Chicago

Jason Smiekel

It’s not every day that a lawyer is accused of murder for hire. But that’s what happened earlier this month, when Illinois lawyer Jason W. Smiekel was accused of trying to put a hit out on a former client — who also happened to be the ex-husband of Smiekel’s current girlfriend (or fiancée).

Last week, the feds unveiled the indictment against Jason Smiekel (who was originally charged by complaint). At his arraignment last Wednesday, Smiekel pleaded not guilty to seven counts of using interstate facilities in a murder-for-hire scheme.

Since his arrest, we’ve heard from friends and colleagues of Jason Smiekel, 29, who claim that he’s getting a bum rap. They claim that blame for this unfortunate series of events should be located… elsewhere.

“How come no one is talking about his ‘girlfriend’?” asked one reader. “She needs to be questioned as well.”

So, let’s talk about that girlfriend — the one that an ATL tipster described as a “hot hot hot blonde”….

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(And ATL readers come to his defense.)

Chi-Town Courtship Connection

There are many kinds of journalism: investigative, advocacy, tabloid, service… Okay, there are four kinds of journalism we can currently think of. Above the Law’s Courtship Connection is in the service journalism camp. It’s our attempt to help over-worked, under-socialized, but ultimately lovable legal types, both lawyers and law students, to find romance. Or, failing that, inform them through a candid appraisal of a blind first date how they’re going about it all wrong.

So far, we’ve set up a Big Apple bushel’s worth of legal types in the city that never sleeps, and we’ve brought about quite a few political alliances in the nation’s capital. The third season of this series is debuting in Chicago, per readers’ choice.

If the Windy City has left you cold and lonely, and you’re willing and able to put your love life in ATL’s hands, I’ll do my best to set you up with a fellow legal eagle who doesn’t seem like a completely awful human being. If you’ve read past columns, you should know that I’m setting that bar low for a reason.

The survey, plus advice on how to prepare for a blind first date, after the jump…

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In case you haven’t noticed, things have been quiet on the law firm front. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise: it’s August.

Summer associate programs are largely over (although we still want to hear about fun events and offer rates). Many associates and partners are taking vacation (especially if they have children they want to spend time with before school starts again).

On the litigation side, courts are slow because many judges are away. On the corporate side, some deals have been put on hold due to the gyrating stock market and economic uncertainty. We seem to be turning into Europe, where a good chunk of the population takes vacation for a good chunk of August.

But we still have pockets of law firm news to report, here and there. Today’s dispatch comes from Schiff Hardin, which earlier this month announced an associate pay raise….

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Reema Bajaj wins the race to the courthouse.

Today we bring you two tales of Chicago-area lawyers accused of naughtiness. Chicago is a beautiful city in the summer, but some of its attorneys are facing ugly allegations.

Ladies first. What’s going on with Reema Bajaj, the rather attractive Illinois lawyer accused of prostitution? We’ve mentioned Bajaj here and there over the past few weeks, but we haven’t had hard news about her since June. Is her case any closer to resolution?

Apparently so. A plea deal is near, according to the Daily Chronicle, and Bajaj is scheduled back in court on August 31. As you may recall, Reema Bajaj has been charged with two misdemeanors and one felony. If she pleads guilty to just a misdemeanor, can she keep her Illinois law license? Readers, please enlighten us.

Let’s hear more about Reema from one reader who knows her personally — don’t worry, he’s not a customer — and then learn about another twentysomething Chicago lawyer accused of more-serious criminal conduct….

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Last summer, David Van Zandt announced that he was stepping down as dean of Northwestern Law, in order to assume the presidency of the New School here in New York. In the fall, he put his magnificent mansion on the market — for a whopping $4.7 million. (DVZ bought the 6,300-square-foot house, in Chicago’s tony Lincoln Park neighborhood, for $922,550 back in 1996.)

We were impressed. We wrote at the time: “It seems that Dean Van Zandt’s talents extend to real investing as well as academic administration!”

