By Dustin Seibert
These four attorneys know a courtroom and all its intricacies.
Their talents allow their private practices to flourish at a time when the recession has taken a bite out of the entire profession.
Each of them admit without hesitation that they owe their successes to working as lawyers at the Cook County public defender's office or Cook County state's attorney's office. Though they moved on from their days of working for the county — some an entire generation ago — each fondly recalls where they received their starts.
They reflect on their first jobs and how those experiences turned them into the lawyers they are today.
A lifelong athlete, Craig Tobin still works on the lifestyle he maintained when he played baseball for the University of Illinois-Chicago. He considered playing semipro ball, but then discovered that pursuing this avenue "wasn't all that glamorous."
Good thing the native from Chicago's Southeast Side possessed a more tenable childhood dream, that of becoming an attorney. It all started with the public defender's office, which he first joined as a clerk while attending Chicago-Kent College of Law in 1978.
"My experience started in that office and I became addicted, even as a clerk," he said. "It was a wonderful place to be at, with the people you interacted with. I could even see as a clerk the opportunity to develop as a lawyer and as a person."
After graduation in 1980, Tobin joined the public defender's office's Juvenile Justice Division. He said he worked under "a bunch of older hippies who went to law school in the 1960s.
"They were true believers who made it a lot of fun to be in the office. I learned that compassion and dedication went a long way in this profession and were the ultimate calling cards. It's easy to say, 'I'm a lawyer.' It's really difficult to go out and practice law."
Today, the public defender's office moves attorneys through assignments systematically. But thanks to one of his supervisors who moved to the Homicide Task Force, Tobin followed him to the task force after slightly more than two years with the office; a stroke of luck that would never occur in today's public defender's office.
He said his work in the task force, where he stayed until he left the public defender's office in 1985, gave him his most resonant experience in his seven years with the office.
His oldest brother Dennis, who was also a Homicide Task Force attorney, "was a very convincing soul" in selling his little brother on the office's merits. They shared office space in the task force before Dennis left for private practice the same year as his brother.
"It was an all-right experience. There's a middle brother, so I wasn't the one he was always piling on when we were kids," Tobin said, laughing. "We had a great experience sharing offices together and it was kinda fun having family around."
Tobin said he became known for his gallows sense of humor.
"It's how you survive the experience, I had to bring it with me," he said, laughing again. "I definitely tried some of the most difficult cases. By the time I got to the courtroom, I just knew my client was going to be the hardest one on the docket."
While Tobin's skills earned him numerous accolades in his career, he attributes much of his success to one man: the late Judge Robert J. Collins. Collins ran the courtroom that Tobin was assigned to in the Juvenile Justice Division.
"I learned the most in Judge Collins' courtroom," Tobin said. "He forced you to be a lawyer, and to do it the right way."
Tobin left the public defender's office in 1985 to start Craig D. Tobin & Associates. He asked Collins, who retired from the bench at the time, to join him. Collins, whom the Chicago Tribune called, "The criminal court judge by which all other judges should be measured," complied with this somewhat unusual arrangement.
"It was a humbling thing to have him say yes to me, someone of his stature," he said.
Tobin left his position with the public defender's office because he said he wanted something new — "to see other aspects of law." It was also, he said, a financial move.
"More people left then than they do now. It's an economy of scale," he said. "On some level [today's assistant public defenders] are finally being rewarded as attorneys. It's a difficult job with lots of frustrations, but it's a quality job and I think some of that difficulty is offset by a better pay scale."
Tobin currently heads the downtown Chicago office of Tobin & Muñoz. His partner George Muñoz, a former Chicago Public School board president and political heavy-hitter, runs the Washington, D.C., office. The Chicago branch consists of six attorneys, including Tobin and his wife, Paula Fuller Tobin.
Tobin's time as a public defender, though relatively short, will follow him throughout his career, evidenced by current Cook County Public Defender Abishi C. Cunningham personally requesting him to serve on the Public Defender Advisory Board.
"Being in that office made me. I don't know how else to say it," Tobin said. "I'm always continuing to build on those skills, but it gave me the knowledge and skills and perhaps most importantly the confidence to do this. My true calling was helping people."
For a good insight into Kathy Gallanis' unyielding dedication to the law, look no further than the moments leading up to the birth of her son Craig in 2008.
Nine months pregnant and scheduled for a cesarean section, she worked until the end on a jury trial against the advice of her doctor. She was sitting at her desk working when she went into labor. Craig was born a few hours later at a nearby hospital.
"It was a sense of obligation I had to my job and drive to make sure my files were up to date and I wasn't leaving my partners to pick up the pieces," she said.
Gallanis' energy served her well during her 13 years as a Cook County assistant state's attorney. She affectionately refers to it as "The Office," an endearing term shared with her and the many current and past assistant state's attorneys she encounters in her travels.
"You may run into someone and you say 'what's going on at 'The Office' and everyone knows what you're talking about," she said. "It's an insider thing."
