There is a famous Chicago family law firm that does a lot of advertising and they get a lot of cases.  They also end up with a lot of unhappy clients.  That’s because while their marketing makes people think they are one thing, it quickly becomes obvious that if you hire them you are going to be ripped off.  I’ve seen divorce cases they’ve handled where before the first court appearance is made they’ve billed over $10,000.00 in legal work on a not complicated case.

What happens apparently is that they will bill their clients for “research.”  While there are some cases where research is needed, most family law cases don’t require it.  If you are a lawyer and have to bill for research in to child support statutes or custody law, then you must be handling one of your first cases.  This “research” is not the same as a client who brings some unique issue forward such as determining the international custody arrangement the United States has with a country like Morocco. That’s not an issue that comes up more than once in the lifetime of most lawyers and would be legitimate.

So does this mean that all lawyer research bills are ripoffs? No.

The most common, legitimate legal research that takes place for the average person who hires an attorney comes in two cases. The first  is criminal law.  If your attorney can find a case that has gone to the Appellate or Supreme Court and can help you avoid jail then that’s worthy research. I’m not talking about minor retail theft situations. I’m referring to major felonies that can result in long jail time.  The catch is that if they’ve done the research on one case, confirming their findings haven’t been over-turned by a new court case should not take more than 30 minutes or so.

The other common area of legit research is in civil cases. If you are trying to argue for or against a motion for summary judgment, research in to similar situations makes a ton of sense and can be the reason you win or lose a case. It’s especially relevant when the Judge is asking for a legal brief in support of your argument.

So what should you do to make sure your legal bills aren’t inflated with bogus research charges?  Here are some tips:

  1. Before you hire the lawyer, ask if they anticipate billing for research. If the answer is yes, ask what for.
  2. It’s not inappropriate to ask that they contact you for approval before billing for significant research.
  3. If your bill has a charge that simply says “research” and doesn’t explain what was done, ask them to clarify and provide a copy of the research results. Most legitimate research will result in some sort of a memo, especially at a larger firm where more than one person is working on a case.
  4. If it happens, ask why a more expensive senior lawyer is billing for research instead of a paralegal or cheaper associate.
  5. Most importantly, if the research you are billed for seems basic (e.g. they charge you to look up child support rates), call them out on it.

The good news is that most lawyers are honest, but I’ve seen enough cases where legal bills are severely inflated that you have to be on the lookout.

Most people are familiar with the term commission. In certain jobs, especially sales jobs, the compensation arrangement typically includes commission pay. An employee may receive a salary, or some level of guaranteed base pay, but the commission pay over and above that, is dependent on how many goods/services the employee sells. Commission plans vary by company and position, but the underlying premise is the same. Performing at a high level and selling more equals more money in that employee’s pocket.

Seems straightforward, but we have encountered many questions from employees over the years about their commission. Let’s take a look at some of them.

  1. I had a rough week with low sales and made very little commission. Is there a minimum my company has to pay me?

Yes, there is. A Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was first introduced in 1938 to protect workers. It had laws regulating child labor, setting the number of maximum weekly work hours, and establishing a minimum wage. Obviously, laws have evolved since then, but your company is required to pay you the current minimum wage when your weekly pay is averaged by the number of hours you worked. The minimum wage is currently $11.00 per hour in Illinois.

For example, let’s say that during your rough week, your commission averages only $5.00 per hour you worked. Your employer must pay you an additional $6.00 per hour to make up the difference between that and the minimum wage.

  1. My employer and I agreed that they would pay me commission but now I’m not getting paid. Now what?

Do you have a clear agreement with your employer about commission pay? Is the rate of commission in writing? If so, your first step is to notify your employer in writing that you aren’t receiving your commission as promised. If your employer does not comply, the next step would be to contact an attorney. Illinois has a law that ensures employees seeking their unpaid commission will be reimbursed for their attorney’s fees.  The lawyers we recommend for these cases never ask for a penny up front and only get paid if they make a recovery for you.

