Saving Careers: A Conversation With Chicago Professional License Defense Lawyer Louis Fine

Careers are on the line, livelihoods are at stake, and reputations hang in the balance. I never lose sight of that.”

When you ask attorney Louis Fine to describe his practice, his initial response isn’t to tell you about the professional license defense work that has been at the heart of his distinguished career. He doesn’t start by talking about the countless divorces he has handled or the business and real estate deals he has closed. His initial response is much more succinct.

“I help people who need help.”

It’s an apt description for someone who has made assisting others the defining characteristic not only of his law practice, but also of his volunteer and philanthropic work in the community. It’s also a description born of necessity.

“When my kids were very young, they would ask me what it was that I did as a lawyer,” Louis says. “They could understand that a fireman fights fires, that an engineer drives a train, or that an astronaut goes into space, but they couldn’t wrap their heads around what exactly a lawyer was. So I thought about the essence of what I do, and it really comes down to helping people work through difficult problems or achieve a personal or professional goal.”

Protecting Careers and Livelihoods

Louis has devoted a significant amount of his practice to protecting the careers and livelihoods of licensed professionals in Chicago and throughout Illinois. He understands that threats to someone’s license to practice or engage in their chosen career strike at the essence of who they are.

“Whether you’re a physician, an accountant, a hairstylist, or a real estate appraiser, you invested a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in your career,” he says. “It’s not just the years of education and training or the tens or hundreds of thousand dollars in student loans. And it’s not just about being able to make a living. Your career can define who you are and how people perceive you, and how you perceive yourself.”

And when a licensed professional sees an envelope in the mail from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) advising that they are under investigation or may be subject to disciplinary action, all of that hangs in the balance. It can be easy to panic.

“I often get a call right after someone gets that dreaded letter or notice from IDFPR,” Louis says. “There is a lot of understandable anxiety and concern, often mixed with righteous indignation or disbelief.”

He says that in addition to reviewing the complaint and gathering the facts, his initial task is helping clients take a breath and explaining to them what is happening – and what isn’t.

“Things are always scarier when you don’t understand what’s going on. I try to put things in context and provide clients with some peace of mind that, while IDFPR actions must be addressed seriously, it isn’t necessarily the catastrophe it may appear to be,” he says.

“In any career where you are serving others, you’re going to make someone unhappy. There will always be at least one patient or client who thinks you have wronged them or that you were incompetent or worse,” Louis advises. “Many of these complaints involve nothing of substance. That is why many if not most IDFPR complaints and investigations are resolved either after an informal hearing or without any action being taken at all.”

Understanding IDFPR Inside and Out

However, Louis knows better than anyone that when the IDFPR believes that a licensed professional has engaged in misconduct and launches an investigation or commences disciplinary proceedings, things can be deadly serious.

He also knows how and why the IDFPR makes the decisions and takes the actions they do. That’s because he used to be the one making the decisions and taking the actions.

Louis served as IDFPR’s Chief Prosecuting Attorney and as an administrative law judge for many years, giving him unique insight into how the board handles licensure issues and how to navigate the process in a way that is most likely to lead to a positive outcome for a licensee. His experience investigating and prosecuting licensed professionals also made him appreciate how unfair the disciplinary process can sometimes be.

“The IDFPR’s procedural rules and practices put licensees at a sometimes crippling disadvantage in disciplinary proceedings,” Louis says. “For example, a licensee’s ability to pursue the discovery necessary to defend themselves is extremely limited. In fact, the extent of allowable discovery is determined by the very people who are prosecuting the case.”

The other big problem, according to Louis, is that the hearing officers presiding over disciplinary proceedings are not independent.

“They are employed and paid by the IDFPR, just as the prosecuting attorneys are,” he notes. “Whether a hearing officer is consciously biased or not, the fact that their paychecks are coming from the very same folks who are seeking to discipline a respondent creates an implicit conflict of interest and calls into question the fairness of the entire process.”

Despite these challenges, Louis has successfully defended countless Illinois professionals, protecting their licenses and helping them move forward with their careers and lives. And as Louis will be the first to tell you, helping is what his job is all about.

