How To Win During A Year Of Incomprehensible Loss: VOTE

While it may seem impossible to encapsulate into one word the multidimensional maelstrom of horrors and crises which is the year 2020, “loss” comes as close as anything. The loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and loved ones to a criminally mismanaged pandemic. The loss of countless more to gun violence, police misconduct, and systemic racism. The loss of millions of jobs, livelihoods, and economic security. The loss of certainty and the rhythms and rituals of ordinary life, from children playing with their friends and laughing in school hallways to attending a wedding or watching a ball game.

The Rule Of Law Is Under Attack – And On The Ballot

All of these losses are staggering and would have been incomprehensible at the start of this Godforsaken year. But there are even more insidious and ongoing losses that predate the pandemic. These aren’t losses caused by biology or random chance. Rather, these are losses purposefully engineered by those who see the foundational principles of America, as well as the concept of objective reality, as impediments to their own craven designs, their shameless corruption, and the advancement of their personal interests at the expense of everyone else’s.

As a lawyer – as an American – I see the rule of law as sacrosanct and one of the last remaining bulwarks standing between the survival of the Republic and authoritarianism. But the past four years have seen an unrelenting and unprecedented war on the rule of law by those charged with faithfully executing those laws and those who have aided and abetted them in these efforts.

If past is prologue, and if cornered rats are the most dangerous kind, I fear that the next few months will see an even more voracious attack on the rule of law. That war is occurring in plain sight, from the sabotage of the postal service, to the incitement of violence for political gain, to a firehose of lies and misinformation spewing from the highest office in the land.

Attacking the rule of law and purposefully and relentlessly undermining public trust in the institutions that uphold the law in order to facilitate rampant lawbreaking is an unforgivable civic sin. That those engaging in such misconduct laughably do so under the banner of “law and order” makes it even more enraging.

Voting Is How We Maintain The Rule Of Law

The rule of law is how we hold leaders and lawbreakers accountable. It is what levels the playing field, at least in theory. It is the way we as a society facilitate change and address inequality and other social and economic injustices. And the way we do that is through the power of our votes. That is why so much effort is focused on depriving individuals of their right to vote, encouraging bad actors to corrupt the system, and sowing doubt about the legitimacy of an outcome that may not go as those currently in power would like – in a fair fight.

Voting determines everything. On life and death matters, it determines whether or not you can get health insurance if you have a preexisting condition or if you’ll have the resources to be able to pay your rent or mortgage. Even on less existential issues, who we elect matters. As a professional license defense attorney, I’ve seen how changes in leadership and laws impact the lives and livelihoods of thousands of licensed professionals and those they serve.

So, as early voting is set to begin here in Illinois and across the country, it is imperative that all of us enlist in the fight to preserve the rule of law by ensuring that we are registered and know our options as to how to cast our ballots. Illinois residents can register to vote or check your registration status here. You can request a vote by mail application here. Given ongoing efforts to interfere with your right to vote, casting your ballot sooner rather than later should be a priority, more so than in prior elections.

Shakespeare wrote one of the most misinterpreted lines in history: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Rather than an attack on the legal profession, the quote from “Henry VI” was actually a strategic statement by someone out to destroy the rule of law. It was uttered by Dick the Butcher, who was a follower of the rebel Jack Cade and thought that if he disturbed law and order, he could become king.

We don’t do kings here. We are a democracy. We are a nation of laws – and voters.

Illinois Adult Use Cannabis Dispensary Applications Are Ready. Are You?

pot appIf you want to obtain a license to own and operate an Illinois adult use cannabis dispensary, your time has come. On October 1st, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), which is charged with implementing and administrating multiple aspects of the state’s adult use marijuana program under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (the “Act”), made available the application form for new Conditional Adult Use Dispensing Organization Licenses.

These licenses, applications for which must be hand-delivered to the Department’s Chicago offices no later noon on January 2, 2020, are “conditional” in that they do not allow the licensee to purchase or sell marijuana until they have found a suitable location (which they must do within 180 days), passed an inspection by IDFPR, and paid the registration fee. All available conditional licenses will be issued no later than May 1, 2020.

Once these requirements are met, the Department will award the licensee an Adult Use Dispensing Organization License, which authorizes the holder to legally obtain and sell cannabis pursuant to the Act.

In a previous post, I discussed application fees, the number of licenses that the Department will issue, the criteria that the Department will use in choosing licensees, and general ownership requirements. Now that applications are available for preparation and completion, let’s discuss what is involved in the application itself.

In short, a lot.

Hundreds of Pages of Supporting Documentation Required

The application form itself is all of one page long, but the supporting documentation that must be gathered, prepared, and submitted is voluminous and comprehensive. This isn’t just a matter of making copies of existing records; applicants must develop detailed plans covering several aspects of dispensary operation. IDFPR will not consider any application that lacks the required exhibits.

In addition to the fee and Principal Officer application form, applicants must submit a:

  • Table of Organization, Ownership and Control and Business Operating Agreements
  • Dispensing Organization Agent Training and Education Plan
  • Purchaser Education Plan
  • Business Plan
  • Recalls, Quarantine, and Destruction Plan
  • Security Plan
  • Inventory Monitoring and Recordkeeping Plan
  • Proposed Floor Plan
  • Operating Plan
  • Plan for Community Engagement
  • Diversity Plan
  • Anonymized Document or Resume for Each Proposed Principal Officer (demonstrating education, knowledge, or experience in the cannabis industry)
  • Financial Information
  • Evidence of Status as a Social Equity Applicant, if applying as a Social Equity Applicant
  • Labor and Employment Practices Plan (optional)
  • Environmental Plan (optional)
  • Evidence of Status as an Illinois Owner (optional)
  • Evidence of Status as a Veteran (optional)

For each of the foregoing exhibits, IDFPR has established detailed and specific requirements as to what applicants need to include. Given how much is involved in preparing a dispensary application, January 2, 2020 doesn’t seem that far away. Aspiring Illinois cannabis entrepreneurs need to fire up their efforts immediately, if they haven’t already done so.

Need Help With Your Illinois Adult Use Cannabis Dispensary Application? Call Me Today.

If you are considering entering the legal cannabis industry in Illinois and have questions about the IDFPR application process and criteria, please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.

Illinois Recreational Marijuana Licensing: A High-Level Overview

dopeIllinois is expected to be one of the largest retail marijuana markets in the country, and plenty of budding pot entrepreneurs will want to get in on the action and meet consumer demand by opening adult use dispensaries. And if you’re going to legally sell weed to the masses, you’ll have to pass muster with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR).

Under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (the “Act”) signed into law earlier this year, IDFPR is charged with implementing and administrating multiple aspects of the state’s adult use marijuana program, including the licensing and oversight of dispensing organizations. Needless to say, IDFPR won’t be passing around dispensary licenses without ensuring that applicants meet the Act’s multitude of requirements and limitations on dispensary ownership and operations.

On a very high level, here is what you need to know before firing up your efforts to apply for a license to open a recreational marijuana dispensary in the Land of Lincoln:

When to Apply

Applications for Conditional Adult Use Dispensing Organization Licenses will be available no later than October 1, 2019, and will be due no later than January 1, 2020. These licenses are “conditional” in that they do not allow the licensee to purchase or sell marijuana until they have found a suitable location (which they must do within 180 days), passed an inspection by IDFPR, and paid the registration fee.

Once these requirements are met, the Department will award the licensee an Adult Use Dispensing Organization License, which authorizes the holder to legally obtain and sell cannabis pursuant to the Act.

Costs of Application and License

The costs involved in applying for and maintaining an adult use license depends on whether or not the applicant is a “Social Equity Applicant.” In an effort to promote and ensure socio-economic diversity and opportunity in the Illinois cannabis industry, the Act provides for reduced fees and other accommodations for applicants from economically disadvantaged areas in the state.

The application fee is $5,000 for Non-Social Equity applicants and $2,500 for Social Equity Applicants. The fee for maintaining a two-year license is $60,000 for Non-Social Equity licensees and $30,000 for Social Equity licensees.