  1. I earn commission, and I worked 55 hours last week, but my company did not pay me overtime. Do they have to?

That depends on a few things. Are you an inside or outside salesperson? If you spend more than half your working hours making sales outside of a central office, you are an outside salesperson and don’t qualify for overtime. If you are an inside salesperson, you still may not be eligible for overtime if you work in a retail or service establishment, if your pay rate is higher than 1.5 times the minimum wage (i.e., $16.50 in Illinois) and if over half of what you earn comes from commission.

Are you in a similar situation? Or do you have a question that is different from the ones above?  Do you just want to speak to a lawyer for free? Whatever your situation, you are welcome to contact us any time at 312-346-5320 for a confidential consultation.

Happy New Year!  Did you know that there are over 300 new laws that just went into effect in Illinois?  A lot of them won’t come up in your life, but a bunch are going to be relevant to a lot of people. Here are some that I think will have a big impact and some of my thoughts:

– If you ask for medical assistance for an opioid overdose, you will be immune from prosecution for possession of those drugs.  Great idea, now expand it to all drugs.

– Non-compete clauses are banned for people making less than $75,000.00 a year. This is a great start, but I personally think the limit should be higher and the length should be reduced to a year.

– Minimum wage is up to $12 an hour and is on its way to $15 an hour.

– No contact orders now also include email and social media. I can’t believe this wasn’t already the case.

– Expecting mothers can now use handicap stickers for up to 90 days in the third trimester.  Hopefully, this doesn’t get abused by family members, but helping pregnant women is always a good thing.

– Restaurants have to serve water, milk, or juice as the default beverage on kids’ meals rather than soda.

– Schools are banned from discriminating against kids whose hairstyles reflect their racial, ethnic, or cultural traditions.

– Companies can no longer charge early termination fees for customers of telephone, cellphone, television, internet, energy, medical alert system, or water services who die before the end of their contracts.  I can’t believe they would do that, except I have AT&T so I can totally believe it.

– Pubic school students can have up to five mental health days with no doctor’s note required.

– Public universities can no longer make prospective students submit ACT or SAT scores.  Google the bias in those tests and you’ll likely agree this is a good idea.

– Health departments can’t regulate lemonade stands run by kids under 16.  Who in their right mind would do that?  Obviously someone did, as this seems like a reactionary law.

– Counties and cities with populations greater than 500,000 will require all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras. All officers in the state will be required to wear them by the beginning of 2025.

These are 12 of the most impactful ones in my opinion. As always, if you have questions about any Illinois laws or want to speak to an attorney for free, call us at 312-346-5320.

I get asked a lot of relatively random stuff.  Some people want to do things they shouldn’t and others just have great questions. Here are five scenarios we’ve come across recently that are good to know.

1. I got an alert that a sex video of me was posted on the internet. I’m assuming it was done by an ex-boyfriend. How can I get this taken down?

This is known as revenge porn and it’s now a felony in Illinois.  You can certainly sue the website that is hosting it, but a better first step would likely be to go to the police and file a report. Hopefully they will arrest the ex.  In general, you should never pass around or post a sex tape whether it was filmed in a consensual way or not. Better advice is to just never make a sex tape.

2. I got my first speeding ticket ever. I thought it was not a big deal and I’d just pay a fine, but when I went to court, the Judge said I could go to jail. What’s going on and how do I fix it?

This person was charged with aggravated speeding, in this case it was 92 in a 55.  Aggravated speeding is any charge 26 miles or more over the limit. Once you hit more than 35 over as in this case, it’s a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The good news for this person is that they have a clean record. In many cases, an attorney can get the charge reduced so you avoid jail. You’ll still pay a fine, but not as big.   Everyone speeds, but once you are in the 20 over range you should really be careful.

3. Last year I was hurt at work and scheduled for surgery. The insurance company sent my records to some doctor in Florida and now they’ve denied my treatment.  Is this legal?

It is. The process is called “Utilization Review” which is a fancy term for sending your records to a doctor who doesn’t examine you.  Often these are semi-retired hired guns who will say what the insurance company wants. It’s shady because they can send your records to as many doctors as they want until they get the answer they want. And you don’t know it happened until they find one against you. Nine doctors could be in your favor, but you’ll only hear about the 10th who isn’t.  The good news is that when compared to a credible treating doctor it won’t have much weight. But it is legal and can delay your care.

