There are a lot of questions about the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) of Illinois. What is it? What does it do? Who does it protect and how? Well, our partner and co-founder, Jim Zouras, was interviewed by Max Barack and Amit Bindra for their podcast Employee to Lawyer. In the interview, Jim dives deep into explaining BIPA, what it does, and how Stephan Zouras, LLP has fought for years to defend your rights from improper biometric data collecting and storage.
You can read the full interview transcribed below or listen to the podcast here.
Welcome to Employee to Lawyer, the employment law podcast presented by NELA Illinois. The podcast that discusses the policies, regulations, and law that affect our workplaces. Presented primarily from the perspective of employee or plaintiff-side lawyers, we are your hosts – Amit Bindra and Max Barack. We are members of the board of directors for NELA Illinois – the Illinois chapter of the National Employment Lawyers Association, a nonprofit collection of attorneys who empower workplace rights.
Max Barack: Welcome back to Employee to Lawyer. I am one of your cohosts, Max Barack.
Amit Bindra: And I am Amit Bindra.
MB: And we are extremely excited today because we are speaking with Jim Zouras. Jim is one of the co-founders of Stephan Zouras, a nationwide law firm. Stephan Zouras has recovered more than $250 million in verdicts and settlements on behalf of hundreds of thousands of clients from around the country. Jim has received tens of millions of dollars in damages and individual and class actions arising under federal wage and hour laws including the Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage laws, other complex litigation, and catastrophic personal injury cases. In addition, Jim has helped secure groundbreaking and precedent-setting court decisions in the areas of wage and hour law, consumer fraud, and employee privacy. Jim has received many awards and accolades throughout his career. In 2000, Chicago Law Bulletin named Jim one of the top 40 lawyers under the age of 40 and one of the youngest lawyers ever bestowed this honor. He’s also been named an Illinois class action Super Lawyer in every consecutive year since 2009. Jim graduated from University of Illinois, Chicago with a degree in Political Science with distinction and received his J.D. from DePaul University College of Law where he was an editor of the law review and graduated with honors and Order of the Coif. Amit, one of your fellow DePaul grads has broken up the Chicago-Kent mafia. Welcome, Jim!
Jim Zouras: Thank you so much. It is truly an honor and a pleasure to be with you all today. I am truly humbled.
MB: The honor is all ours.
AB: And, again, I’m excited just to have a DePaul grad on here. We have so many Kent people, we have to break this up.
JZ: Well, there are plenty of DePaul graduates out there and they deserve their due.
MB: So, Jim, we’re just going to jump right in. So, you are…sometimes I joke with Amit that we’re laying it on thick with some of these bios and one of our running jokes is that Amit writes them in the most convoluted and complex way possible just to see how much he can trip me up. But, in your case, this really is deserved and I want to dive right in because one of the laws that has really earned all these distinctions for you and your interpretation and application of that law is the Biometric Information Privacy Act in Illinois. Can you tell us what the hell BIPA is and why it matters, why it’s important.
JZ: I’d be happy to. So, the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act known as BIPA is the only statute of its kind in America. It is an Illinois state statute which regulates the collection of biometrics. Biometrics are things like fingerprints, thumb scans, facial recognition, retina scans, even voice recognition. So, these are all the immutable characteristics that makes human beings what we are. If we take fingerprints, for example, you are the only human being to have your fingerprints in the history of mankind. You are the only one who will ever have your fingerprints in the future at any time. So, what BIPA seeks to do is to regulate the taking, by private entities, of those biometrics and the dissemination of them, the sale of them, the use of them, the storage of them, the sharing of them. It all it really seeks to do something basic. It’s kind of a fundamental right. It seeks to require informed consent. It gives a power to the individual to say no to the collection of those biometrics after receiving information about what that entity is doing, what it is going to do with that data in the future, how it’s going to manage it, if it is going to destroy it, if it is going to do anything else. It requires written informed consent. In its essence. That goes for any context in and outside of the employment context. Our practice is generally employee focused but it applies to every consumer and to every citizen in Illinois. It’s not asking for a lot. It’s simply saying that before a company takes this very sensitive, valuable, important data, which is the way we are all going to identify each other in the future, it’s not going to be with a social security number. It’s not going to be with a credit card. Those things are all replaceable. These things are not. All it seeks to do is give the person the informed power to say yes or no. That’s it.