Number of Available Licenses

IDFPR may grant up to 75 adult-use dispensary licenses by May 1, 2020, and up to 110 licenses by December 21, 2021. But the law imposes limitations on the number of licenses IDFPR may issue for each of the 17 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Regions in Illinois based on that region’s percentage of the state population. The number of available licenses per BLS region is:

  • Bloomington: 1
  • Cape Girardeau: 1
  • Carbondale-Marion 1
  • Champaign-Urbana: 1
  • Chicago-Naperville-Elgin: 47
  • Danville: 1
  • Davenport-Moline-Rock Island: 1
  • Decatur: 1
  • Kankakee: 1
  • Peoria: 3
  • Rockford: 2
  • Louis: 4
  • Springfield: 1
  • Northwest Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area: 3
  • West Central Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area: 3
  • East Central Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area: 2
  • South Illinois Nonmetropolitan Area: 2

Criteria for Choosing Winning Applicants

There will be a heck of a lot more than 75 applicants for these 75 licenses, so IDFPR will use a point system based on numerous factors to determine who will receive licenses. Those who score highest on the following 250-point scale will be the most likely to be opening dispensary doors next year:

  • Suitability of Employee Training Plan (15 points)
  • Security and Record-Keeping (65 points)
  • Business Plan, Financials, Operating Plan, and Floor Plan (65 points)
  • Knowledge and Experience in Cannabis or Related Fields (30 points)
  • Status as a Social Equity Applicant (50 points)
  • Labor and Employment Practices (5 points)
  • Environmental Plan (5 points)
  • Illinois Owner (5 points)
  • Status as a Veteran (5 points)
  • Diversity Plan (5 points)

Ownership Requirements

Not every aspiring dispensary owner will be eligible to receive a license. In addition to being 21 or older, “principal officers” of the business (pretty much anyone with any ownership stake or management authority) must not have been “convicted of an offense that would impair the person’s ability to engage in the practice of owning a dispensary.” IDFPR will use several criteria when evaluating the impact of a principal officer’s previous conviction on their application.

These are just some of the issues involved in applying for and obtaining an adult use cannabis dispensary license in Illinois. While IDFPR may be the body granting licenses, applicants will also have to deal with local governments which will have a big say in whether and where a dispensary can set up shop.

If you are considering entering the legal cannabis industry in Illinois and have questions about the IDFPR application process and criteria, please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.

Bad Online Reviews Can Hurt Your Business – But Responding in Kind Can Too

bad-online-reviewIf you own a small business or are a professional and have customers and clients, there is a good likelihood that someone has published an online review of your company and its goods or services. From Yelp to Angie’s List to TripAdvisor to any number of websites tailored to particular interests or industries, online reviews can have a profound impact on your business.  Even one negative review can be devastating.

You can find a lot of tips and do’s and don’ts online about how to handle such negative reviews from a strategic and business perspective. On more than one occasion I have had a panicked and apoplectic client ask me whether he can sue the author of a negative review for defamation.

The answer is, of course you can sue “IHateYourBusinesss123”” or whomever made the post. But the reality is that much of what is written in even the most scathing negative review will likely not qualify as actionable defamation. Furthermore, such lawsuits themselves can open up the business owner to further scorn, ridicule, and bad publicity in the fickle social media world.

As a preliminary matter, most online review sites and other platforms (Facebook, Yahoo, Google+, etc.) where comments may appear are immune from liability for defamatory comments in reviews as a matter of federal law. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields such sites from claims based on comments posted by third parties.

What is Defamation in Illinois?

In Illinois, in order to prove defamation, including a claim based on an online review, a plaintiff has to prove:

  • the defendant made a false statement about the plaintiff;
  • there was an unprivileged publication to a third party;
  • fault by the defendant amounting to at least negligence; and
  • the publication damaged the plaintiff.

There is a special category of defamation that does not require a plaintiff to prove actual damages. Defamation per se, as it is called, involves specific statements that are deemed inherently damaging. These statements include ones which assert that the plaintiff:

  • is infected with a “loathsome communicable disease” (e.g. a sexually transmitted disease, HIV, hepatitis, etc.)
  • has a lack of ability to perform their professional duties, or otherwise harms the plaintiff in their professional reputation
  • lacks integrity in their professional duties
  • has committed fornication or adultery
  • has committed a criminal act

Provable Fact v. Opinion

The most common issue that distinguishes an actionable defamation claim based on online reviews from one likely to fail is the issue of whether or not a statement was false. Only false statements of fact can be the basis of a defamation claim, not opinions. A statement of fact has to be able to be objectively proved or disproved. Consider the two following hypothetical restaurant reviews:

“That was the most disgusting and flavorless meal I have ever had in my life.”

