Last fall at a seminar downstate, I met some rural solo practitioners. Arguably most of downstate Illinois is rural. It never occurred to me that it has to be almost impossible to earn a living downstate doing nothing but criminal work. There's simply not enough cases.
One attorney in particular was from a very rural area. There is one courthouse. Two judges. And the felony trial call is held on Wednesday afternoons. A trip down there would find me thinking I had stepped into the twilight zone. And if he came up here to practice law, he might think the same thing.
As I learned most of the rural guys handle about anything that comes through the door. Wills, trusts, divorce, real estate, and small commercial were the common areas of practice I was told about. And, of course, the rare criminal case. They are mostly DUI's.
Most criminal attorneys I know handle more types of cases than I do. In fact, I am the only criminal lawyer I know that doesn't do traffic cases or at least DUI's. Traffic doesn't interest me and my grandmother was killed by a drunk driver.
I am also the only one I know that will not take criminal sexual assault (rape) cases. I don't think any lawyer likes sex cases, especially if the victim is a minor. Sadly, they often are. I was once in in the special homicide/CSA preliminary court call. I saw a fellow solo criminal lawyer I am friendly with. I was there on a homicide. He was there on a CSA.
He briefly described the allegations against his client. It was a bad case (hard to defend) and made me nauseous. I asked him how he can do such cases. His response was that if that type of call comes in and he needs money, he takes the case. I don't know if he was joking. And I didn't ask.
I have had a couple of really slow months where I stared at my phone waiting for it to ring. I even called my phone from a different line to make sure it was working. It was. No one was calling.
Illinois does not recognize legal specialties. You cannot advertise that you're a specialist in an area. However, it's within the rules to list types of cases you handle.
The list of criminal cases I don't accept is much longer than the list of cases I do accept. Just go to my website. What's listed on the left is about it. Fortunately, the majority of Chicago felony cases fall somewhere in that short list.
I doubt much is going to change anytime soon. I am fortunate to be doing exactly what I want to do, where I want to do it. I never imagined I would be here right now. Not even in law school.
At times I feel like I am supposed to be doing this work. It's almost as if there was some divine plan all along. Feeling as if you're being guided by an unknown power is a creepy thing. But I am not a religious person, so I am not going to claim this was God's plan.
But I am spiritual enough to appreciate a harmonious and tranquil existence. The stresses and worries I have today are light years beyond anything I experienced working at a firm and commuting from the clean, quiet suburbs. I never lost sleep over work before. I never even thought about work once I left the office.
You may ask how in the world my life is more harmonious and tranquil now compared to a couple of years ago. That's a great question.
The answer is: I don't know. Maybe I am not supposed to know. On paper it doesn't make sense. I was a suburban commuter working 9-5. I rode the train everyday while reading the paper and drinking coffee. I had good benefits, paid vacation, a secretary, sick days, a retirement account, a downtown office, and a predictable paycheck.
But I walked away from that not knowing from where the next dollar was coming. I gave up 40 hour work weeks for 60 hour work weeks. I gave up weekends off for weekends in the county jail. I gave up free medical insurance for coverage I am still searching for. Two weeks vacation turned into no days off in 2009. And I can no longer call in sick if I have a tummy ache.
Why did I do this? Simple, I was bored and uninspired. Becoming easily bored is one of my greatest foibles. This flaw extends into most areas of my life, including personal relationships which has caused years of problems. I find most people incredibly boring and quickly grow tired of listening to them speak.
About half way through 2009, I realized I had changed. I had grown enormously as an attorney and felt good that, on a daily basis, I helped people. I began to feel that I was finally being the Marcus I really am, and not someone I thought I was supposed to be.
I traded in a suburban-ish Honda Accord sedan for a Mustang GT that growls when it idles. It seems more me. I know this may seem a bit silly, but I found this move to be of profound significance. I loved that Accord. It was a great car. I had no good reason to get rid of it. I just didn't feel right driving it any longer. I needed something a little grittier. And I found it.
Right now I have enough work doing just the street crime cases to earn a modest living. I like the work. It's interesting, but often sad. I have the luxury of excluding cases I don't want. I have accepted I will never get wealthy doing this work here in Chicago. It's impossible. The people that need my help have little money.
Somehow it has worked out so far. I don't have two days in a month that are identical. And I can't get enough of the stories I hear from my clients or witness in person while in court. Sometimes I even think I am close to being cool.
It quickly passes.