I confess: I was one of those law school nerds who really enjoyed what he was learning, and I am now one of those lawyer nerds who actually loves being a lawyer. I love arguing, writing, learning my clients’ businesses, getting to know them, absorbing new areas of the law, picking juries, arguing (I said that already, didn't I), learning what makes an assigned judge tick, and devising creative strategies to solve problems and win cases. That's the good stuff. That makes me a happy lawyer. (No, it's not an oxymoron.)
But as happy as that stuff makes me, by 2000, after fifteen years at a growing and successful firm, I grew increasingly frustrated with BigLaw’s model for providing legal services: large teams of lawyers lined up vertically in hierarchical organization charts, with ever-increasing hourly rates, pressure to meet billing targets, and the sending out of monthly bills, often devoid of logical relation to the specific results so far obtained or even to be later obtained. I watched clients, forced to settle cases, not based on the merits of their claims or defenses, but simply because they could no longer withstand the crush of the hourly fees. Nothing frustrated me more than when a client abandoned a winnable case on the sole ground that the pressure of mounting fees made it untenable to try the case to verdict.
Instead of just being frustrated or complaining, however, I left my partnership to become a "One-L": a "line assistant" in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago. (I believe I am only one of three lawyers to start in that office as a line assistant over the age of 40). Few understood at the time why I would resign my partnership and take that kind of cut in pay, but I got what I craved: lots of courtroom action. I was exhilarated working with federal agents, conducting complex investigations, trying 11 multi-defendant jury trials (and one to a judge), and arguing eight appeals in the Seventh Circuit. My lawyerly battery was recharged, I got to do the lawyer things I loved to do (have I said "argue" yet), and not let the bad guys win.
By 2004, I returned to private practice. I came out of the U.S. Attorney's Office and joined Katten Muchin Rosenman equipped with sharpened advocacy skills, criminal law experience, and my prior 15 years of handling civil cases – and also hoping that perhaps BigLaw had changed. I enjoyed doing criminal and civil internal investigations, grand jury investigations, white collar criminal defense, and whistleblower cases. I was especially gratified representing victims of fraud. I helped a doctor/entrepreneur recover a $17.5 million verdict against the largest privately held company in France, when the company breached a joint venture agreement and attempted to steal her intellectual property. I helped protect a partner’s interest in a joint venture, when several of its partners attempted to siphon money from the joint venture to prop up one of that partner’s other, wholly unrelated, failing companies. Knowing that obtaining a Court-appointed receiver would only work if we moved quickly, we told the Court and kept to our word that the depositions would be done in a week. We ultimately settled for well in excess of our clients' investment.
May 2009 brought a defining moment in my legal career. I co-led a team of lawyers from Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and my former firm to obtain the full exoneration of an individual wrongfully-convicted of murder, Thaddeus Jiminez ("TJ"). Ripped from his home at age 13, TJ was framed, convicted, and sentenced for a murder he did not commit. TJ served 16 years, two months, and 27 days until we were able to get Cook County prosecutors and the Cook County Criminal Court to agree to his release and full exoneration, including granting him a Certificate of Innocence. I cannot adequately describe my elation the night I hugged TJ as he emerged from the Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg and how it felt to deliver him to his mother's home late that night.
In spring '08, my then partner (and now partner again) Nicole Auerbach announced that she was leaving Katten to start a new law firm in which four "BigLaw Refugees" were going to trade in their pinstripes to become "revolutionaries, risk-takers and entrepreneurs" and were dedicated to principles such as "collaboration," "the team," and "value billing." I also had known two of the other Valorem founding partners for 25 years and thought very highly of them. I checked out their website and laughed. (How often does a law firm website make you laugh? Smile, even?) By summer '09, I realized that BigLaw had not changed and, after looking at several alternatives, I moved to Valorem. Valorem was the only place that made sense for the direction I wanted to take my practice.
On August 24, 2009, I joined this merry band of revolutionaries, risk-takers, and entrepreneurs, and I have loved every minute of it. Every day is about results, not hours – and every day we try to enhance our understanding of our clients and their goals and provide them even better service.
All of this has made me a happy lawyer again.
Stuart J. Chanen is a partner with Valorem Law Group and concentrates his litigation practice in four primary areas: (1) complex business disputes; (2) criminal defense, civil fraud prosecution and defense, and internal investigations; (3) employment litigation; and (4) plaintiff’s civil rights.