“The waiter spit in my food.”

The former is non-actionable opinion, as it cannot be objectively proven that the meal was the “the most disgusting and flavorless” one the reviewer ever had. Conversely, the latter is a statement of fact; it can be proven (perhaps not easily) whether or not the waiter spit in the diner’s food.

Additionally, Illinois courts emphasize the context in which an allegedly defamatory statement has been made in determining whether the statement can be the basis of a claim. Even if a single statement in a long rant is arguably a statement of provable fact, it may not constitute defamation if a reasonable reader would see it simply as invective.

Consider Brompton Building, LLC v. Yelp, Inc., a 2013 Illinois Appellate Court decision in which a building management company sued an anonymous former tenant who had posted a hyperbolic, scathingly negative, and extremely lengthy online review. Even though the rant contained a few objectively verifiable statements, the court found that it could not support a defamation claim because in context they would not be understood to be actual factual allegations. As the court noted, “The context of the defamatory statements is critical in determining its meaning. In determining the context of the defamatory statements, we must read the writing containing the defamatory statement ‘as a whole.'”

Careful How You Respond – Especially if You’re a Physician

The bottom line for business owners and professionals is that a lawsuit in response to outrageous internet reviews and comments that make their blood boil and their businesses suffer may not be the best course of action.  While certain false statements of fact in such comments can be the basis of a defamation claim, business owners and professionals should carefully consider how to proceed lest their response make a bad situation worse.

This is especially true if you are a physician. Doctors and other health care professionals are regularly reviewed online, and some of those reviews come from disgruntled patients who may publicly criticize the treatment they received. The problem is that in an effort to defend the care they provided, some doctors have revealed confidential patient information in comments they have posted in response to negative reviews. Such HIPPA violations, as with other online professionalism mistakes, have serious licensing and regulatory consequences. Any doctor wanting to post an online response to a patient complaint should think long and hard about how they do so – and whether they should respond at all.

Political Hack is a Stark Reminder of the Importance of Cybersecurity to Small Businesses

hackerThe hate and hope, hysterics and history of the political conventions are over. These editions of our quadrennial pageants put a great many things in stark contrast, even more than they typically do. But while many things were familiar – booming speeches, delegates in outlandish outfits, and thousands of balloons falling from the rafters – there was something new this year. The hacking, likely by Russians, of Democratic National Committee computers in order to undermine the Democratic candidate is a stark reminder of how vulnerable all of us are to cyberthreats. While this hack had serious political and national security implications, the threat to small businesses is no less real and can be no less devastating.

Companies big and small find themselves repeatedly under attack by sophisticated hackers who seek to gain access to trade secrets and personal customer information to use for their own gain. Such security breaches can cost companies millions of dollars in business and remediation costs and cause customers to lose faith in the ability of the company to maintain the confidentiality of their payment and personal information.

For small business owners, a robust cybersecurity program is no longer optional. Failing to implement a comprehensive strategy to protect valuable intellectual property and proprietary information is essentially business negligence. Failing to act swiftly and aggressively once a breach has occurred can be business suicide. A complex patchwork of state and federal laws establish notification requirements in the event of a breach and failure to follow those laws can expose businesses to fines and adverse regulatory actions that only add to the pain.

The U.S. Small Business Administration has a wonderful website dedicated to helping business owners prevent and respond to cybersecurity threats. The site includes these ten key steps companies should take as part of a comprehensive strategy:

  1. Protect against viruses, spyware, and other malicious code
  2. Secure your networks
  3. Establish security practices and policies to protect sensitive information
  4. Educate employees about cyberthreats and hold them accountable
  5. Require employees to use strong passwords and to change them often
  6. Employ best practices on payment cards
  7. Backup copies of important business data and information
  8. Control physical access to computers and network components
  9. Create a mobile device action plan
  10. Protect all pages on your public-facing websites, not just the checkout and sign-up pages

I recommend that all small business owners spend some time at the SBAs cybersecurity website (https://www.sba.gov/managing-business/cybersecurity)  and take all steps necessary to shore up this crucial aspect of their operations. A hack of your network may not attract national headlines, but it could repel customers and cost you your business.

