Jay Paul Deratany, the founder of Deratany & Kosner, is a man of many talents. He is not only a trial lawyer, but also a playwright, producer, and actor. He has published numerous articles featured in the Illinois Bar Journal, Daily Law Bulletin, Adoption Magazine, and Foster Families Today. Featured in Foster Families Magazine for his continuing fight on behalf of foster children, Mr. Deratany has also served on numerous boards, including Howard Brown, Chicago House, Perspectives Charter Schools, and Community Support Services. He won the Ekroth Award for his federal lawsuit advocating on behalf of disabled women who were being discriminated against in housing. Mr. Deratany sits down with Lawyer Minds to discuss how his law practice developed and what led him to write his upcoming movie, Foster Boy.
Lawyer Minds: Why did you decide to become a trial lawyer?
Jay Paul Deratany: I was in college going back and forth between pre-med (because it would make my dad happy) and acting/writing. I did not do well in either chemistry or math so that closed up pre-med. I then took a political science class and loved politics and law. I thought that I could effectuate positive change in the world through the legal profession and sought to be a public aid lawyer. While in law school I was working for Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago doing tenants’ rights law, but because Pres. Reagan had put a hiring freeze, I was offered a job to stay on as a clerk’s rate of $8.00 per hour. I couldn’t afford to even eat at that rate, so I went to work for a very well-established trial lawyer. I realized then that I could both effectuate positive change in society by helping people who have been hurt or injured by greedy companies and earn a decent salary. I’ve never looked back.
Lawyer Minds: What advice do you have for new trial lawyers?
Jay Paul Deratany: It’s the hardest job you will ever come to love, but if it is a fit, just stay with it beyond the tough times. And there will be tough times.
In no other profession is there someone always trying to tear you down. You will lose cases, you will be yelled at by judges, you will work long and hard hours and sometimes feel unappreciated. But, when you win a case and you look over at your client who is crying because they finally have justice, it will be all worth it.
Lawyer Minds: What is the most rewarding experience you’ve had as a lawyer?
Jay Paul Deratany: There is nothing like the feeling of winning your first big verdict. I remember mine: I represented a black woman who had been arrested while over nine months pregnant and instead of being sent to a hospital, she was put in jail. While in jail she went into labor and though she screamed for help, they refused to help her and she delivered the baby in jail without any medical help. Tragically, the baby later died.
I was a young lawyer and the defense lawyer continually thought she could abuse me throughout the case. When it came to trial, she offered basically a nuisance settlement. I argued for a judgement of $4,000,000 from the jury and they awarded 9.6 Million. To that point, I had never obtained a high six-figure verdict, much less an almost eight-figure verdict. More importantly, my wonderful plaintiff and her other children got justice. I’ve had many higher verdicts since then, but there is nothing like that first time.
Lawyer Minds: What advice do you have for someone who wants to start a law firm?
Jay Paul Deratany: Be prepared to work very hard, but also take the time for yourself.
You need to have family time, exercise time, enjoyment time, and sleep time so that you can maintain through those long slogs preparing and presenting your case. Also, surround yourself with a good team–a great paralegal, and well qualified and diverse associates to bring different perspectives to your cases.
Lawyer Minds: How much time do you spend working on your practice versus in the practice (practicing law) and how do you balance that out?
Jay Paul Deratany: I’m now at a point where I have a good team of people who help “work on the practice” and I can devote more time to the practice of law. I love being a lawyer, and when I take on foster abuse cases they consume me, so I do not want to take as much time on accounting and management, and am thankful to delegate a lot of day-to-day management to my paralegal, Deirdre, who has been with me almost 20 years, and my law partner, Mike. But of course, I do have to take on some role of management, and what I try to do is listen to other’s suggestions and effectuate a cooperative democratic atmosphere where everyone has a role in management.
Lawyer Minds: You have multiple projects outside of your practice of law. What drew you to writing a play and producing a film?
Jay Paul Deratany: I’ve always loved movies, TV, and theater, and have wanted to act and write since I was a kid and stayed in it as a “hobby” with community theater and writing small plays (and even joining Second City for a while). At one point I wrote a play called “Haram Iran” based upon a true story about two boys who were hanged in Iran after being given a sham trial. I expected it might play at a community theater, but it did well, playing in Chicago, London, NY, and LA, and winning a GLAAD nomination.
That inspired me to go back to school at age 44 for my MFA in Screenwriting. My professor, a legend named John Schimmel, told me “write what you know” and I know law, and so I wrote a courtroom drama based upon some of my foster care cases, called “Foster Boy”. I never thought in a million years it would ever make the big screen and have Shaquille O’Neal as the Executive Producer, but here we are, and it is coming out to the theaters and streaming.
Lawyer Minds: You also are known for your advocacy on behalf of foster children, as well as the LGBT community. How have you used your voice as a lawyer to advocate for these passions?
Jay Paul Deratany: I think it is very important for lawyers to give back and so many of us do want to do that. I have represented children who have been abused, neglected, or killed in foster care or DCFS abuse situations for the past fifteen or so years of my practice, and though we have won substantial verdicts, I always felt that I made a difference in their case, but that we were not reaching the “world” of foster care.
One of the producers of “Foster Boy”, Peter Samuelson, asked me to join him in helping bring foster kids to college campuses to become mentored at universities so that they could feel a sense of place. I did that, and have since given both my time and money to other worthwhile organizations that help children and specifically, foster kids. We have about a half a million children in foster care, many who are being abused and neglected and we as a society can do so much more.
As far as the LGBTQ community, I have been working with Family Equality which seeks to remove the bigoted laws that prevent the LGBTQ community from adopting, fostering, or otherwise having their own families. It’s not just bigoted — it’s just plain stupid to deny a loving couple who happens to be gay from adopting a foster child, especially when the alternative for the child is being a DCFS ward and having no mothers or fathers.
Our society has to wake up and stop with ALL forms of discrimination to truly become a just society.
Many thanks to Jay Paul Deratany for sitting down with Lawyer Minds to discuss his many projects. To learn more about Mr. Deratany, please visit his firm’s site: https://lawinjury.com/attorneys-staff/jay-paul-deratany/
Lawyers Speak Up: Tips for Conducting Remote Depositions
Interview with Rick Barrera