4. My girlfriend is pregnant and just got fired. Is that legal?

It’s not legal typically to fire someone because they are pregnant, but not against the law to fire a pregnant person. So she’d have to prove that she was fired for that reason which is often easier said than done.  If she suspects it, but doesn’t have hard evidence, she can/should file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

5. My Dad had two families. He had three kids with my mom and they divorced. He then married another woman who didn’t like us and had two kids with her. She died two years ago and my Dad just passed away.  His will was created ten years ago and leaves everything to the newer kids. He told me that he didn’t want to make waves with his wife. Can my siblings and I contest this will?

Anyone can contest anything, but it doesn’t sound like they have a good leg to stand on.  There is no law that requires a parent to leave anything to any children and they can cut off some and not others. You’d have to show that the will was fraudulent or that he didn’t know what he was doing when he signed it. That doesn’t sound like the case in this situation.

 

If you have any questions about these situations or anything else related to Illinois law, you can call us for free to speak with a lawyer at 312-346-5320.

Getting a divorce in Illinois can be very stressful, not only because of the emotions involved, but also because of the unfamiliar legal terminology and issues that arise throughout the process. Commonly asked questions by people starting the divorce process are, “What exactly is spousal maintenance? How does it work?”

Spousal maintenance is financial assistance (money) that one spouse is ordered by the court to pay to the other spouse after a divorce. You’ve probably heard it referred to as alimony, but in Illinois it’s called maintenance.

While two people are married, it is assumed that they share their wages and support each other. In most cases, one spouse’s income is greater than the income of the other. The other spouse may work full-time at a lower-paying job, work part-time, or take care of the children and not have a job outside the home.

With spousal maintenance, the spouse who earns the higher income often must make payments to the spouse who earns the lower (or no) income so that he/she can be at a similar standard of living as to when the couple was married. When both spouses work and have similar incomes, spousal maintenance may not be called for.

The next step is to determine the amount and duration of spousal maintenance. The primary factors considered are: 1) the spouses’ income levels and standard of living; 2) the earning potential of both spouses; and 3) how long the couple has been married.

For example, let’s say there are two couples, Couple A and Couple B. Both couples have one spouse that works full time and the other is a stay-at-home parent. The income for Couple A is $150,000/year, and the income for Couple B is $50,000/year. If all else is equal, the stay-at-home parent in Couple A will get a higher amount of spousal maintenance than the stay-at-home parent in Couple B.

However, if the income levels of both couples are similar, and the stay-at-home parent in Couple A has a master’s degree, and the stay-at-home parent in Couple B only has a high school diploma, the stay-at-home parent in Couple A has the potential to get a higher-paying job. Therefore, he/she will get spousal maintenance for a shorter duration than the stay-at-home parent in Couple B.

Finally, how long the marriage has lasted influences the amount and duration of spousal maintenance. If all else is equal, and Couple A has been married for 18 years and Couple B has been married for 2 years, spousal maintenance will be higher in Couple A. In fact, the judge may not award any spousal maintenance in the case of Couple B because of the short length of their marriage.  It’s to maintain a lifestyle you’ve grown accustomed to and that’s hard to do in two years.

Every couple’s situation is unique. If you’d like to confidentially discuss divorce or spousal maintenance with an attorney for free, please call us any time at 312-346-5320.

One thing that is true about dealing with insurance companies is that they are not looking out for you. Whether it’s your health insurance, car insurance or something else, the main goal of the company is to limit how much they pay on your behalf.  Sometimes they will tell fantastic lies to further their ends.  I heard a real doozy recently from an injured Illinois worker.

This very nice woman had broken her arm.  She regularly worked 60 hours a week, but was only getting work comp benefits based on a 40 hour work week. When she asked about the extra pay, she was told (wrongly) that overtime isn’t included in work comp payments.  She responded by saying that she wanted to ask a lawyer if this was true and the adjuster went off on her. “If you get a lawyer that will make the case drag on for two more years and they’ll take your money!”