The Law Offices of Louis R. Fine

As an experienced Chicago business lawyer, I know how important it is to get a deal done. I also understand how crucial it is to get a deal done right. That is why I take a balanced approach to business transactions, one that is meticulous and detailed, but that does not delay a closing or consummation of a deal. My role is to facilitate, not stand in the way. Please give me a call at 312-236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation.

13 Things You Should Know Before Meeting with a Divorce Lawyer

filesOne of the most important decisions you will make during your divorce happens early on, when you research, meet with, and retain a divorce lawyer. Your lawyer will be your ally, your advisor, and your advocate throughout the divorce and beyond. It is imperative that you know what to look for in a lawyer and that you make your choice wisely.

In order for your first meeting with your lawyer to be as productive as possible, you need to be completely candid and honest. Remember, everything you discuss is protected by the attorney-client privilege. Tell the lawyer your concerns and goals, and ask any and all questions you may have. Remember, when it comes to your divorce, nothing is unimportant if it is important to you.

Your lawyer is going to have questions for you as well. He or she will want to have a complete picture of your situation in order to offer you the best advice and develop the best strategy for helping you reach a resolution that protects your rights and achieves your objectives.

In order to help your attorney do this, you will want to gather information and documentation that will not only familiarize him or her with your circumstances but will probably bring you new or additional insight into your financial and other affairs as well.

Before your meeting with a divorce lawyer, try to have learned or assembled the following 13 categories of information:

  1. Several years of your tax returns;
  2. Checking and savings account statement;
  3. Records of all investment accounts and pensions;
  4. Mortgage statements;
  5. If you or your spouse operate a business, secure copies of the business records;
  6. Inventory of the contents of safe deposit boxes;
  7. Credit card bills and credit reports;
  8. Income of each spouse
  9. Expenses of each spouse
  10. Assets of the spouses (joint and separate), including such things as art, antiques, fine jewelry, cash, vehicles, real estate and furniture
  11. Liabilities of each spouse
  12. Pension plans, retirement accounts , 401(k)s, IRAs, and any other employee benefits
  13. Life, health, and disability insurance policies owned by each spouse

If your spouse handled the bills, taxes, and paperwork, you may have to do some digging. But having this information in advance will make your meeting with your attorney more effective, efficient, and productive.

Louis R. Fine – Trusted Chicago Divorce Attorney

If you are considering divorce and are looking for counsel, please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for a consultation. When we meet, we can go through all of your questions, and I will be there to listen to you as well as advise you. Together, we will turn the page so you can begin the next chapter of your life with clarity and confidence.

For Those Who Spend Less Than $300 Million on a Lawyer

feesIf you spend $300 million or more a year on legal fees, this post is not for you. If, however, you need to hire a lawyer and are concerned about how – and how much – you will be billed, keep reading.

Certainly anyone who finds themselves needing to retain an attorney – whether a Fortune 100 company, a small business, or an individual –  wants to make sure they are being billed fairly by their lawyer and that they are getting value for their money.

The folks who write $300 million checks to lawyers can go to insurance giant AIG for help managing their legal expenses, as the company recently set up a new entity whose sole purpose is to advise large businesses about the amounts they are paying their attorneys and “what the right costs for services are and the right value is for the services that are being delivered.”

But most folks aren’t going to be hiring a whole other company to make sure that happens.

When you hire an attorney for a business or personal matter, your assurance that your lawyer is being straight up with you on their fees and billing practices will largely hinge on open and honest communication between you and your lawyer. This should include establishing clear expectations as well as dialogue about how and why you are being billed.

Clear Expectations – Even When Things Are Unclear

I have a fairly diverse practice, encompassing estate planning, family law, and transactional matters as well as litigation. With litigation in particular, the process can be and usually is lengthy, time-consuming, and notoriously unpredictable.

