By Anna Lothson
The people: that's the main motivation for Oak Park's new village attorney, Paul Stephanides, to tackle his daily commute to and from Naperville.
"There's no job quite like this," he said. "Oak Park has always been in the back of my head."
Stephanides is in his second week on the job and already enthused, he said. He even likes the late-night meetings. Stephanides recently left his Chicago-based law firm Robbins, Schwartz, Nicholas, Lifton & Taylor, Ltd., where he was a partner. His firm specialized in municipal law so joining a community in the Chicago region was second nature for him.
Among Stephanides' practice areas are real estate, land use and zoning, litigation, construction law, election law, labor and employment law, prosecutions and counseling for local government boards and commissions. Previously, he was the assistant village attorney for the city of Naperville and served as an assistant village attorney with the Chicago Park District.
He joined a large firm to continue working with municipal law but knew he always wanted to go back to a community to focus one-on-one with the people most impacted by the line of work he's dedicated his career to.
"If you want to be on the cutting edge, this is the place to be," he said of municipal law. "If you want to be in the place where you're in the forefront, making law that affects people on the most basic level, this is the area you want to work in. That's what I wanted."
Some lawyers prefer being behind the scenes or in the courtroom but not Stephanides. With a political science background, he was immediately drawn to public policy. Knowing he didn't want to get into politics, law was the perfect match. He was hooked once he took a constitutional law course.
The public law component, not the corporate structure, was another inspiration behind becoming a lawyer. Municipal law can be a tricky task and certainly isn't 9-5, but only working with lawyers and big clients could get monotonous, he said. Working with people, a staff, and a community meshes better with Stephanides' style.
Stephanides has a law degree from DePaul University, where he also earned his undergraduate degree, studying political science and economics. He currently lives in Naperville with his wife Dorota and has two college-age daughters, Cleo and Nina.
Among his honors and achievements are serving as state chair to the International Municipal Lawyers Association, member of the Illinois Local Governmental Lawyers Association executive board, and contributing member of the Illinois Municipal League Home Rule Attorneys.
When asked if he joined Oak Park to focus on one community instead of myriad communities and issues, he was confident in his answer: "A definite yes."
The other factor that drew the seemingly enthusiastic municipal lawyer to a town like Oak Park was simple, he said — the camaraderie. That mutual sense of admiration for each other and the community is evident in this town, he said. And it's certainly much different from working for a big firm in the city.
"There was always a distance" at a firm, Stephanides said. "It's very open here. People know where to find me."
And he hopes people do.
"I would enjoy meeting [people in town]. I already know that I like the people of Oak Park."