AB: I guess a simple question I’ve wondered and people have always asked is, why are companies maintaining this information? Why are they taking a consumer’s or employee’s biometric information?
JZ: In its simplest terms, because they can. Because they have a great opportunity to do it. They generally do it because it is a cost saving, efficiency measure. They are using biometric time keeping devices for the sake of efficiency to eliminate things like buddy punching, you know, some clocking in and out for their friends. To eliminate inaccuracies, to maximize efficiencies, to maximize cost savings. Whatever it is, that’s all well and good. The problem is that they collect these vast store-houses of valuable, important data that is susceptible to being breached. We have Russians breaching some of our institutions as we speak. Meat processing, oil refineries, whatever it is. It’s not a big stretch to think that they can do that with respect to this data, which is more valuable and going to be exponentially more valuable in the future than oil, or anything else you can possibly imagine. So, why? It starts with some valid workplace reason but once they have it, it can turn into all sorts of abuse.
AB: And that sometimes brings a second question, let’s say you have an iPhone with a fingerprint scanner, is that also triggering BIPA? Is that a collection of biometrics or is that something different and how different?
JZ: Here’s why BIPA is so important, and here is why education and information is so important because we all have smartphones and we all now understand that we put our thumb on our iPhone and I can open it and I can do all sorts of things with it. So, when I do that on the iPhone, that data doesn’t go anywhere else. It doesn’t go to Apple, it doesn’t go to the Cloud, it doesn’t go to any servers. That data is maintained locally to that device. When an employee, an hourly wage earning employee is clocking in and out of their employers place of business using a biometric time keeping device, they very well may be under the impression that the exact thing is happening there when in fact that data is landing in the hands of the private entity, of the employer and then going, probably, to a third party vendor to process payroll and God knows where else. The problem is people are so used to doing this on their smartphone, on putting their thumb on a smartphone that they very well may think, wrongly, that that is happening with the biometric device at their business when it is a completely different animal.
MB: You talked about, in your introduction, to what BIPA is a couple minutes ago. You talked about what their certain requirements are. How is this law enforced, Jim? How does this play out? For those who are not used to the litigation for BIPA, who are coming to this a little fresher or who may have at some point gotten a random check from one of the lawsuits that someone like yourself has filed. What protections are out there if some company doesn’t follow these requirements? How does that play out?
JZ: Well, it provides for some very strict private enforcement mechanisms. So, the General Assembly, in its wisdom, decided to give the power to private individuals to enforce this statute, really as an incentive for companies to simply obey the law, which is simple, straightforward, easy to comply with. It provides for a private remedy if it is determined that there are negligent violations of the law, then there are statutory penalties for a thousand dollars per violation. If the private entity has done it in a reckless or intentional manner, the penalties go to $5,000 per plus attorney’s fees. The penalties are significant, but, again, the driving force when the general assembly passed BIPA – in 2008, but the way, 13 years ago – was to provide the maximum encouragement just to comply. I don’t think what was really on their mind was, ‘Hey. I’m gonna do something where Jim Zouras is going to have a side practice at his firm enforcing BIPA.’ I suppose it has turned out that way for whatever reason but I don’t think that was really on their mind. I think they were simply trying to get corporate America to comply. I think this was a good way to attempt to do that, but that’s the answer to your question, I suppose.
AB: How does corporate America comply? What are steps that companies can take to ensure that they aren’t violating BIPA?
JZ: It’s funny. It is extraordinarily easy to comply with. Really, you need to provide the employee with a form that explains exactly what they are doing. The nature of the collection. Why it is being done. What the purpose is. How it’s going to be maintained. How this data is going to disseminated and to whom. How it is going to be destroyed, and so forth. This is something that when you are an employer, it’s not a big challenge to provide to your employee, over whom you have total control, total power over. You can certainly provide this information and get informed consent. At least give the employee a fair chance to provide feedback, ask questions, and so forth. Of course, employers do this routinely when it benefits them. When it comes to getting arbitration agreements, when it comes to asking employees to surrender their constitutional rights to a jury trial, for example, in jury court. To have a judge and jury hear their claims, which have not even arisen yet, into the future. No problem at all getting a signature on that arbitration agreement on that class-action waiver, whatever it is. So a similar mechanism could be used during the onboarding process, during subsequent policy rollouts, to get a form to provide the informed consent. That’s what they could do and, by the way, many companies did. It’s not like every company violated the law. But, that’s how you do it. And then you’re fine. You have no exposure under this statute. Easy to do. Easy to comply with.
