, Illinois , United States
|| April 21, 1965
Jan 08, 2010 12:31pm
Jewish - Internationalist - Pro Environment - Pro Free Trade - Pro-Gay Marriage - Single - Gay -
|Info||Attorney & Ex-Congressional Aide |
Growing Up: Family Values and Political Moxie
I grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee. My father was a physician, and he and my mother reared five children. I'm the youngest, born in 1965. I come from a family that values education and insists that whatever you do, you do it right and with gusto.
I was drawn to politics and social causes from the time I was a kid. In 7th grade, as a member of student government, I discovered that my teachers had worked without a contract for several years, and it was devastating to their morale. One of the most ardent conservatives on the school board was dead set against giving the teachers a contract and focused on breaking the teachers union. I organized a protest at a school board meeting in support of the union and recruited fellow students to phone bank against the re-election of that school board member. In the end the teachers got their contract, and the teachers association gave me its first-ever award for outstanding leadership in the school and community. I was 13.
As a senior in high school, I worked as an intern for both the mayor of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee County Executive. That summer, when I was 18, I was a delegate to the Wisconsin Democratic convention.
My parents taught me that respect is earned. For four summers in high school and college I drove a delivery truck for our family business, the 7-UP bottling company of Milwaukee. I was a seasonal employee covered under the Teamsters union contract. My family was always proud to run a union shop and placed importance on having strong, good relations with labor. Everyone at the company knew my family and everyone understood that I wasn't to be treated like the boss's son - I was just one of the guys.
My folks also taught me that I needed to work for what I wanted. In high school I took a school trip to Europe. I was expected to earn much of the money myself, even though my parents could well afford it.
The Education of Jacob Meister: College and Law School
I went to college at American University in Washington, D.C. The summer after my sophomore year I worked for the Milwaukee International Health Training Consortium (now the Center for International Health) under a grant from the World Health Organization. I worked with Chinese physicians and other health-care professionals so they could update their compliance with the WHO international diagnostic coding system. This project enabled China to better track disease, epidemics and pandemics around the world.
ON CAPITOL HILL
In 1985 and 1986 I worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. for Congressman Jim Moody of the 5th Congressional District of Wisconsin. I started as an intern and was promoted to a staff position. As a special-projects assistant, I worked on legislation including a transportation-deregulation bill and dozens of projects such as organizing "T-shirts for Africa" in Wisconsin. During the mid-1980s there was famine and drought in Ethiopia, and international relief organizations were trying to distribute clothing to people throughout the country. With the assistance of local media, Northwest Airlines, the Milwaukee Brewers and other organizations we set up donation stations throughout Wisconsin and succeeded in collecting about 75,000 articles of clothing.
I graduated from American University in 1986 cum laude with a bachelor's degree in international relations and political science.
Before starting law school, I had two jobs that gave me exposure to international-trade issues. One job was researching foreign trade, competition and technology transfer with a special emphasis on U.S.-Japan economic relations. At that time there was great concern that the United States was in jeopardy of losing some of its most important industry and technology - especially military applications - to Japan and other countries.
My other job took me to Japan, where I worked for the International Institute for Studies and Training. The Institute immersed Japanese executives, businessmen and engineers in the English language and Western culture so they could do business in the West. I learned a tremendous amount about how Japan achieved international economic success in the 1980s. At the time Japan was developing its industrial technology and heavy manufacturing - and in doing so, posing a challenge to the United States. I saw that its success was based on Japanese dedication and devotion to companies and industries and ultimately to country.
I started law school in the fall of 1987 at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Constitutional law was my favorite area of study and the one at which I excelled most. I also studied business and anti-trust law.
As a law student in 1988 and 1989, I worked in Madison for the Wisconsin Senate Judiciary and Consumer Affairs Committee with Sen. Lynn Adelman, who is now a federal judge. My work focused on consumer issues. One of my most memorable projects was to draft legislation to curb ATM fees. The problem centered on banks buying relatively inexpensive ATMs machines. Not only did the ATMs displace tellers, but the banks had the audacity to charge customers for using the machines. The legislation went absolutely nowhere - and it was a sobering exposure to how a lobby can kill a bill in its tracks. This ends up being bad for consumers and bad for the economy.
I earned my law degree with honors from UW-Madison in 1990. I also received the George Young Memorial award for leadership.
Practicing Law: Making Big Deals, Defending the Little Guy
I graduated from law school during the recession of 1990, moved to Chicago and started to practice with the Loop law firm I had worked for as a summer clerk.