You Can’t Please Everyone: What To Do – and What NOT To Do – When You Receive an Illinois Professional License Complaint

Illinois licensed professionals of all stripes – from physicians and accountants to hairstylists and mortgage brokers – work with countless clients and patients throughout their long careers. As a Chicago professional license defense attorney, I’ve done the same. If you are one of those professionals, you are probably great at what you do, skilled and ethical, and with a long roster of folks singing your praises and leaving you glowing reviews.

But you can’t please everyone.

It is almost inevitable that one of the people you’ve served over the years will have some gripe about their experience with you, whether justified or not. That means the odds are pretty good that you will open your mail one day to find an unexpected and unwelcome letter from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) advising you that someone has lodged a professional license complaint against you and/or that you are under investigation.

Don’t Make a Potentially Bad Professional License Situation Potentially Worse

Such a letter can make bills and junk mail look good. A notice from the IDFPR can get your heart racing and blood boiling. After all, everything you’ve worked so hard for is under attack. Adverse action by the IDFPR can result in the suspension or revocation of your license, threaten your Illinois professional license renewal, and destroy your career, your livelihood, and your reputation.

When you get an IDFPR notice, you have a critical choice to make. You can react emotionally and angrily; with righteous indignation at the complaining client/patient or the IDFPR. But acting out of emotions such as fear or anger can only make the situation worse and create problems that would not have existed had you only proceeded in a calm, thoughtful, and responsive way. So, keep these four tips in mind if and when you find out that the IDFPR is investigating a professional license complaint against you:

  1. Keep Calm and Carry On

While your heart may start beating faster when you get a professional license complaint or notice of investigation, don’t panic. One, panic and irrationality rarely lead to good things and wise decisions. More importantly, panic is likely unwarranted. Many if not most IDFPR complaints and investigations are resolved either after an informal hearing or without the Department taking any action at all. Not that you shouldn’t take the matter seriously. You should absolutely retain an experienced Illinois professional license defense lawyer and respond in a complete and timely manner.

  1. Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

As unfounded as you believe the complaint or the IDFPR’s basis for investigating you may be, ignorance is not bliss. Failing to respond – or responding in a dismissive and contemptuous manner – just because you believe the matter to be bogus will create problems where perhaps none existed. Don’t angrily crumple up the letter or shove it in your desk drawer. Just failing to respond in a timely fashion to an initial IDFPR inquiry could subject you to discipline, even if there was no merit to the underlying complaint.

  1. Bite Your Tongue

One of the worst things you can do is respond directly to or take any adverse action against the person who filed the complaint. In particular, do not under any circumstances take out your frustrations online or get involved in a social media spat with the complainant about their allegations and issues. For licensed physicians especially, breaches of online professionalism standards have been the subject of increasing scrutiny and disciplinary action by state medical boards.

  1. Hire an Experienced IDFPR Defense Attorney

The policies and procedures that govern IDFPR investigations, hearings, and imposition of sanctions are unique, complicated, and often unwritten and informal. The rules can also be terribly unfair. Even skilled and experienced attorneys who do not practice before IDFPR can find themselves at a loss when dealing with licensure issues. You are no doubt intelligent and know your profession well, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can or should handle an IDFPR investigation on your own. Your reputation, career, and livelihood are at stake. Defending yourself before the IDFPR is a gamble you can’t afford. Call an experienced Chicago professional license defense attorney as soon as possible after you’ve received that dreaded letter, and let them ease your fears and take the steps necessary to protect your license and your future.

Louis Fine: Chicago Professional License Defense Lawyer

As a former Chief Prosecuting Attorney and administrative law judge for IDFPR, I have seen the serious consequences that an adverse enforcement decision can have on professionals who suddenly find their future in disarray. I understand how and why the Department decides to pursue investigations, how it handles negotiations, and how to approach formal proceedings in a way that gives my clients the best possible chance of a positive and expeditious outcome when Illinois professional licensing issues arise.

Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. Together, we will get you back to your clients and your career.