MB: So, how did this get put on your radar? Like, what drew your attention to this because this law was on the books. This law, from the way I understand it after talking to you and my own research, this law came about close to 15 years ago, now in the wake of a pretty massive data breach in the state of Illinois. But it was on the books for nearly 10 years before anybody really touched it and started bring lawsuits. What drew your attention to this and motivated you to start pursuing privacy violations like this?
JZ: Well, our firm, traditionally, has represented employees – human beings – in various disputes mostly in the wage and hour context. These are violations for companies not paying overtime, not paying minimum wage, classifying folks as independent contractors when they are really employees, making employees work off the clock in the restaurant field. It might be taking their tips, not providing the notices under the tip credit rule. So, over the years, we had, through our class-action practice in Illinois and nationwide, built up a substantial clientele of happy class members whose rights were vindicated under those various wage disputes. As time went on, we began to realize that there was this statute out there that was just starting to be used in the consumer context, BIPA, for the violation that we’ve been talking about. For the collecting of biometric data without permission and so forth. Lights went off. Alarms went off. We began to realize, through our practice, we knew that that was happening in the workplace, fairly prolifically. So we began to research and investigate whether or not that those companies, that we already knew were collecting biometrics by virtue of these time keeping devices or these devices that regulate access to different parts of the building and facilities, opening doors and so forth. We began to investigate whether our clients in those matters had the opportunity to say no at any point after the statue was implemented. The answers turned out to be no in many cases. So, our firm, I believe, if I’m not mistaken, was the first firm to file a case in the employment context on behalf of a group of employees. So that started us down this path that we are on now, becoming very staunch advocates for BIPA privacy rights in Illinois.
MB: That’s awesome. It also highlights the kind of forward thinks aspect of your practice that we definitely want to talk about at some point as well. I know, candidly for me, the landmark decision, or the landmark thing, that really highlighted BIPA was the Six Flags case from the Illinois Supreme Court. Can you elaborate on a little bit on that case.
JZ: So, that is one of the consumer cases that was on the radar around the time that we had decided that we were going to try to vindicate the rights for employees in this area. Around that time, I can tell you, speaking to colleagues and other folks who do what I do for a living, there was a lot of uncertainty on whether or not the standing arguments was going to work. For everybody’s quick reference point here, there was defense argument that did gain some traction in the early days of BIPA that the plaintiffs that had their biometrics collected didn’t have standing because there was no concrete harm, whatever that means in those days. That they didn’t have monetary harm, for example.
MB: And they hadn’t been injured by the violation, right? They hadn’t suffered a tangible injury.
JZ: Supposedly. That has been a matter of hot dispute at the federal level, at the United State Supreme Court level. There is a seminal case called Spokeo on all this. There’s been some uncertainty on this. Suffice it to say the Illinois Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision in that case, the Rosenbach case, said ‘Yeah. This harm is real and it really is concrete and it really is tangible.’ So that, I suppose, alerted everybody that these were viable claims. For us, we had always been committed to that and we were litigating dozens of BIPA cases before that decision came down. So, that was right in line with our thinking, that the failure to give the aggrieved person a chance to say no, the failure to get informed consent is real tangible, concrete harm and the Illinois Supreme Court agreed.
MB: It reminds be a little bit. It’s not a one for one comparison, it’s not a perfect example, but COBRA. When somebody has their right to health insurance coverage when you lose your job. The employer of a certain size has to give you written notice that you can continue to purchase coverage. Realistically, our clients, the people we typically deal with in our practices, can’t, but you still are supposed to have that notice on your statute. If they don’t give you that notice and a certain number of days passes, the penalties start to accrue. One of the complaints I would always hear from defense lawyers on those cases was, ‘Well, what’s the harm? They couldn’t have paid for the health insurance anyway.’ It’s like you said, with the biometric claims, the harm is that you didn’t even give them the chance to say now. They were supposed to have that option.