But some commenters were less enthused. Wrote one, “Let’s wait and see how much he actually gets, shall we?” Said a second, “I live in the area…. he will be lucky to get $3.0M.”

We can now report that a buyer has closed on President Van Zandt’s former home. How much did he get for it?

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Almost a year ago, David Van Zandt, one of the most admired figures within legal education, announced his departure as dean of Northwestern Law School. Van Zandt moved to New York, leaving behind his multimillion-dollar mansion in Chicago, to assume the presidency of the New School (a move that made headlines here in NYC).

A search committee went to work, to try and find someone to fill Dean Van Zandt’s large shoes. Today the law school announced its new leader.

The new Northwestern Law dean, like his predecessor, is a distinguished scholar. He also comes with a strong track record as a law school administrator.

Who is he? Let’s find out….

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Mistakes happen. Take, for example, the current eyesore in Pioneer Court on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. Sculptor J. Seward Johnson’s “Forever Marilyn” is a 26-foot-tall, 34,000-pound sculpture depicting the image of Marilyn Monroe in the Seven Year Itch. The sculpture has been described as “creepy schlock from a fifth-rate sculptor that blights a first-rate public art collection.” One author seeking to answer the question of what is wrong with the sculpture concluded “pretty much everything,” including that it is sexist, kitschy, and has nothing to do with Chicago. Even @ebertchicago (aka Roger Ebert) is tweeting about this terrible sculpture.

More important than the mistake, however, is how one corrects the problem (except maybe with Marilyn, yuck). Don’t believe me? Check out any of your friends’ favorite quotations on Facebook, and at least one of them will have an inspirational gem.

With summer here, bringing with it a possible loss of focus (and fantasies about being outside), I decided to ask a team of experts how they recover from making mistakes in their practice.

Find out what they do, after the jump.

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Earlier this week, a tipster wrote to us: “The University of Chicago Law School is suffering from a problem not too different from the one that Antoine Dodson and his neighbors suffered not too long ago.”

Chicago is a long way from Huntsville, Alabama, and the University of Chicago Law School is a long way from the housing projects of Lincoln Park (no, not that Lincoln Park). But the tipster is right: both places have been the site of rape allegations.

Students at UofC Law already know that they need to hide their laptops when at the law school. But do they now need to hide their kids, hide their wives, and hide their husbands, ’cause they’re raping everybody out there?

Actually, no — there appears to be no cause for alarm. Let’s learn about the allegations, and the school’s response….

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Call me cynical, but whenever I read an email detailing thievery happening at a law school around exam time, I assume that the community is dealing with a fellow student who is looking to get an edge on the curve. It doesn’t strike me as random when items, especially laptops or power cords, disappear before or during finals (or even right after finals, if you’re looking at classes where there is some kind of term paper due after the final exam). Students sabotaging other students is something that has probably happened since Litchfield Law School. Thirty years ago, people would rip pages out of books in the library; today, people can lose a semester’s worth of notes when they leave their machine unattended for a brief period of time.

Of course, that’s just an assumption. Thieves come from outside the law school community more often then not. Law school security has to take all reasonable measures to protect the safety and the property of the students.

But what about a “sting” operation? That’s the radical idea being proposed by one student at a top law school recently afflicted by an outbreak of crime…

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You have the tools to build your own life.

Another day, and another round-up of terrible job opportunities available to J.D. holders. I think it’s important to continue bringing these jobs to your attention. I think it’s important to have a place on the web where people can go to answer the question: Why is it a big deal if Indiana Tech opens another law school? Somebody needs to keep an eye on what future graduates from such institutions will be doing for a living.

Today we’ve got two God-awful job opportunities. As we’ve said repeatedly, you can’t get on our radar as a terrible job unless you are offering something more interesting than low pay for overqualified individuals (though offering a Depression era hourly wage is always a good start).

Check out these two jobs, which add the insult to injury that unemployed J.D. holders are really looking for…

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