Both of those things aren’t true. First off, the length of a case depends on your medical recovery. The only time getting a lawyer makes it last longer is if you are getting screwed over and we go to arbitration to get you tens of thousands that you are missing out on.  In most cases having a lawyer makes things go faster because we stop the insurance company from playing games and allow you to focus on your health.

As for the second lie, attorney fees in Illinois work comp cases are capped at 20% of what is recovered for your settlement or trial verdict.  In almost every case, you end up with more money by getting a lawyer than if you didn’t have one, even after the 20% fee.  This is a common insurance company lie to try and screw you out of money that they owe you.

This isn’t a one off situation. It happens all of the time.  Later the same day I got a call from an Amazon worker who was dealing with their insurance company, Sedgwick. Whoever she talked to told her that there had been a “global settlement” of their work comp cases and that she had been allotted a certain amount to resolve her case. It was basically implied that all of the cases were getting settled together and that this worker had to take what was a low ball offer.

This was a lie I’d never heard before, but it’s absurd. Work comp cases aren’t class actions. Everyone’s case is their own and you don’t have to take less because all of the cases are resolving at once. They aren’t doing that. Your case settles whenever it’s ready and you get paid whatever it’s worth. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Their lies might try to avoid that, but if you know your rights you won’t fall for their tricks.

The bottom line is that generally speaking insurance companies don’t look out for you and shouldn’t be trusted. Even when they are nice, they have an agenda, so be careful.

If you would like to speak to an experienced Illinois lawyer for free, call us any time at 800-517-1614.  We help with cases everywhere in Illinois.

With Thanksgiving having just passed and the New Year almost upon us, it’s a time for goal setting. For many people this means they want to get out of their unhappy marriage and think about divorce.  January is traditionally the most popular month for divorce filings.

Of course to file for divorce you have to be ready, both emotionally and financially. If you aren’t working, it’s not uncommon to be nervous about proceeding with a divorce.

Stay-at-home moms in Chicago provide so much value to their families. Taking care of children requires a lot of work: grocery shopping, food preparation and cleanup; transporting the kids to school and their activities in sun, rain, and snow; helping them with their homework, etc. Of course, being a stay-at-home mom often goes beyond taking care of the children. Many clean and maintain the house, do the laundry for the whole family, take care of the finances, run errands, take care of the cars, do some gardening and yard work, and the list goes on.

Various companies have tried over the years to assign a dollar amount to the value stay-at-home moms provide to their families. In May 2021, Insure.com said that a mom should earn about $116,022 for the many jobs she must tackle every day. Meanwhile, Salary.com in 2019 estimated the figure at $178,201.

It’s clear that stay-at-homes add a great deal of value to the family. The reality is though, that moms do not get a paycheck for their work. And sadly, when a couple has decided to get a divorce, a stay-at-home mom might feel like she is at a huge disadvantage in the legal arena. Perhaps she doesn’t feel like she can hire or pay for a high-powered, experienced attorney like her husband can. Perhaps she is worried about “wasting” money on legal bills when the higher priorities in her mind are saving money for her and the children’s future needs.

The good news is that when one party in a divorce earns all the money, the other party (i.e., stay-at-home mom) can get a court order to have the breadwinner pay her legal fees. She doesn’t have to let her husband’s attorney “work things out for the both of them.” That attorney will not have her best interests at heart. She doesn’t have to settle for average or below-average legal representation, either. She can hire a reputable, experienced lawyer who can go toe to toe with her husband’s attorney because, again, the court order can require her husband to pay her legal bills.

There is no guarantee this will happen, but typically the first thing your lawyer will do is file a motion for lawyer fees. In the alternative, if you have access to bank accounts, you can almost always take that money to pay for a retainer. Beyond, that you can expect additional compensation while the case is going on in the form of temporary maintenance (often thought of as alimony) and/or child support.