JZ: If that’s not right, then what’s the purpose of these statutes? Why do we have laws at all? Why do we allow our legislatures to pass laws that say you have to do something if an entity can just come in and say, ‘Yeah. I know I had to do this but you haven’t proven something above and beyond what the statute requires and so you don’t have your day in court.’ I’ve always been mystified by that point and that argument. It truly amazes me that that concept ever gained any traction. The law is the law. Those arguments, fortunately, are beginning to lose some steam. I think courts are beginning to embrace the idea that if the statute exists and assuming it’s constitutional, by the way. Any statute can be attacked on constitutional grounds I suppose. But, assuming though it is legitimate, it is constitutional, then the fact that there is a violation should give rise to a cause of action exactly as the legislature and the people have dictated. So, I’m a firm believer in our representatives want something it should be done that it shouldn’t be up to some random multi-billion dollar company to say that really it means something else.
MB: One of the first attacks on BIPA, that I guess you just walked through, was, ‘Well, there’s no harm. You haven’t actually been injured.’ So, that was the Rosenbach decision. That argument goes away. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that that is not the last statutory or court-driven attack on BIPA claims. There are a couple of appeals that are hanging out there up and above the trial court level now. Can you talk a little bit right now about some of the other attacks on BIPA or some of the other arguments that are out there that folks like yourself and others try to fend off to protect the cause of action.
JZ: There is a case right now before the Illinois Supreme Court on whether the workers’ compensation acts preempts BIPA. Here’s a remarkable argument. We know what Worker’s Comp is in a generic sense. You get hurt at work and there is a worker’s comp program or regimen where you get paid for your physical injury. You lose a finger, you break a bone, you’re in a factory and bad things happen. Whatever it is. It’s not personal injury. You’ve already waived your rights to file a personal injury claim so you’re not going to get big money for this. On the other hand, the trade off is there’s not going to be a big fight. There’s basically a book that tells you what a finger is worth or whatever it is and you can pay for it. In any event, the defense bar, in their ingenuity, decided to pursue arguments that Worker’s Comp really is where BIPA claims belong. So they’re equate the taking of biometrics with suffering a physical injury: a broken bone, a cut, losing an eye, whatever it is, in a factory. Remarkable arguments. Remarkable even I think to the lay person world. It has gained zero traction. I believe there are 40 or 50 trial court decisions on this. All of them have universally rejected the argument. The Illinois Appellate Court has rejected it. I am fairly confident as will the Illinois Supreme Court. So that is one big one that is out there. There are a couple that we are involved in, right now. The statute of limitation. What is the statute of limitation under BIPA? The statue doesn’t say. When that happens, there’s a rule in Illinois, there’s a statute. If the statue doesn’t say, it’s five years. It’s a default, if you will. We say five years, once again, every trial court, 30, 40, or 50 decisions, have said it’s five years. The Appellate Court is going to rule on that. We’re waiting for an opinion. We’re confident in the result there as well. Another argument is the accrual issue. Accrual is well, when did these claims arise? When do you have the rights to bring claims? We have a case before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on this issue. Once again, generally almost in every case, the courts have said that on every time that you collect biometric data without getting informed consent, you are cause of action improves. The defense bar has argued that, no, it’s only the very first time. So, an entity that broke the BIPA law, let’s say in 2009 when the statute was enacted, we did it once then and did it every day after up until the present day, let’s say, but there’s still no exposure. There’s still no liability because it’s only the very first time we do it. Only once does the claim accrue, so in this case back in 2009. In any event, the case where we are defending on appeal, trial court ruled that, no, that’s not the case and that every time the law is broken the claim is accrued. So, that’s another issue that’s percolating in the 7th Circuit.
MB: Let’s go back to the statute of limitation case. It seems pretty straightforward that it would be five years. What’s the defense argument on that one?
JZ: Well, they are trying to cram BIPA cases into other types of statutes, like publication-based statutes. So, things like slander. Things that are really markedly different from BIPA. These are statutes and common law principles where you are defaming people. You are slandering people. You are providing false information. Things of that nature and they are simply trying to analogize BIPA, which is a completely different type of statute regulating completely different things into those types of regulatory schemes. Again, I struggle to explain it really because I don’t totally get it myself. But there are a lot of statutes that provide for a one-year statue of limitation, for example. There are common law principles in the publication-based tort world that provide for short statutes of limitations. That’s great except that’s not what’s happening here. BIPA doesn’t require publication, whatever that means. It’s taking biometrics so you’ll have to get a representative of the defense bar on this show to really explain to you what that’s all about.