Cases can be resolved fairly early in a dispute (which is always the hope and goal) or the conflict can metastasize into a matter that takes a long and winding road to trial, on to post-judgment motions and appeals and perhaps another round in the trial court, just to name a few possibilities.

I let my clients know upfront about the dangers and potential costs of litigation, and those discussions not only set expectations but play a role in the strategy we decide upon going forward. It is vital that clients go into a lawsuit with a clear understanding that the amount in fees that may be expended is unclear. This does not mean you are writing a blank check. It does mean that you know what you may be in for so you can plan accordingly.

While estate planning and business transaction matters may have more predictability than litigation, the necessity of setting expectations upfront is no less important. I provide my clients with either a set fee or a range within which they can expect their matter to cost.

By having these discussions at the outset, we can avoid surprises or misunderstandings down the line, and we can incorporate any questions or concerns about costs into our planning.

A Dialogue, Not Just a Bill

From our first meeting until your matter is concluded, I want you to feel and believe that I will be fair, transparent, and accommodating in my billing practices. I want you to know what to expect in the future and what has been done for you in the past. I want you to review and fully understand your bills and reach out to me if something is unclear. If your case has taken a turn that will result in a monthly bill being particularly high, I will make every effort to give you a heads-up so that you can plan accordingly.

Finally, I know that if you are paying for my services, you are likely doing so because circumstances have made it a necessary or prudent move in order to protect your interests or advance your goals. Part of protecting your interests is being judicious in my billing and cutting time from my bills on occasion.

My fundamental role as a lawyer is to help people who need legal assistance. To that end, I will work with you to find an arrangement that fairly allows me to do so.

At the end of our legal journey together, you should feel that my bills are fair, reasonable, and within the expectations set throughout the course of your matter – even if you spend a little less than $300 million.

Your Choice of a Lawyer Matters. Here are Four Qualities to Look For.

What-To-Look-For-in-a-LawyerI meet with new clients and potential new clients on an almost daily basis. When I do, I know that the reason they are in my office is because they have important issues that need to be addressed; issues that can have a profound impact on their career, family, and future.

I also know that the decision as to which attorney they hire to assist them is one that they don’t, and shouldn’t, take lightly. There is no question that the quality and competence of an attorney can play a significant role in the outcome of a given matter, and how that attorney approaches his practice and relationship with clients can make the difference between peace of mind and constant worry.

Based on my experience, here are some qualities you should consider if you are in the process of looking for an attorney:

  • Knowledge of the Law. It goes without saying that your lawyer should know what he’s doing, and that includes keeping up to date on new developments and approaches. The law is constantly changing; new legislation, court decisions, rules, and guidelines come out all the time. It is crucial to hire a lawyer who not only understands the law as it is but who is aware and alert to the impact of changes which may take place.
  • Experience. So much of what happens in a legal matter is not based on things that can be found in books; knowing the nuances of both the law and the reality of practice is crucial to obtaining successful results. Look for a lawyer who knows their way around the courthouse, hearing room, or conference room. Look for a layer who knows how things work, and knows how things get done. Sound judgment and insight isn’t learned at a seminar. That is something that only comes from years of experience.
  • Communication. You no doubt have many questions about your situation, what may happen next, and what the plan should be going forward. Throughout your case, you’ll want to know that when questions and concerns come up, your attorney will be there, available and ready to answer and resolve them. You also want a lawyer who will actually listen to you and who will take the time to understand your needs and goals.
  • Empathy and Trust. When you meet with a lawyer, you are not there necessarily to discuss a case or a file; you are talking about your life. You want an understanding and compassionate lawyer who you can speak to about your concerns and issues and you want to feel as if they truly care and understand what is at stake. Choose an attorney who makes you comfortable, who is trustworthy and ethical, who you feel will truly expend all necessary efforts on your behalf, and who gives you a feeling of peace of mind every time you leave his office or hang up the phone after speaking with him or her.

The attorney-client relationship is a unique and important one, and the trust you place in your lawyer is something he or she should value and work every day to earn.