Attorneys who start their own law firms are entrepreneurs in their own right. Criminal defense lawyer Steven R. Hunter was kind enough to spend some time with us and discuss his experience starting a law firm.
Steve, thanks for joining us for an attorney entrepreneur interview. Tell us a little bit about what your law firms does?
At its core, our firm defends people who are accused of crimes. That process begins from the moment a client calls the Law Office of Steven R. Hunter. I strive to maintain excellent communication with the client by returning calls promptly and interviewing the client in person, whenever possible.
My goal is to clearly inform our clients about their rights, what they can expect from the criminal justice system, and how I can help them fight their case. Because I have 21 years of years of experience, I can give clients a clear picture of their situation and what options they have, describe the risks and consequences of trials or plea negotiations, and outline my trial strategy.
From there, we either negotiate or prepare for trial. Trial preparation involves investigating the allegations, obtaining and reviewing police reports, interviewing witnesses, going to crime scenes, examining evidence, conducting legal research, and much more.
Sounds like you keep busy. So, what were you doing before starting a criminal defense law firm?
Well, first I acquired an education. I attended the University of Michigan for undergraduate studies and law school. The Law School is considered one of the best in the country, and I received an excellent legal education. After graduation I passed the Bar Exam, and a short time later joined the Cook County Public Defender's Office.
That seems like a common route for many public defenders. How does being a public defender prepare you to start your own law firm specializing in criminal defense?
I know that office has its critics, but you can't beat it for obtaining trial experience. In the 8 ½ years I worked there I tried hundreds of cases. However, I did feel the job was limiting in some ways and decided I could become a better lawyer by starting my own practice, which I did in 1996.
Interesting. Similarly, I'm curious what you didn't know before you started working as an independent criminal defense lawyer that you wish you had known.
That being a great lawyer is only part of having a successful practice. I also need to run a great business. This means that I have to insist that each client pay me a fair fee, on time, and cooperate in his or her defense. Otherwise the drain on my resources negatively impacts other clients.
So what are some of the bigger challenges that criminal defense attorneys, in Chicago and elsewhere, face? How do you overcome those challenges?
The biggest challenge is the constant fight to obtain justice. Our country has gone crazy over punishing people convicted of crimes.
As a nation we have over 2 million people behind bars. That's 25% of all the prisoners in the entire world, more than any other country on earth! And people of color are so overrepresented in the prison population that race must be a factor.
So when I go to trial, a lot is at stake. Sometimes clients are afraid to fight out of fear, even though they are innocent. I have to be ready for each and every trial.
What are your priorities for your Chicago criminal defense firm going forward?
Some people dream of being rich. Others dream of being famous. I dream of having the best criminal defense firm in Chicago, and I work every day to make that dream come true. I do this by constantly working to be a better lawyer at every stage of the proceedings.
As a final question, what advice would you offer to an attorney who is thinking about setting up a law firm of their own, particularly if they are criminal defense attorneys?
The biggest problem with starting a practice is that many clients cannot discern a good lawyer from a bad one and just go to the cheapest attorney they can find. Don't join the race to the bottom, or you will wind up being unable to fight cases because you cannot afford to. Charge a fair fee, and then fight!
That's great advice. If people want to learn more about your legal defense services, what should they do?
You contact me by calling the Law Office of Steven R. Hunter at (312) 466-9466. You can learn more about my firm at our Chicago Criminal Defense Lawyers website.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Steven. Good luck in growing your criminal defense practice. It seems like you are doing everything right to become one of the top Chicago criminal defense law firms.