MB: So, that’s funny. With what we all do for a living, one of Amit and I’s kind of hobby horse or common things that we are always banging the drum on in these interviews is that we are all employment lawyers in some sense of the word – but each of our practices is very different. Everybody that we’ve had on has just unique different practice. There are certain truisms to all of our practices. We all deal with people on the other side of the fence. Some of us have good relationships with some of those folks, some of us have bad relationships with all of them or some of them. I suspect you find yourself dealing with the same folks over and over again. Have any of them ever just started yelling at you? Do you ever find them kind of haranguing you saying, ‘Why are you doing this? What’s the harm in all of this? What’s the harm really? Who’s really being hurt by this stuff?’ I’ve certainly read the articles and I’ve read the arguments in my own briefs on this issue of this supposed cottage industry of gotcha claims that we’re all bringing. How do you typical respond to that or how do you interact with that?
JZ: Well, first of all, yes. This is perfectly legitimate. There is a group of defense lawyers defending BIPA cases, for lack of a better works, are crusaders. They are apologists for corporate America. They are faced with situations where their client has universally, widely, simply ignored the law for inexcusable, inexplicable reasons. For reasons that I don’t fully understand. Keeping in mind, BIPA was passed unanimously in 2008. That’s a pretty big deal. That means, to get it passed, there were lobbying groups for corporate America on there at the time who said that this was okay, that didn’t fight it. Who didn’t have their own legislators who are in their pocket fighting back on this. Keep all that in mind. So the statute was rolled out and we have years, decades of noncompliance. Then we have lawyers who come in and all we hear are excuses from a certain group of defense counsel that represent folks in BIPA cases starting with there’s no harm; there’s no reason for the law; it’s a bad law. It stifles innovation. We can’t use biometric technology. It’s going to destroy the workplace. Everybody’s going to go bankrupt. There’s going to be rampant unemployment. We’re going to have folks in nursing homes being put out and left to die on the streets. All because we would like the law enforced and not ignored. To the credit of others, they take a more realistic approach. There’s two groups, really, as far as the defense. There’s what I just described, where it is fight to the death. Everything is coming up with excuses and coming up with every reason to fight these cases. Then there’s the other group that has taken a much more sensible reasoned approach. They want to solve the problem. They want to come into compliance. They want to acknowledge what has happened in the past and move on. Frankly, I respect those folks. At least they have come clean. When they come to us like that early on, we work with them. We aren’t out for blood. We make that very clear. We’re not out to max out on this. We’re willing to be reasonable and we have been. We’ve developed good relationships with certain folks who take that approach. What can I say, not every body is of that frame of mind.
MB: Any legislative changes that you might want to talk about?
JZ: Needless to say, we are fighting a war on numerous fronts. We’re fighting in the courts. We’re also fighting in the legislature so there are very powerful groups, well-financed groups in Springfield attempting to change the law. Attempting to eviscerate all the protections that BIPA provides for. So far, all of those efforts have failed. I assume they are going to continue. My view is that with more education, more information, to the public, there’s really no chance that those efforts will really ever go anywhere. If anything, that statute, BIPA, doesn’t go far enough when you really think about the importance of this data. How critical it is. How easy it is to get it and send it around the world. How valuable it is. By the way, there are other states right now that are modeling new legislation on BIPA, which considered the gold standard of this area of privacy law. So I think it would send a pretty poor message to other states if we were to suddenly change it when they are in the midst of doing the same thing and providing similar protections for their own citizens.
MB: Because, it’s the only law in the country that provides for a private cause of action like this. There might be laws that allow the state attorney general to fine a company, which is usually like a slap on the wrist that is from a company standpoint worth the cost of doing business because if it’s like $500 a head but you collected everybody’s data and sold it to Facebook or some other marketing entity for four times that, you’ll take the slap on the wrist any time of the week.
JZ: Of course you would because it would be worth it. There’s really only a couple of states that have any biometrics protections other than Illinois, and you’re right. The few that do right now it’s really attorney general type enforcement and I don’t know how rigorous that’s been. I think that we’ve shown that just to get the attention of some of these entities, what we do has to happen. It’s not going to happen any other way. We’ve proven this. It’s simply ignored. So, these are very important protections that I hope the illness public becomes aware of and enthusiastically supports.