Because I had studied business law in law school, I was mainly interested in making deals and transactions and helping clients to buy and sell real estate. But the economy was in such a shambles from the S&L crisis that the firm didn't have much use for real estate or business-transaction lawyers. I switched to business litigation, and it was the best thing that could have happened - because it gave me the chance to become a problem solver, to learn about corporate and real estate law and to find my niche. I quickly discovered that you can't put together a good business deal until you've seen one fall apart.
Ultimately I became a commercial litigator, and I handled business disputes of all types. I also handled transportation cases involving air, rail, trucking and ocean freight at a time when these industries were still regulated. But it was apparent that the regulatory system that originated in the 19th century had no place in the modern world and needed to be repealed.
From 1991 to 1993 I worked at Gottlieb and Schwartz, where I continued to practice in commercial litigation dealing largely with real estate and corporate matters. I also continued transportation work and represented clients before the Interstate Commerce Commission on matters related to rate regulation. (This was before the ICC was disbanded in 1995.)
FROM COMMERCIAL LITIGATION TO PRO BONO TO OWN SHINGLE
In 1993 I joined Schwartz & Freeman, where I became a partner in 1998. In 2001, my partners and I decided to join Michael Best & Friedrich, LLC. During my years at these firms, I focused on real estate, business and commercial law, and I litigated cases that arose from, among other things, mergers, acquisitions and contracts. I represented many banks and developed an understanding of banking regulation.
In 2002 I opened my own practice, The Law Offices of Jacob J. Meister. I took my clients with me and went back to the basics, which included representing small businesses - real estate developers, self-managed condominium associations, construction contractors and tradesmen - that need legal services and look to me to help them. In the past I have represented my share of big companies and banks, but I find that representing small businesses is some of my most rewarding work.
I continue to do pro bono work, and until last year I also served as in-house general counsel for a Chicago real estate-development firm.
Tales from the Real World
Practicing law for nearly 20 years has given me knowledge of many important issues that affect our everyday lives. Here's a sampling:
INTRO TO TELECOM
In my early days of practicing law, I handled a big telecommunications case. It was at the beginning of telecommunications deregulation, when the future of telecom was still undefined. There was no regulation for bypass carriers, and many disputes arose as the industry struggled to come of age.
One such dispute was over taxation of bypass carriers by the City of Chicago and the emerging use of fiber-optic technology. I represented a carrier that bought rights to Western Union rights-of-way in Illinois and built a fiber-optic line connecting Milwaukee, Chicago and St. Louis. The city said it would tax all traffic coming over the line and threatened to cut the wires if the taxes weren't paid.
We eventually got an injunction against the city, and the case went to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Although we reached a settlement, in actuality we won, because the city was ultimately found not to be able to tax our client. Shortly after that, regulation came about to address this pressing need, and it freed telecommunication carriers from the burden of local taxation on network traffic. As a result we now have a telecom network that is relatively cheap and accessible to everyone. I'm proud to say that I had a small part in helping to develop the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure, one of our most valuable national assets.
EMPLOYEES vs. INSURANCE COMPANY
I have also handled cases dealing with federal ERISA employee-benefits regulations. I represented a small, Chicago auto-parts manufacturer that had a health plan with an insurance company that refused to pay employee claims. Several of the auto-parts company employees and their family members were seriously ill and were on the verge of having to declare bankruptcy because medical providers were coming after them when the insurance company denied their claims.
One worker received about $75,000 in hospital treatments for a life-threatening condition. But the insurance company wouldn't pay, saying the employee had failed to submit claims on a timely basis. More than that, the insurance company argued that under ERISA they could be both the insurance provider, using their own subsidiary to bear the risk, and the third-party administrator, using their own claims processors to deny claims. But those are two inherently contradictory roles. We uncovered this prohibited conflict of interest as well as fraud: The company didn't meet its minimum-reserve requirements and was posing as a U.S. insurer while actually operating offshore.
It was a very hard-fought case, one of the most significant of my career. The federal court rulings made it a law-making case, because plaintiffs in such cases were found to be entitled to punitive damages. It was a great victory to get the wrongs against these employees redressed. Over the years I have given lectures to groups of lawyers about the significance of this case.
The pro bono cases I have taken on have focused on discrimination. I represented an autistic child in a case against Chicago Public Schools, which was warehousing students with physical and cognitive learning disabilities in cross-categorical classrooms instead of providing them with proper student-teacher relationships and ratios. Research shows that with one-on-one tutoring, autistic children can overcome major aspects of autism. I succeeded in negotiating a settlement in which CPS agreed to provide a special aide for the child.