Getting to Know Matt
Personal Biography of Matt Willens, Chicago Injury Attorney
The odds are that if you are reading this, you or a loved one was seriously injured because of someone else’s negligence. Maybe it was a car accident of some sort or maybe it was the result of medical malpractice. You’ve been injured somehow in some way and you’ve decided to look for a lawyer to handle your case. Good plan. Initial consultations with every decent personal injury lawyer I know are free, so, at a minimum, it makes sense to talk to one, an experienced one.
I imagine that you want someone who has experience, a track record of success, the highest possible ratings, who has been recognized by the legal community as top-notch. You should. You deserve it and those things are important. To brag a little, I have big settlements, verdicts and all the honors and accolades that sometimes come with dedication and experience. I’m proud of them, almost as proud as my family is. However, I recognize that I’m not the only lawyer with big results. I wish I could tell you that I was the only lawyer with several awards and accolades, but I’m not. So how do you decide who is the right lawyer or law firm to handle your case? In order to assist you with this difficult decision, I decided to write a little about who I am. This makes sense to me given I really do my best to get to know my clients. It seems logical that maybe you’d like to know a little about me, not just about the legal stuff that’s on my web-site, but the stuff that makes me tick, the real me. If results matter to you (and they should), go to my Results page. I think you’ll like what you see. If you care about what others say (and you should), go to my Testimonials page. The kind words that other people have said about me over the years are very meaningful to me. Maybe they will be to you as well. If you want to know a little about me, keep reading below and thanks in advance for your interest.
I am the fifth and final child in my family. I tease my three brothers and sister that mom and dad kept having children until they got it right. I was born and raised in Skokie, IL, a suburb just north of Chicago. From as long as I can remember, my parents taught me the importance of family and education. It’s no wonder, that aside from one of my brothers who lives in California, the rest of us live within a mile of each other, in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Though I’m the only lawyer, we all have, at a minimum, college educations.
My dad, may he rest in peace, was a huge sports fan and a couple of my older brothers were active in sports. When I was a small kid, it was pretty rare to see me without some type of mitt or ball in my hands. Team sports played a huge role in the early years of my life and I draw on the lessons learned from sports (hard work, discipline, teamwork…) even until this day.
In my early years, my competitive spirit led me to do well in baseball, football and basketball. In baseball, I was recruited to play on a travelling all-star team, one of the state’s best. In basketball, I was the MVP of my junior high team. In football, I was a pretty good running back but a better linebacker. I really liked tackling people. When I got to high school, Niles North, I was about 5 feet tall and weighed about 110 pounds. My dad said “no way” to football as he didn’t want me to try and tackle a kid twice my size. I guess he knew I would try. I was too short for basketball. I replaced football and basketball with diving. One of my older brothers was a cliff diver/stunt man (the first person in the world to do a quadruple back flip from 100 feet). I thought he was the coolest so figured I’d give diving a shot. There was no coach for diving and I certainly wasn’t the most graceful diver. However, I was daring. I did well because I did harder tricks than the other divers. I won the conference as a freshman. Throughout high school, in addition to diving, I continued to play baseball. I played shortstop and by my junior year, our team was ranked as one of the best in Illinois. Don’t ask about senior year 😉 As high school came to a close, so did my organized sports career. I continued to be active in sports, just not organized sports. Currently, I love to golf.
After high school, I attended Northern Illinois University. I remember it seeming like I had more time on my hands than I was used to. I always wanted to play electric guitar so I bought a used one from a kid on my dorm floor. I thought Eddie Van Halen was awesome and practiced to be just like him. That never happened. However, some friends and I started a rock band. By the last year of college, we were in high demand and won the University’s Battle of the Bands competition. We continued to play after college, while I was in law school and thereafter for a couple of years.
When I started law school, I had long hair half not typical of a guy in law school. In those days, guys in rock bands had long hair. In fact, many of my law school mates, more than 20 years later, still remember me as “the guy with the long hair.” We played places like , The Aragon Ball Room, The Avalon, The Metro, The Thirsty Whale, The Gateway Theatre and any other place that would have us. We even played on The Jenny Jones Show. We had fun and had no real illusion of rock stardom. I’m still good friends with my old band mates.