MB: To bring this discussion full-circle, Jim. Trial lawyers get a real bad reputation because there’s this notion. You get theses documentaries about people who sue McDonald’s for getting burned by coffee. It’s like, that coffee gave that person third-degree burns and was so scalding hot that spilling coffee sent them to the hospital for catastrophic injury. Trial lawyers are the ones that went after the cigarette companies and these large organizations that harmed the public to enforce change. People can make these arguments against folks like yourself or against any of us saying, ‘Well, you’re doing this, that, or the other.’ The reality is that changes in better behavior only come when it starts to affect somebody’s bottom line, right? Laws like this are needed and people like yourself are needed to enforce those laws or else people will go on continuing to break the law.
JZ: I don’t know if I can say it any better and the McDonald’s case, just to add a finer point to that, McDonald’s had been cited, I think, hundreds of times for violating the law on the temperature and they ignored it. So, what else was going to get their attention to prompt change if not for a substantial verdict? A verdict by a jury of this lady’s peers who heard all the evidence and decided that this was the appropriate remedy. We hear about the McDonald’s case in jury selection, even though that happened, I think, 25 years ago, to this day and people are misinformed about it and it taints the process. That, single-handedly, has probably saved corporate America billions of dollars to have the misinformation widely spread out there. It’s very disappointing, but you’re right. Trial lawyers, we get a bad rap, all too often. I think those sentiments are changing. I hope they are. You see a multi-million dollar verdict or whatever it is and I guess because we are given some money for that, we are paid for some of our services, that that’s a dirty thing. I’m not really sure I grasp that when you understand what the defense bar is making to defend some of these cases needlessly and prolifically and exponentially multiplying litigation as is done often in the BIPA cases. Why that is such a horrible thing for plaintiff lawyers. Our clients have no ability to pay us by the hour or by the day. They’re just ordinary human beings. They’re just working people. We go a very long time without any revenue at all while paying rent, paying employees, financing the cases. All under constant threat of never seeing a dime, ever. Which, sometimes happens. I don’t win every single case I have like people think I do but I don’t. This is kind of like a great issue in the field.
AB: Yeah. The attorneys that are taking the approach of fighting tooth and nail aren’t taking these cases on pro bono. They’re going to be making a good penny defending all the stuff and taking them as far as they can.
JZ: Nor are they taking them based on the results that they hope to achieve. You’re not going to see these guys saying, ‘You know what? Here’s the bill, don’t pay me unless I win, unless I prevent Zouras from getting any money, or I limit or minimize it. No. No. No. I want it all right now, today.’ So yes. Absolutely right about that.
MB: Jim, is there anything you’d like to plug today?
JZ: I would love to. Just in the past few days, we hope and consider ourselves to be trial lawyers at our firm. That’s where I got my start in life. I was actually a plaintiff personal injury trial lawyer for the first few years of my life and I tried to develop those skills representing injured people in wrongful death cases. Auto crashes, serious personal injury, what have you. That’s really where I cut my teeth, if you will. Fast forward, here we are in the year 2021, we have younger lawyers. We’ve tried to impart some of the principles of being a great trial lawyer onto them. We think being a great trial lawyer, regrettably, is becoming a dying art. It’s going the way of rock and roll, unfortunately. Yet, there are times when you’re going to have to try a case and you’re going to have to put the jury in a box, if you will, and you’re going to have to do it and it’s time to speak up to shut up. Boy. Pull up Haley Jenkins and Anna Ceragioli from my office. Two of our young lawyers. They recently tried their first jury trial in federal court in a wage case on behalf of an hourly paid guy who was deprived of years of almost what I would call nickel and dimming, failure to pay overtime. It’s the classic making a guy come in early and do work, having him do post-shift work every day. They say, ‘Oh. We pay you for everything, but you can only record from 9-6. But here’s a bunch of work at 8:30 in the morning.” So you are put in this trick box. You’re doing work. You’re told you can’t record it. What do you do? This goes on for days, weeks, years, what have you. Fought us to the death every way. Multi-billion dollar publicly traded corporation on the other side. Teams of lawyers. International law firms. Whatever. Pulled out all the stops. Flying in witnesses from out-of-state to defend this case and toe the corporate line. Very much rejected efforts at reasonable settlements all throughout. The jury comes back with a verdict very easily in favor of our client after just a relentless diligent effort of these two young women at our firm. I can’t express how proud I am of them. I hear them saying the things during the closing argument that we talked about. The themes that we know resonate with folks and it’s almost like a visceral reaction for me that, you know, it worked. It truly validates our existence. I’m thrilled for our client, proud of our people, and what statement to push back on this practice, which by the way, the business is getting away with not just with our guy, but with hundreds, maybe thousands, nationwide. This is just a drop in the bucket. No matter what the defendant’s win, the amount of money they saved by not having to pay people, greatly outweighs the verdict we got here, which, by the way, is almost a complete victory for our client in every sense. But, it’s still a drop in the bucket. Boy, am I proud of them for this. The fact that this was their first jury trial on top of that, against experienced defense counsel, I might add. I’m blown away.
