For the People

Brian Warens '11

Partner, Lavelle Law

Brian Warens ’11 is particularly adept at the human element of lawyering. He handles high-level estates and tax gifts and is often confronted with death and loss. He interacts with his clients with empathy and compassion to help them navigate that difficult time.

Brian Warens
LAW '11

“I like to be collaborative. I like to work with people,” says Brian Warens ’11. “I want them to be happy and understand the legal work.”

Warens has been at Lavelle Law in Schaumburg, Illinois, in Chicago’s northwest suburbs since 2013. He’s currently a partner who manages high-level estates and trusts.

“You have to be a very good compartmentalizer, especially in the estate planning area,” he says. “You have to be able to connect with your clients on a social and emotional level because this is not fun stuff to talk about. It can affect you as an attorney, too, people that you help and enjoy working with—one day they’re there, one day they’re not.”

Warens came into law school at Chicago-Kent College of Law with a plan to study criminal law, but he leaned into his dueling affinity for tax law when he signed up for the college’s tax clinic.

He was approaching his first summer and needed some practical experience.

“You just don’t see a lot of what that working process looks like unless you’re at a firm working for an attorney,” he says. “Not everyone gets set up with or has the opportunity to jump into a firm between that 1L and 2L year. I did not have a firm lined up and I had an interest in tax law, so it seemed to dovetail together quite well.”

He feels that staying in-house was the best decision for him, and may be for others, as well.

“We had practicing attorneys who were also professors,” he says of Chicago-Kent’s clinics. “I think in that sense, they’re even better positioned to pass along the knowledge because they know how to teach. Not all attorneys are natural-born teachers.”

In particular, Warens connected with Chicago-Kent’s director of clinical education, Jonathan Decatorsmith, who helped Warens land his current position at Lavelle.

“He was just a man who was always generous with his time,” he says. “In trying to help his students, it was setting a pretty phenomenal example for any senior attorney to follow.”

With Decatorsmith’s guidance, Warens dove headfirst into tax law.

He took numerous tax law courses at Chicago-Kent, including LL.M.-level courses. He even went to Oakton College after graduating from Chicago-Kent to get his certificate in professional accounting, although he didn’t actually sit for the certified public accountant exam.

“Jon finally lit that tax fire for me, and it expanded in a lot of different directions and led to me having a huge tax role at my current firm and is a major influence on my career,” Warens says.

In the clinic, Warens found that tax law is about much more than dense codes and income brackets.

“It gives you a reason to care. There are real lives affected by what you do, and you want to knock it out of the park for these people,” he says. “No class is going to adequately prepare you for navigating the dueling complexities of the law and human condition.”

In the beginning of his career, Warens handled plenty of income tax disputes for low-income individuals, as that was who the tax clinic served at the time.

When he graduated, he joined the tax clinic at the Center for Economic Progress as their interim director, where he handled similar cases.

“I would make the best case to the [Internal Revenue Service] that either money isn’t owed or can’t be paid,” he says. “Or that they were never responsible to begin with because their former spouse racked up a lot of debt and never told them about it, and the former spouse always did the returns—that sort of thing.”

Warens remembers saving one woman about $100,000. To this day, it makes him feel good.

But ultimately, he found his passion was in estate and probate work.

“I mostly do what I call the second half of the estate planning process, which is administering the documents, making sure the fiduciaries perform their duties,” he says, “that we have happy beneficiaries, and that the process is as painless a process as possible.”

He’s seen many instances, and perhaps it was even the norm in years past, for attorneys to take a hands-off approach to closing estates. That’s not Warens’ style.

“There’s not as much effort to help clients understand the estate-planning documents,” he says. “They just kind of get handed a pile of papers. I want people to understand why they do these things and how important it is to dot the I’s and cross the T’s.”

At Lavelle, he’s found an outlet to do the work that brings him the most satisfaction.

“We did not have a guardianship or estate administration practice really to speak of before I started here,” he says. “That’s something unique I was able to contribute.”

“If an issue comes up, I usually talk to him before I go look it up myself because he knows the probate code,” says Matthew Sheahin, a fellow partner at Lavelle.

Sheahin has worked with Warens for more than a decade and says Warens’ compassion makes him an exceptional attorney.

“A lot of his work dealing with estates either have a disabled elderly person that can’t take care of themselves anymore and now they’re working under a power of attorney or a guardianship that’s supervised by the court,” he says. “In those situations, you have an elderly person in need of protection, and Brian’s a great protector.”

Warens has always been interested in people—he earned his B.S. cum laude in psychology from Loyola University Chicago—but working with death and grief has changed him for the better.

“It has taught me to be a more sympathetic, and more grateful human being,” he says. “I just try to be a good person.”

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