Spend a minute with Jeffrey Moskowitz (JD ’12), and you’ll find a wealth of energy.
As a 3L licensed under Supreme Court Rule 711, Moskowitz worked for the Cook County Public Defender’s Office, representing clients charged with murder, attempted murder, criminal sexual assault, possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute, aggravated battery, assault, felony DUI, armed robbery, unlawful use of a weapon, theft and residential burglary. Moskowitz also received the CALI award for excellent trial litigation skills and the Benjamin Hooks Distinguished Public Service Award for his extensive pro bono work at the College of Law.
Though he hoped to keep his momentum going, he was forced to reassess his career path due to the hiring freeze at the Public Defender’s Office. A few months before graduation, he made the decision to channel his spirit into J. Moskowitz Law LLC, his own criminal defense law firm in Chicago.
“Due to the freeze, I said, ‘you know what—why not take a shot on my own,’” Moskowitz said. “I’ve always had a lot of energy. I think it’s my desire to always help my clients to the best of my ability that keeps me going.”
While many of his peers went in a different direction, Moskowitz says they were supportive of his decision to open his own firm. Similarly, his family took the decision in stride. The son and grandson of entrepreneurs, Moskowitz seamlessly upholds a family tradition. While his parents maintained an open-armed stance, giving him license to return home if all else failed, he took their support as motivation to succeed. Moskowitz began planning and building a financial reserve by taking on several part-time jobs. However, when his LLC membership and Illinois Bar admission kicked in, he decided to funnel all of his efforts into setting up the firm.
“I had under a thousand dollars, no job, no prospects. Once I decided I wanted to go out on my own, I put my eggs in one basket,” he recalled. “I knew it was a risk, but I also knew that unless I put 100 percent toward this, it wouldn’t be a success.”
He found himself improvising to a degree. He started working out of his apartment, attempting to float his bare bones operation. “I was doing a ‘Lincoln Lawyer’ kind of thing, working out of my car, trying to do it like that.” Business prospects dwindled as the holidays approached. In December, he compiled a master list of meetings and holiday events to attend and sent his outreach efforts into overdrive. He quickly overextended himself. Moskowitz approached defense attorney George Grzeca (BA ‘75, JD ’78) whom he’d assisted while working for private defense attorneys at the Public Defender’s Office during law school. “I said, ‘George, I better make a lot of money this month or else I’m in a lot of trouble,’” Moskowitz recounted. “He said ‘let me help you.’”
Grzeca referred some cases, introduced him to attorneys and shared a new office space opportunity.
Moskowitz’s other resources, like Chicago criminal defense attorney Donna Makowski shared knowledge,
involved him in cases and opened their doors to him. He lightened his approach and took on a few side jobs to support his work. Once he settled into his new office, he sifted through his business card collection and spread the word among contacts, peers and professors like Leonard Cavise. By February 1, 2013, he made payment on all his bills with $100 to spare.
“If it wasn’t for these people who helped me out, I wouldn’t have anything,” Jeffrey said. “DePaul alumni have been unbelievably helpful at all levels; from judging at the bench all the way down to litigation.” These days, Moskowitz can afford to think 10 years down the line, when he hopes to grow his business and bring on associates. He has handled over 75 cases and works within a broad range of criminal and real estate law. He has successfully advocated for clients in bench and jury trials, motions, 402 conferences and bond hearings and is recently worked on a double jury murder trial. Field Placement Program Coordinator Natalie Taylor also provided him with an extern during the summer.
He is quick to cite the generosity of his mentors. “Fortunately I’ve been able to get in with established
attorneys who haven’t felt threatened by me,” he expressed, “and I’ve worked hard and put myself out
there.” The former Hooks award recipient also takes on pro bono projects and is passionate about the role volunteer work plays in his ambition. “Being solo has given me a lot of time to take on more pro bono work,” he said. “When I have extra time I take on pro bono cases, which are the most fulfilling.”
“It’s important that we take care of the community as a whole, there are people who need attorneys and aren’t getting them,” Moskowitz said. He sees a shift away from larger firms to smaller practices like his as part of a larger trend in the legal community—the realization that the profession must restructure in order to meet the needs of the people.
For his part, Moskowitz tries to donate as much time as he can within his increasingly busy schedule. “The reason I decided to become a lawyer was to make a difference,” he says.
Article from the fall 2013 issue of Dialogue magazine. For more stories in this series, see: