Constitutional and complex civil litigation and appeals, with an emphasis on high-stakes cases often involving the public interest encompass my primary practice areas. Broadly speaking, these practice areas have not changed over the years, but the specific areas of focus have evolved throughout my career.
How has your practice evolved in the last few years?
I have always spent a lot of time on appeals, but in recent years I have increasingly been asked to handle, or consult on, appeals in cases I did not work on in the trial court. I expect that trend to continue. I also anticipate continued growth in the number of engagements in which I am retained as an expert witness.
To date most of those cases have involved legal malpractice or other claims involving issues under the Rules of Professional Conduct. That kind of engagement has been an unexpected but gratifying outgrowth of my many years of involvement with legal and judicial ethics issues, including service on the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Professional Responsibility.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
Make it a priority to find a way, consistent with your professional interests and talents, to give back to our profession and to the community. This is one instance where what may sound trite is nevertheless absolutely true and vitally important.
Handling pro bono matters, becoming active in bar associations, or participating in the governance of a nonprofit organization are just some of the ways in which a lawyer can give back. Doing that is important on many levels, starting of course with the value of providing legal services to someone who would otherwise go without, to helping improve the administration of justice, or to making our community a better place to live and work.
Beyond that there is a profound benefit from elevating what you do with your legal training into something that does more than simply enable you to earn a living. In doing that, however, you should be strategic about the ways in which you invest your time. Use it to create opportunities that you might find difficult to obtain in your “day job” (e.g., trying a case, arguing an appeal, or organizing a corporation), or to network with lawyers or with peers in other professions or industries who may someday become colleagues or even clients.
What’s one technological device, application or tool you could not function without?
My computer. I generally take a hands-on approach to my cases, which includes the drafting and editing of briefs and pleadings. It’s painful even to imagine going back to the days of doing that without a computer. The access to the internet and legal research tools afforded by my computer are also indispensable.
And then, of course, there is the bane of many lawyers’ existence—email—which for all of its drawbacks also has virtues and practical necessities, and in any event would be much less efficient if it could only be handled on a smartphone.
How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?
Civility is essential to making it fun to practice law. Those of us who are drawn to the courtroom tend to enjoy competing, but I learned many years ago that zealous representation does not require acting like a jerk. There are many benefits of civility, starting with the recognition that life is too short to get caught up in unpleasantness and that, in any event, most legal matters involve lawyers who are simply trying to serve their clients to the best of their ability, and do not constitute battles between good and evil that warrant treating one’s adversaries with contempt. Civility is also supported by pragmatic considerations, such as the fact that good relations with opposing counsel often benefit one’s clients by making it easier and less costly to work out scheduling issues and even settle cases. Plus there is often the possibility that an opposing party or counsel might become a client or referral source down the road.
One example of civility in action that comes to mind arose when opposing counsel and I walked out of the courthouse together following an appellate argument in Springfield. My car was parked in front of the building and it was immediately apparent that I had a flat tire. Despite my joke that his client “evidently would stop at nothing,” the opposing counsel immediately offered to drive me home (back in the Chicago area). His kindness was sincere, spontaneous, and greatly appreciated.
What do you do for fun?
I am an avid cyclist, tennis player, and skier. I attend a wide variety of concerts and root for Chicago’s professional sports teams (but generally not at concerts). I also like to just hang out with my family, especially while enjoying a good meal.
Steven Pflaum is chair of the General & Commercial Litigation practice group at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP. His practice encompasses a wide variety of complex civil litigation matters, including commercial, constitutional, media, airport, and land use cases.