2018’s Most Talked-About Law Stories in Chicago and Beyond

“Disruption” is painfully overused, so let’s say that the watchword for law in 2018 is upheaval. Chicago law firms continued to react (or not) to the demand for change that came from both inside—their own lawyers—and out—their clients across the nation. On top of that, our region saw the continued development of work in the private tech market and in cannabis practice. And, of course, there was that September story that broke the internet, at least in Cook County.

• The physical, mental, and emotional strain caused by Big Law’s unhealthy culture, long whispered about, finally came out of the shadows this year in the jolting piece “Big Law Killed My Husband,” written by Joanna Litt, the widow of Sidley Austin partner Gabe MacConaill, who committed suicide in Los Angeles in October. If the flurry of new initiatives and subsequent articles on the subject is any indication, the industry may finally be taking mental health issues seriously, even if authentic solutions continue to elude industry leaders.

• It feels ridiculous to call diversity and inclusion a central issue of 2018, as if it weren’t also the issue of ’17 and ’16 and’15 and . . . (we are not new here). But this year brought some new dimensions to the ever-present question of how to ensure that women lawyers get equal pay and equal access to opportunity within their firms. Among the literally hundreds of articles we could link to, Chicago contributed its own questionable takes and better responses to the discussion. We saw just as much talk of improvements in the numbers of minority attorneys hired in Big Law, only to be reminded that these folks make up a disproportionate number of lawyers who leave their firms. Despite firms’ continued missteps, clients are demanding that they get serious about these issues, or clients will simply take their business elsewhere.

Two burgeoning sectors rocked the Chicago recruiting scene and show big potential:

• Chicago continued to burnish its reputation as a hub for fast-growing private companies in the tech sector, though it remains to be seen how this will play out for companies—and for the law firms that serve them. For one thing, this summer, Facebook was poised to hire 500 new workers in Chicago. But that was before its most recent troubles.

• Firms have been developing their cannabis practices for some time, but with the expansion of medical cannabis and the election of legalization-friendly JB Pritzker to the office of governor, this work is kicking into high gear.

And, of course, to the city’s great surprise, we learned that Chicago will elect a new mayor in 2019.