Complex Business Disputes
Stuart has 28 years of experience in civil and criminal litigation and has handled business disputes of all kinds for both plaintiffs and defendants. Stuart traditionally represents individuals, families, family businesses, and other closely-held companies in a wide array of cases, including breaches of contract and fiduciary duty; trust, estate, and insurance beneficiary disputes; and consumer, securities, and shareholder claims, including class actions.
Stuart has tried more than 20 cases to verdict, in both federal and state courts around the country . He also has extensive appellate experience, including in the Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth federal circuits and the Illinois appellate courts. Among his plaintiff trial victories, Stuart obtained a $9.3 million fraud verdict for a Fortune 50 company arising out of employee embezzlement; a $17.5 million breach of fiduciary duty verdict for a health care consulting client against France’s largest privately owned company; and a declaration of trademark ownership in an international trademark dispute. For defendants, Stuart has defeated an attorney malpractice claim against a national law firm; a defamation claim (brought by comedian Milton Berle) against a franchisee of a national realty firm; and a spokesperson liability claim against actor George Hamilton.
Criminal Defense, Civil Fraud, and Internal Investigations
Stuart frequently represents companies and individuals in a wide array of matters involving alleged criminal conduct or fraud. He represents companies, executives, witnesses, and victims and has done so in whistleblowers claims; internal investigations; ongoing grand jury and other government investigations; and criminal defense. Stuart is in the unique position of having represented plaintiffs, defendants and the government in a wide-variety of whistleblower claims brought under both the federal and state False Claims Acts. In January 2005, Stuart tried a fraud case on behalf of a minority shareholder against the management and majority shareholders of a closely-held corporation and obtained a multi-million dollar settlement on the eve of the verdict.
From March 2000 to April 2004, Stuart was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Criminal Division in Chicago, trying cases and supervising investigations in the General Crimes and Major Case Sections. He obtained indictments and pleas in complex fraud cases, including health care, securities, banking, tax, and money laundering cases, as well as in drug and gun cases, including international drug smuggling, and threats against a presidential candidate.
Stuart frequently handles employment disputes on behalf of both employers and employees, including whistleblower claims, wage claims, non-competes, discrimination claims, and retaliation claims. Stuart successfully defended a Fortune 1000 company at trial, defeating the wage claims of several former employees. The trial came after defeating plaintiffs’ attempts to certify a class of over one thousand employees. Stuart has also represented and successfully settled numerous disputes on behalf of executives and employees against their former companies.
Civil rights is the newest part of Stuart’s practice, having filed his first case in December 2009 (which resulted in a $25 million verdict against the City of Chicago, affirmed on appeal by the 7th Circuit), his second in November 2010, and two more in October and November 2012. Most of Stuart’s civil rights work arises out of his pro bono work with Northwestern Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, which experience is described below.
Professional, Civic and Community Service
Stuart is a life-long Chicagoan who is deeply involved in his community. He has been an adjunct faculty member at the Northwestern Law School since 1994, teaching courses in trial advocacy and professional responsibility and has also served as faculty for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy. In 1991, he took a leave of absence from practice to teach Constitutional Law and Legal Writing at the University of Iowa Law School. He writes and lectures frequently on a wide range of subjects, most recently on the subjects of whistleblower claims under the False Claims Act; preparing expert witnesses to testify; managing the business risk of employee fraud; and the Justice Department's recent amendments regarding assessing corporate cooperation in criminal investigations.
Stuart is rated "AV" (the highest rating) by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory and has also been repeatedly listed in Illinois Super Lawyers and Illinois Super Lawyers, Corporate Counsel Edition (2005-2009, 2011-2013), peer review designations published by Law & Politics magazine. He was most recently recognized in the category of Business Litigation, and in prior years he was also named for White Collar Criminal Defense.
Stuart has always engaged in extensive pro bono work. Since leaving the U.S. Attorneys’ Office in 2004, Stuart has served on the Advisory Boards of Northwestern’ s Center on Wrongful Convictions and Short Course for Prosecutors and Defense Lawyers. In addition to serving on CWC’s Board, Stuart has been cooperating counsel in five cases, which resulted in exonerations of three of his clients (Thaddeus Jimenez, Vincent Thames, and Robert Veal). For six years, Stuart was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to serve as a Hearing Board Officer for the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission. For four of those years, he served as Panel Chairman. In addition to his contribution to the legal community, Stuart has also been on the Boards of the Evanston District 65 Foundation, the Jewish Children’s Bureau, and the JUF Young Leadership Division.