In law school, I was one of the lucky ones who knew what I wanted to do with my legal career. I wanted to help people. I wanted to try cases. I wanted to control my own destiny – if I performed well, I would be rewarded. Maybe I got this from my sports experiences? – if I prepared well, performed well, the chances of winning goes up. Or maybe it was from my music experiences? The better we played, the more people would come back to our shows. Regardless, I wanted to be a personal injury lawyer, so I went after it. I didn’t have any “connections” in the legal world so I started calling people I admired at the most recognized personal injury firms. I think all of them said they were not hiring but I convinced some of them that I was not looking for a job, just looking for some information from those I held in high regard. I called them “informational interviews.” This got me in some doors. I suspected that I might be able to persuade one of them to take a chance on me and I did. Within days of passing the Illinois bar exam, I had a job at a highly regarded personal injury firm.
My first job lasted seven years. I was working for a task master, now a good friend, and it wasn’t easy but I was gaining valuable experience. I started trying cases very early in my career, the cases that other lawyers at the firm didn’t want to try. I won most of my cases. However, after seven years at my first firm, I wanted something different. I felt the job was interfering with my family life, a wife and two kids at the time (now three kids) a little more than I could tolerate.
I had a chance meeting with an executive from a major Chicago-based insurance company. We started talking about the law, life, family… During our discussion, he mentioned that he was looking for a plaintiff lawyer with about twenty years of experience to coordinate and manage the strategic direction of million-dollar-plus cases in Illinois and around the country for the insurance company. I didn’t think anything of it because at the time, I only had seven years in the legal field. However, soon after this chance meeting, he called me and told me that he was impressed with my maturity of judgement for a young guy and my ability to connect with others, including him. He offered me a job. I never imagined working for an insurance company.
However, I was impressed with this executive, both personally and professionally, and accepted. I took a risk and figured that maybe it would be a good job and even if it wasn’t, the experience I would get from seeing how the other side works would be helpful to my future clients if I ever got back into plaintiffs’ work, which I kind of expected I would. Plus, it would enable me to spend more time with my kids. Bonus!
I did well at the insurance job. Compared to the private practice of law, it was not nearly as demanding. I got to travel the country, meet a lot of interesting people and learn how insurance companies work. I was content but content isn’t my style. I missed representing individuals. I missed the Courtroom. I felt like a coach when I really wanted to be out on the field. During my tenure with the insurance company, I was managing a case against one of Chicago’s most well-known plaintiff lawyers. He and I got to know each other. Eventually the case resolved but the relationship did not. He called me one day and invited me to his office where he proceeded to offer me a job. With the blessing of my family and my insurance job boss, both who knew I wanted back in the Courtroom, I accepted the job and was once again doing what I was born to do, plaintiffs’ personal injury work.
I was again trying cases and winning, even winning some cases that were labelled by some as “unwinnable”. I became a partner at this large very well-known law firm and was receiving many honors. Things were good but I had an entrepreneurial itch and I needed to scratch it.
In 2007, after about a dozen years of gaining valuable legal experience from both sides of the aisle, I opened Willens & Baez with a vision of having a law firm that:
- got to know its clients;
- treated clients with care and concern and not like case numbers; and
- did what was best for the firm’s clients, not what was the easiest or most profitable for my firm.
I saw this vision through and while my greatest satisfaction comes from helping people, I have received many professional honors.
I’m thankful for the success I have and give back to the legal profession as well. I am an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law (my alma mater) where I teach Advanced Trial Advocacy. In addition, I have authored articles in legal periodicals and have been a regular speaker at legal seminars throughout the country on various topics related to trial advocacy. In addition to giving back to the legal profession, I give my time and money generously to many charitable causes, too numerous to list here.
When I’m not at work, I dedicate most of my time to my three awesome children. I try to in-still in them the same values my parents instilled in me. If I’m half as good of a parent as they were, I win. I love to win!