Our Lawyer Spotlight series highlights Illinois lawyers who are demonstrating the ideals of professionalism in their daily lives.
Michele M. Jochner, partner at Schiller DuCanto & Fleck LLP in the Chicagoland area, represents family law clients in complex appellate matters.
Previously, Michele served as a judicial law clerk to two Chief Justices of the Illinois Supreme Court: the late Justice Mary Ann G. McMorrow and the late Justice Charles E. Freeman.
How has your practice evolved during the last few years?
After nearly 16 years of service at the Illinois Supreme Court, I joined the internationally-recognized law firm of Schiller DuCanto & Fleck LLP as a partner in 2012, focusing on complex family law cases. That was a major transition, as I now handle all of the appellate matters for our firms’ three offices across Chicago, Lake Forest and Wheaton.
Every day I am thankful to work with the wonderful and talented attorneys at our firm to secure the best possible outcomes for our clients.
The stakes are about as high as they can get when family law issues become contentious: a divorce is a “watershed moment” because day-to-day life will never be the same. It is a wonderful feeling to help clients get through these life-changing circumstances and to start the next phase of their lives with confidence and hope.
What’s one piece of technology you could not function without?
There is not just one!
Of course, our phones are our lifelines in so many ways: not only to receive and make calls, but also to review and respond to emails and texts, as well as to conduct research and keep up to date.
Because I do a great deal of writing, I always have my laptop nearby, even when traveling (and I also take a compact printer with me when I travel so that I can edit my work on actual paper).
How do you manage your well-being?
Indeed, the practice of law can be all-consuming, especially in an area such as family law, where clients are on emotional rollercoasters and their counsel are regularly in adversary mode.
Getting enough sleep, having a healthy diet, and disconnecting from the job to recharge are the key goals. However, this is often easier said than done. I do my best to keep these goals in mind on a daily basis.
Also, simple things such as listening to music, taking walks, reading non-legal publications, and spending time with family and friends can really alleviate some of the daily stress.
How do you remain civil in tense situations?
Think twice and speak once. If we are angry, irritated or frustrated, that can lead to lashing out in the moment.
A better rule is to take a breath and think carefully about the situation. If it involves an email or text, sometimes we can leap to incorrect conclusions about what is said simply due to the lack of context. After you have a moment to reassess and more carefully consider the circumstances, then craft your response.
As the great Maya Angelou observed, people may not remember what you said, but they remember how you made them feel. Civility makes it enjoyable to practice law.
There is no need to add an additional layer of stress by being uncivil and unprofessional. Such conduct only makes the process worse for the parties, counsel and the court. It also results in an unnecessary waste of time and resources if one side is simply being obstructionist or uncooperative.
Civility, in contrast, promotes efficiency as well as confidence and faith in the legal system. Being a strong advocate for your client is different from being uncivil.
How can attorneys advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession?
Mahatma Gandhi encouraged us to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” To make this important aspiration a true reality, we all need to do our part by recognizing and overcoming unconscious bias and always being mindful of diversity, equity, and inclusion in seeking out members of our teams and in presenting opportunities for advancement and recognition.
It is important to create an environment that is welcoming and supportive of everyone, and to ensure that all feel respected and that they belong. It is likewise important to encourage young students from diverse backgrounds to become lawyers by creating, supporting, and strengthening pipeline and mentorship projects.
By working together towards these important goals, we can ensure that all in our profession thrive.
What is an attorney’s role in furthering public confidence in the rule of law?
Of course, there are the basics, such as knowing and following the law, meeting all deadlines and keeping clients fully informed.
Professionalism and civility also play key roles in enhancing the public’s confidence because our profession and the justice system are presented at their absolute best.
Unfortunately, however, if this process is tainted with instances of incivility that lead to unnecessary delays and increases in fees and costs, the process can be viewed very negatively due to this bad behavior.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
Always remember that reputation and integrity are everything. You can never go wrong if you do things by the book, treat others as you wish to be treated and keep your word as your bond.
In this same vein, you must go that extra mile and always be well-prepared for anything you do. Always aim high, do the absolute best that you can, and never stop growing as an attorney and as a person.
In addition, treat your clients with respect and dignity, be available to answer questions and keep them informed.
Make the time to become involved in bar associations and with other non-profit groups and activities within the profession and the community. Giving back helps you not only connect with others, but it is also very fulfilling and enjoyable.
Finally, find a wonderful mentor! I was blessed with many over the years (including Justices McMorrow and Freeman), and now enjoy being a mentor myself and paying it forward!
What do you think is the biggest challenge impacting lawyers today?
A major challenge will be trying to predict what will happen in the future, and how the practice of law will be impacted by those changes.
In early March 2020, who could have predicted the arrival of a global pandemic that would fundamentally transform our entire society, including the practice of law?
The event of Zoom court hearings, the remote practice of law away from the office, and virtual just-about-everything has had a profound impact upon our practice that will be with us as we move forward. This underscores the need for the flexibility and the resiliency to respond to whatever comes next.
In being future-focused, we also must consider additional ways to enhance the public’s access to justice by streamlining the court process to make it less costly and more efficient.
What do you do for fun?
As you can tell from my career path, I love writing and lecturing about the law. Therefore, I actually find it “fun” to author articles (I have penned more than 200!) and also regularly speak at CLE programs. It is another way to pay it forward.
I also very much enjoy traveling, including cross-country road trips. Seeing nature up close and personal is a wonderful stress reliever as well!
Please note: This Q&A has been edited due to space constraints.
Our Lawyer Spotlight recognizes attorneys throughout Illinois who are admired for their professionalism and civility. Check out more interviews with attorneys here.