The Kenilworth native was bitten by the journalism bug during her days working for New Trier Township High School's newspaper. She originally planned to be an investigative reporter and practicing law "wasn't in the grand scheme," she said.
But the summer between her freshman and sophomore years at Southern Methodist University saw her in need of money, so she simultaneously waited tables and did clerical work for an immigration law firm. The experience led her to The John Marshall Law School.
After landing a rare paid clerkship for the Cook County Circuit Court's Probate Division, Gallanis proudly drew upon her Greek heritage for networking purposes and requested the help of U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras for a recommendation.
"I went and knocked on his chamber door and said, 'I want to talk to you about why I should be a state's attorney,'" she said. "'You're Greek, and I'm Greek, so maybe we can have a conversation.' That started a relationship; he watched my career and eventually wrote me a recommendation."
Gallanis never planned to leave the state's attorney's office when working first chair in the Felony Trial Division. But Cook County Associate Judge James Linn asked her to tidy up her resume for an interview with Bruce Farrel Dorn & Associates, a personal-injury defense firm. She took the path chosen for her and has been there for more than 10 years.
"I was at a point in my career where a lot of people were wondering if I wanted to be a supervisor or become a judge," she said. "[Linn] thought it would be a good match and it was just kind of time.He decided my fate."
She describes her decision to join the state's attorney's office as partly family-driven: Her father, Dr. Thomas Gallanis, a retired gynecologist, made it clear that personal-injury plaintiff's work wasn't an option for her.
"He told me he didn't put me through law school to sue his friends," she said, laughing. "I think he would have been upset and as a nice Greek girl you always wanna keep your parents happy."
Gallanis enjoys talking about her position with Bruce Farrel Dorn, but admits that "The Office" possessed the unique aspects of practicing law that she came to love.
"'The Office' focuses on chain of command, mentoring, camaraderie, using common sense and making tough decisions," she said. "They don't really teach you all of that in civil practice. It's usually all about money."
In addition to her law firm practice, she just finished her term as president of the Women's Bar Association of Illinois and she also teaches "Murder After the Millennium" at Lewis University in Romeoville with fellow former Assistant State's Attorney Kent Sinson.
But with everything else, she makes sure to spend plenty of time with 3-year-old Craig and her husband, corporate attorney Chris Matern.
When asked if she ever considered giving up her career to be a full-time mom, her answer was decisive and without hesitation.
"That's just not me," she said.
A stroll through Kent Sinson's office resembles what you might see if you walked through his former state's attorney's office at the Cook County Criminal Courts Building: boxes of files, manila folders and legal books make up the décor.
No one will mistake Sinson & Sinson for a big-dollar, high-rise firm; instead, it's more reflective of his background as a tough-nosed, respected Chicago trial attorney.
The Elmhurst native's first love was sports. He also wanted to attend school out east. He wound up at Hamilton College, a small Division 3 school in upstate New York where he played football and hockey.
Sinson grew up watching his dad Junie represent plaintiffs. As a result, his father served as the catalyst for his enrollment at DePaul University College of Law.
"My father always portrayed law favorably. It was a good impetus for me to know someone who had successfully enjoyed the profession a long time," Sinson said.
The competitive nature that fueled Sinson's athletic ambitions also drove him to the state's attorney's office, but he gave brief consideration to becoming a schoolteacher.
"I wanted a job that was challenging, had a fair amount of responsibility and allowed you to grow over the years," he said. "I also believed in the cause; I thought victims of crimes needed someone to speak for them."
Following a 12-year stint at the state's attorney's office, something he called a "great run," Sinson heard from many private firms looking to hire him.
"A lot of people wanted to hire me to defend criminal cases, because I knew prosecution so well," he said.
He didn't hesitate to admit that the financial limitations of defense work were a massive deterrent to him switching sides. Instead, he joined forces with his dad representing plaintiffs in personal-injury work.
"Criminal defense work is heroic, but it's hard to make a lot of money doing it," he said. "It wasn't like you'd get rich in a year, but more like 20 years down the road.
"There aren't that many people like O.J. [Simpson] who are in a lot of trouble and have a lot of money."
Sinson directly attributes his success in civil law to the rigors he experienced as an assistant state's attorney. He said most attorneys don't take career paths that allow them to navigate civil and criminal law with a degree of deftness.
"Because you're on trial every day as a state's attorney, you get really good at asking good questions of witnesses on stands," he said. "Civil practice is really no different: You need the ability to follow-up with good questions. I don't know how to teach that, but I'm good at it because I've been doing it so long."
Sinson maintains a concentrated interest in the philosophical and moral differences between civil and criminal law, underlining the oftentimes equal importance of both.
"There's not any real difference from someone seeking money damages or someone seeking to put someone in jail," he said. "The bottom line is that you're trying to help someone who's been wronged by trusting in the legal system."
