My practice is devoted to representing plaintiffs in serious personal injury, medical negligence, and wrongful death matters. I spent my first several years in practice at Jenner & Block LLP as an associate in the commercial litigation department.
How has your practice evolved in the last few years?
My caseload still contains a fair balance of motor vehicle crash, medical negligence, product liability, and other cases involving serious injury or wrongful death. More recently, largely through my work with the National Crime Victim Bar Association, I have started representing crime victims, such as childhood sexual abuse survivors, in civil actions.
I have also spent considerable time developing my craft as a trial lawyer in recent years. Last summer, I was fortunate to attend Gerry Spence’s “Trial Lawyers College,” a 3-week trial skills program in Dubois, Wyoming, dedicated to training and educating trial lawyers who represent individuals. Since then, through my role as Chair of the CBA’s “Trial Practice” Committee, I have focused on offering creative programming to enhance our members’ trial skills. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy some recent success at trial, and look forward to more opportunities in coming years to help my clients receive justice.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
Get out of your office at least once per month (better yet, once per week) to volunteer in some capacity – whether it’s with a legal aid organization, bar association, charitable organization, or some other deserving cause. One of the best decisions I made as a young lawyer was to get involved with the Chicago Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section. Not only has it allowed me to help members of our community through involvement in various public service programs, but it exposed me to a whole network of like-minded young professionals, many of whom have become personal friends and professional referral sources.
What’s one technological device, application or tool you could not function without?
My iPad with keyboard-case. Whether it’s during my commute, in court, or at home on the weekends, I have access to all case-related information through our case management app, and can review and edit documents easily with Word and PDF tools. During depositions, I use the iPad to take notes or review case materials, and can even see the transcript in real-time through a real-time transcript app. Once receiving an official deposition transcript, I review, annotate and organize the transcript with the TranscriptPad app for later use in a brief or at trial.
One of the best iPad applications is at trial, where I use a trial presentation app (TrialPad) to visually present all demonstrative exhibits, including medical records, photographs, illustrations, diagrams, and impeachment testimony – to enhance my credibility and persuasiveness with a jury.
How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?
I’m reminded of something then-Chief Judge James Holderman of the Northern District of Illinois once said at a presentation to a group of young lawyers at the CBA. His biggest piece of advice to young lawyers was something along the lines of “No case, no client, no fee is worth compromising your integrity or reputation.” I think of that anytime I’m presented with an ethical or civility question.
For example, we were informed that a client who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury in a bus crash was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer unrelated to the crash. We have a mediation scheduled with the bus company defendant. We could have chosen to go to mediation without disclosing our client’s recent diagnosis to opposing counsel. The defendant likely would never find out, especially if we settle the case at mediation. However, we understood our legal and ethical duty to “seasonably supplement” and inform the defense of this recent diagnosis before mediation. The defense lawyer appreciated our candor and professionalism, which should also help with our future negotiations.
What do you do for fun?
I try to spend as much time as possible with my wife and two young kids. I also still enjoy playing sport, particularly ice hockey in the winter, and triathlon training in the summer. My claim to fame is completing an Ironman triathlon in 2008, and I hope to do another one at some point when my kids are older.
Matt Passen is a partner with Passen Law Group.