Some other tips for stay-at-home moms who might be getting a divorce include gathering financial information (e.g., tax returns, investment account balances and holdings, retirement savings), documenting exactly what she does on a daily basis to take care of the children and the family as a whole, and documenting the expenses she incurs on a weekly or monthly basis.

But don’t feel overwhelmed. It’s never an easy process at first and consulting with a lawyer doesn’t mean a divorce is happening. What it would mean is that you are finding out your rights and obligations and able to get a game plan together. Then you can make an educated decision as to what you want to do. If you would like to speak to a divorce lawyer for free to learn more about this process, please call us any time at 312-346-5320.

Salespeople are a unique part of the working world. They are typically outgoing, persistent people, who regularly face rejection but soldier on. Sales reps are often compensated differently than other workers. Employers commonly pay their salespeople a commission.  

A commission is money paid upon completion of a task, usually the task of selling a certain amount of goods or services. The commission can be a percentage of the sales or a flat dollar amount based on sales volume.  

A commission-based pay system motivates salespeople to sell more. More sales equals more money in their pockets. And for salespeople in Illinois, a special employment law is in place to protect them and their rightfully earned commissions.  

The Illinois Sales Representative Act (ISRA) regulates how employers must pay commissions. The ISRA has three main points: 1) when commissions come due to the employee; 2) how employers should handle commissions that are owed to an employee who has been terminated; and 3) penalties to employers if they do not comply with the Act.  

There are a few scenarios in the ISRA regarding when the employer must pay the commissions. If the employee’s contract lays out a due date for the commission, then that is the due date. But if the employee works without a contract, or the contract doesn’t include a due date, then the employer’s past practice of when they paid the employee commissions holds. Lastly, if the employer just recently hired the salesperson, and therefore there is no past practice, then the Act uses the standard industry practice to determine when the employer owes commissions. 

The second main point of the Act details requirements for paying commissions to terminated employees. If the employer owes any commissions to the employee at the time he/she is terminated, then the employer must pay those commissions within 13 days of the termination. In addition, if more commissions come due after the employee is let go, then the employer must pay those no later than 13 days after they come due. 

Even if an employee waived their right to collect commissions after they are terminated, the ISRA says that waiver will not be enforced. In layman’s terms, a sales rep can’t be stiffed, even after they have been fired. You did the work and closed the sale. You will get the commission you earned. 

The Act also details severe penalties for employers who fail to comply with the guidelines for when to pay commissions. A salesperson can sue them for failure to pay, and receive up to three times the value of the commissions. The employer may also be ordered to cover the employee’s court costs and attorney’s fees. So in plain English that means it costs nothing typically to hire an attorney to help you go after commission that you are owed. Beyond that, because they have to pay your lawyer fees and potentially triple the amount owed, a lawsuit can bring real leverage to getting you the result you are entitled to.

If you are a salesperson who believes that your employer violated the ISRA or just have questions, please contact us for FREE any time to speak with a lawyer. We can be reached at 312-346-5320.

The short answer to this blog post is no.

The medium answer is “Ha ha, no.”

The longer answer requires an explanation as to my strong opinion on why this is nonsense. There are tons of attorney awards out there.  A lot of really amazing attorneys get them.  And some really crappy ones do too.

A couple of months ago I got a digital magazine honoring the “top 50 women in law.”  The first thing I noticed was an old law school classmate of mine was honored. I haven’t talked to her in the 24 years since we graduated, but have followed her career from afar.  She was the smartest person in my class, very nice, a hard worker and it’s no surprise she’s a great attorney.

A closer look though showed a few things.  First, most of the honored women came from law firms. By my count, 43 of the 50 worked at law firms, most of those at really big law firms. The remaining seven were either Judges, non-profit workers or in Government. Of note, there wasn’t more than one woman at any law firm chosen that I saw.  Why is that important?

Well, these publications make money by getting these big law firms to take out ads to congratulate the people in their firm who get chosen. By my count, there were 23 lawyer ads offering congrats.  While there is no requirement that an ad be bought for a woman to be selected, these large law firms have the budget to do so and seem to do so on a regular basis when other awards are made.