AB: So, we like to end our show with a shout out of the week that is someone that want to promote or highlight and I think this week there are three great shoutouts. Two of them are the two attorneys, Hayley and Anna, and the third is your client for sticking through it. It’s a long battle and he deserves every penny he is going to get.
MB: Anything you want to plug besides that?
JZ: You know. I’ve been doing this now for 25, 26 years. You have a chance to reflect at some point and you’re gratified that you have the chance to help people and you look back and try to figure out how you got here and put down this path. I look back at my undergraduate alma mater, which I think you mentioned, UIC, they have been so gracious to invite me back to talk to the pre-law society every year about the realities of going to law school, taking the LSAT, being a real lawyer. The trials and tribulations. They aren’t shy about saying, ‘By the way, they’ve only heard the good stuff so you should probably tell them everything.’ I’m pretty happy with where I’ve come in life but there’s a lot of things that these kids probably don’t think about. You’re probably going to be in debt. You’re probably not going to be a multi-millionaire your first year out of school. I’m so thrilled that I get a chance to go back there every year and talk to these kids but it’s also inspired me into looking into setting up a scholarship for pre-law students at UIC, deserving ones. It’s not even going to be based on if they are going to law school or not but more about they have an interest in this and that school, as it was for me, you’re probably not a trust fund baby to go there. So, you need it. These scholarships are really important so we’re in the process right now of setting something up. Our small way of giving back to the community and, me personally, to a school that really placed me on a path I never dreamed I would be on, not to deviate from this. I never knew any lawyers growing up. I never knew any lawyers in college. I’d never spoken to one, I’d never met one. I’d never thought about it. I had no idea I could possibly do it. It was almost like saying you could go to Mars for me in those days. But that school, the professors, whatever, put me on this path. I’m really happy they did. I want to try to give something back.
AB: The scholarship piece is so awesome. A lot of times, student loans become such a crippling impact on people who want to help other people. I think a lot of times I’ll talk to people who are going to law school and they want to do impact litigation. They want to help underserved communities. They want to help people like your client. The reason they can’t is cause they’re coming out with over $200,000 of debt and mortgage. So, they have to go to a big firm. They have to make some money. So, they can’t help the people who they want to help.
JZ: Exactly, and that can be a topic for a whole other discussion on how folks either, because they don’t have the proper guidance or for circumstance beyond their control, like you say, end up working in areas as a lawyer that really wasn’t what they had in mind. Really wasn’t what their soul dictates. I’m very fortunate that I found a way to duck that because, not to deviate here too much. When I was in school, I was scared to death that I was going to flunk out that I overcompensated by studying an outrageous amount of time. I was a nerd in law school and I studied 12 hours a day and I was constantly creating outlines. When you do all that, apparently, you can do pretty well. I was top ten percent on the law review and I published an article and all this. When you do this, you’re told there’s only one place for you to go and that’s big law so they made me interview with 25 to 30 firms. My soul became more and more drained with every interview. With every interview, I was more and more convinced I could never do this. Yeah, you’re putting a lot of money in front of me. I was fortunate that I found a way to do something else. However that happened. I am forever grateful that that happened.
MB: Thanks for coming on and for everything you do for consumers and law students and for our bar in pursuing these efforts. We’ll have to have you on again.
JZ: I would be honored. Thank you so much for having me on.