The Kane County Chronicle published an article Thursday in regard to St. Charles School District 303 and other school districts needing legal expertise for a variety of reasons. In said article, District 303 Superintendent Don Schlomann commented that, in the previous school districts where he was employed, parents’ threats were often just threats. Now, Schlomann believes we seem to live in very litigious times because parents often consult with attorneys prior to contacting him.
So, why is that?
As a general litigator, I was often consulted by a variety of potential clients who had some pending issue, and the potential client only wanted me to send a letter to the opposing party threatening litigation (also known as a “threat letter”). The potential client felt that the threat letter would suffice, and had little to no inclination to pursue litigation. I learned very quickly to decline each and every one of those potential clients, and I continue to do so today.
This is because my reputation as an attorney is at stake. If I send the threat letter and then do not follow up with the threat of litigation – if the parties cannot come to a resolution – then my reputation is not that of an aggressive advocate, but is instead of someone who can be ignored. My future threat letters go right in the trash, and I then become ineffective at my profession. How does this serve my client?
Reading the Chronicle article, I believe some school administrators and other government leaders often learn to ignore the threats of constituents because their past experiences led them to believe the threats were not serious. The grumblings of the constituents can become as ineffective as the threat letters the potential clients wanted me to send. As a result, an unintended consequence develops – those constituents now feel they actually need legal representation because a particular governing body does not hear their voices.
Schlomann’s statement at the end of the Chronicle article is, in my opinion, spot on. A public body’s communication and ability to develop trust will help alleviate the litigious environment that has developed.
However, it appears that trust often can become broken in certain areas; otherwise, constituents would not seek counsel prior to contacting a certain governing body.
• Anthony Scifo is a resident of Kane County and an associate attorney with Shaw, Jacobs, Goostree and Associates P.C. in St. Charles, where he concentrates in divorce and family law, personal injury and wrongful death. His goal with this occasional column is to help educate the public regarding the court system and the law. Contact him with general legal questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.