So while it does appear that most of the women on this list are great, are they the “top 50?” Of course not. It was a second annual list and unlike rankings for something like basketball recruits, the list changed completely. And of course there are amazing attorneys at small law firms and more than one “top” attorney at big firms like the one my classmate is a partner at.

Similar things happen with 40 under 40 lists and not just in law, but in other industries.   It’s not that bad people are chosen, it’s that it’s important for the public to know that these awards are money makers and nothing official.  In other words, don’t use it as a reason to hire an attorney or not hire one.

Bonus story. Years ago I was “awarded” as a top attorney from some company I’d never heard of. To make it official I had to order their plaque which cost around $100.  I thanked them for the honor, but said I didn’t want a plaque.  Well, since I wouldn’t pay for the plaque I was no longer on their list.  Most award companies aren’t that brazen, but that one certainly was and gave me a good chuckle.

The most common question that gets asked in any Illinois personal injury lawsuit is, “What is my case worth?” I get it. People want to know how they will be compensated for the pain and agony they’ve gone through.

Most cases just aren’t worth that much. There are two reasons for that.  The first is that your injuries are small. If you get hit by a car and need a month of physical therapy, that case has value, but not much.  In other cases you might have significant damages, but if there is only $50,000.00 worth of insurance out there, that’s likely all you will get.

In some cases though there is a really significant injury or death and there is large or unlimited insurance because the defendant is a corporation or some other entity that is heavily insured. Think of a situation like an airplane crash or if a CTA bus driver ran a red light. A major airline or the City of Chicago can pay out any award made by a jury.

So how do you get a multi-million dollar settlement or trial verdict.  There are a bunch of factors, some obvious and others not so obvious.

  1. Big damages. As discussed, you can get hit by a drunk driving bus driver, but if your injuries are small, the value of the case is small.
  2. Strong liability. You might become paralyzed during a surgery, but if you can’t prove it was due to medical negligence, the chances of recovery aren’t great.
  3. Who your lawyer is. This ultimately becomes the biggest factor. There’s a reason why a handful of law firms in Illinois get the biggest results year in and year out.  And there are so many reasons why a case is worth more in the hands of certain lawyers than it is in others.
  • These lawyers have a track record of success, so the insurance company assumes a bigger potential loss which increases room to negotiate.
  • These firms know how to properly investigate cases.  If you are in a truck crash or industrial accident, it’s important to have the scene examined ASAP.  They’ve done this many times before and have experts on call to get the job done. This initial work can ultimately be the difference of millions of dollars in the end.
  • They know how to find hidden insurance. Many trucking companies operate shell companies in order to make it appear as if their trucks are small companies when really they are a subsidiary of a much larger company. Inexperienced lawyers might tell you that there is only a $1 million insurance policy when in fact there is ten times that out there.
  • They have trial skills for bigger cases.  If there is a catastrophic injury it often is a complex case which could mean a two week or more trial as lots of experts will need to testify.  That is way different than handling a car accident trial that lasts a day.
  • They have money to finance these cases. Getting experts costs money.  Creating videos that show what a victim’s life is like now cost money. Those things are investments in your case in order to greatly increase the value of your case. But they aren’t cheap. It’s not unusual for a lawyer to spend $300,000.00 of their own money with no guarantee of a payback if you don’t win. Firms that haven’t won these cases many times before can’t afford to do that.  The ones that can make your case worth more money.
  • They know the best experts.  The best experts want to work with the best firms.  All of this increases your case value.
  • They are able to turn down a large offer when they know your case is worth more. $5 million is a huge case result. But if the case is really worth $10 million, settling for five would be a bad idea. Some lawyers can’t risk losing the fee they’d get from a $5 million case and won’t have the guts to tell you to not take it. An experienced, successful lawyer will only act in your best interests even if settling would still get them a great fee.

The point to take away is that if your case could be worth millions, there are about ten firms in Illinois where having them makes the case worth significantly more than if you get a less reputable law firm. If you would like our recommendation as to the best Illinois personal injury law firm for you, please contact us for free at 312-346-5320. We help with legal advice and attorney referrals everywhere in Illinois.