier Bloomberg BNA treatise Employment Discrimination Law. Rhonda de Freitas, Ed Kraus and Jon Decatorsmith are experts in their fields and run, respectively, the highly successful family law, vaccine injury litigation and tax law clinical programs. Heather Harper operates the nation's most sophisticated and innovative entrepreneurial law clinical program. And Vivien Gross and Pam Kentra oversee uncommonly dynamic and innovative externship and ADR training programs.
That group is supported by 10 remarkable staff attorneys, who assist faculty practitioners and enhance the clinical experiences of Chicago-Kent students.
In addition to the in-house clinics described above, Chicago-Kent also offers its students two dynamic clinics in Chicago Loop law firms: our Intellectual Property/Patent Law Clinic and our Center for Open Government Clinic.
Take some time to read about the experiences of our outstanding clinicians and their outstanding students, as well as testimonials from Chicago-Kent clinical alumni who believe that their experiences at Chicago-Kent made them practice-ready, facilitated their job searches, and eased their entry into the practitioner community.
LAW OFFICES NEWS
On October 7, 2015, Tracey Harkins, a student in Professor Richard Kling's Criminal Defense Clinic, argued a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit!
Tracey (with a little help from Professor Kling) represented the defendant in a case involving the difficult issue of reasonable suspicion to justify a police stop. Tracey—who was also a member of one of Chicago-Kent's championship trial teams—totally rocked it and was congratulated by Judge Stephen Kanne after her presentation.
Professor Richard Gonzalez, director of clinical education, was privileged to attend the argument and noted, "I was 15 years out of law school before I had a chance to argue before the Seventh Circuit. For lawyers, it's like playing in Yankee Stadium! The fact that our in-house clinic provides this kind of opportunity—and the chance to work with one of the nation's best criminal defense lawyers in Richard Kling—makes us truly unique."
Thanks to the efforts of Professor Vivien Gross, the Law Offices of Chicago-Kent has received an $80,000 cy pres award connected to litigation conducted by a New York City civil rights attorney, whom Professor Gross assisted with a major class action lawsuit.
The award is earmarked for providing legal services that benefit "the working people of Illinois." The Law Offices is proud and excited to receive this award. We are formulating plans for how to best utilize the money to provide pro bono representation that will make an impact on the lives of those who lack access to our justice system.
Get to Know Professor Jon Decatorsmith
Professor Richard Gonzalez interviewed Professor Decatorsmith, director of the Tax and Probate Clinic, about what drew him to tax law, the key to teaching his highly rated Estates & Trusts course, his love of music, and the origin of his singular sense of style.
Q. You're known as one of the coolest members of the Chicago-Kent faculty. You dress like my younger son who is a punk rocker. What's that all about?
A. Uh, my dad was in the menswear business. So I have a revulsion to suits and ties. It's my sole act of rebellion—pretty lame reason, right?
Q. Many law students shy away from tax law because they fear it might be super-complicated or boring. What attracted you to this area of the law?
A. I like the idea that you always know where you stand; I mean, the IRS constructs every position from the perspective that it wants more tax dollars, and the taxpayer-client always wants to pay less. At base, it's really simplistic, with clear heroes and villains. As far as the complexity of the Internal Revenue Code, I wouldn't sugarcoat the situation: It's really a mess of cross-references and poorly worded statutes, sometimes revenue-raising and sometimes with more obtuse hidden (policy) agendas. But it can be deciphered, if you take it slow and steady. I find that listening to reggae music while analyzing code provisions really helps, by the way. And it's really rewarding when you meet and greet that "aha" moment of enlightenment. Though, like a lot of things in life, it's kind of fleeting...
Q. Your Estates & Trusts course is one of the highest-rated courses at Chicago-Kent. What's your secret?
A. PowerPoint slides with photos of dogs wearing Halloween costumes.
Q. If you could make one significant change in federal tax law, what would it be?
A. Pull up that lowest bracket—exempt out the first $50,000–$60,000 of income. Poor families pay too much in income taxes and the wealthiest amongst us... You've heard the argument.
Q. You're a music freak, and you used to have your own radio show. What were your favorite concerts of the past year?
A. My Morning Jacket's three-show run at the Chicago Theater; Umphrey Magee's two sets at the Canopy Club in Urbana (go Illini!); Papadosio's set at Summer Camp in May; Groundation at Lincoln Hall, best live dub-reggae band on the planet; and Neil Young's blistering Farm Aid noise—transcendent, and followed by a random and surreal encounter with Professor Kling in the parking lot after the show.
What is the Vaccine Injury Litigation Clinic?
By Professor Ed Kraus
In 1986, Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act in response to concerns about increased vaccine-related tort litigation. The Act created a no-fault compensation program that requires individuals alleging a vaccine injury to file a claim ("petition for compensation") in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In order to prevail on a vaccine injury claim, a claimant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the vaccine caused the injury in question. If causation is established, the petitioner is entitled to damages, which include pain and suffering (capped at $250,000), lost wages and medical expenses.
The Vaccine Injury Litigation Clinic represents individuals, children and adults, from all over the country, in pursuing these vaccine-injury cases in the Washington, D.C.-based Court of Federal Claims. The clinic has represented dozens of clients with vaccine injuries that include Guillain-Barré syndrome, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), chronic inflammatory demyelinating neuropathy, transverse myelitis, autism spectrum disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, brachial neuritis, optic neuritis, shoulder injury related to vaccine administration (SIRVA), dysautonomia and chronic regional pain syndrome. The clinic has also represented the estates of individuals who died following vaccination. These cases involve complex and fascinating medical causation issues and often come down to a battle between the petitioner's and the respondent's (the U.S. government) medical experts.
I enrolled in the Plaintiffs Employment Law Clinic because I was looking for practical real-world experience in the area of employment law. I was amazed at the amount of legal work experience available to students. I worked on almost all facets of a plaintiff-side employment discrimination case, from performing fact-finding investigations and conducting settlement negotiations to putting on a case at trial. My experience at the clinic got me very excited about practicing employment law.
Since graduating from law school, I've been practicing as a labor and employment law attorney in Chicago. Currently, I'm a labor and employment attorney for the city of Chicago, which has about 30,000 employees and 40 labor unions. I represent the city on a wide variety of employment matters, including employment discrimination and fair labor standards cases. My experience at the clinic has been invaluable at jump-starting my career.
As many law students can attest, law school can be overwhelming. When I joined the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic, I was struggling to find confidence and focus. Luckily, the clinic gave me the opportunity to get over that barrier.
As a Business Law Certificate student, working in the clinic with Professor Heather Harper allowed me to finally apply the business law concepts I was learning in the classroom to actual clients. The clients were inspiring people to work with—each one was passionate about their ideas, and the environment was focused on creative thinking and problem-solving. Rather than feeling more overwhelmed, I found myself feeling confident that, when presented with a business law issue I actually did understand, I could effectively communicate that understanding while advising clients.
My first year of practice was at a firm largely focused on commercial litigation. While I learned a tremendous amount, I found myself longing for the start-up environment. Just as I was starting to feel discouraged, I got a call from Professor Harper. The clinic had grown so much since I had left that she needed an associate. I jumped at the opportunity to come back as staff attorney!