Even after being away for 11 years, Sinson still exhibits a protectiveness of the state's attorney's office. He recalled the late 1980s, when the local media began to attack the office's prosecution and conviction practices as unfair and racially biased.
"It's so unfair a criticism and I worked really hard to try to defeat that public perception," he said.
"No one thinks it's more important than me that the state fairly prove its case. [The state] only brings cases when they believe they can prove they know for sure who did it. I like to rep the side I believe reps the truth."
Sinson added that the natural rivalry between public defenders and state's attorneys is often misperceived by the public.
"Secretly, state's attorneys have a lot of respect for the public defender's office. And this idea that people are poorly represented by the PD office is baloney," he said. "There are some really hard-working, dedicated people in the office, especially in the [Homicide] Task Force."
The Sinsons' downtown Chicago firm consists of father, son and one assistant apiece. Though Junie is winding down his career at 81, Sinson said it's been a great experience working with his dad.
"We probably butted heads more than most fathers and sons when I was growing up, so I can't say it was an easy decision to come work with him," he said. "But we've been at it for 12 years and if it wasn't working I wouldn't have stuck around. I needed someone to be fairly patient with me and he gave me the skills I needed."
Born after World War II on the South Side of Chicago, Dan Radakovich's blue-collar parents raised him in racially tense, low-rise project homes.
His family grew up on 98th Street, a steel mill community where his mother still lives.
Because of his background, Radakovich pursued law on the public service side of things, starting his career with the public defender's office.
Radakovich attended Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and played football. But Radakovich knew his whole life he wanted to be an attorney.
The devout Christian now considers his decision to attend Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville, Tenn., 40 years ago an act of divine intervention.
"I didn't want to be a lawyer, but I knew I would be," he said. "There were no lawyers in the family and no college grads outside of my older sister. I think I was born to be a lawyer."
There still seemed to be some resistance: At a time when most graduates spent their time looking for their first attorney position, he worked for U.S. Steel South Works and drove a CTA bus. But a day spent with local politicians established his legal career, he said.
"I drove around with a couple politicians one day and they asked me what I was gonna do with my life," he said.
He rejected their suggestion of joining the state's attorney's office and becoming a prosecutor, but liked the idea of working as a public defender.
"That was back in the day when you could pick up the phone and call somebody," he said. "I had an interview the following week; a couple weeks later I had a job."
His six-year stint with the office started with a year and a half in the office of the state appellate defender, which initially turned him off.
"I was very disappointed, because everyone wants to be Perry Mason in the courtroom," he said. "But it was the best place I could've started. It helped me learn how to write, how to research; it helped me learn discipline."
While working on appellate cases, Radakovich volunteered to fill in for lawyers on vacation in the 1st Municipal Branch Court.
"I still wrote appeals, but I would also get action," he said. "It's like being an intern in emergency medicine and working the Cook County Hospital emergency room on a weekend at night with a full moon. It's so mind-boggling that you either freak out and go insane or you roll with it and learn."
His learning spirit got put to the ultimate test when he took a job at the 4th Municipal District courthouse. Radakovich said he took on heavier and heavier cases.
"Here I am, two years tops as a PD and I was trying felony juries. I was doing them way before I was ready ," he said. "I was in deep water and I took it very seriously. It was a tremendous experience."
Two years later, he ended up in the Homicide Task Force, where he stayed until he left the public defender's office in the beginning of 1981. He said it was easily his favorite assignment.
"It's like playing AAU ball, and the next day you're in the NBA," he said of entering the task force.
"The quality of lawyers I practiced with … we would challenge, inspire each other, support each other, laugh with each other, cry with each other."
The combination of a fast-approaching salary ceiling and a baby daughter with another on the way drove his decision to leave the public defender's office.
"It was a financial decision more than anything," he said. "It was scary going from a secure check and benefits to being out on my own, but I was excited."
Radakovich then started his own firm with a number of former public defenders, several of whom went on to lucrative legal and political careers.
The shingle read Daniel E. Radakovich & Associates – a shingle that's now been hanging for 30 years. He runs his office in the West Loop with one associate, several law student clerks and his mother, Violet, who at 88, manages the books.
Radakovich said that after 36 years of practicing law, including 30 in private practice, he owns the clientele base of a seasoned attorney.
He insists his public defender's office experience was key to his success.
"If I had just gone out on my own and hung up my own shingle [after law school], I wouldn't be nearly the lawyer that I am now because I wouldn't have been doing murder death penalty juries at 25," he said. "If I'd gone with a big firm, I probably would have made a lot more money, but my learning curve would have been much slower."
Radakovich acknowledged with humility that his referral base and amount of work is pretty expansive, even in a lagging economy, but it's that devotion to his faith that keeps him taking work from those who might not be able to afford it.
"Sometimes you have to be more creative in billing and working with people, but there are few things more powerful than extending grace to someone," he said.
"If there's one thing I've learned, it's that the more you give, the more you get."