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A Q&A Conversation With Ray Koenig and MacKenzie Hyde

June 19, 2024

As leaders of Clark Hill’s Trust and Estates Controversy Practice, Ray Koenig and MacKenzie Hyde guide a national team of attorneys who help families, corporate fiduciaries, and nonprofits through delicate matters.

Koenig and Hyde have worked together for nearly two decades and have been a part of the firm’s growth in Chicago as its office has grown from a handful of attorneys to now more than 90.

They recently discussed the growth of their practice, recent developments in trust, estate, and guardianship controversies, and Koenig’s experience as Chicago Bar Association president for the past year.

For those unfamiliar with your area of work, how do you help clients?

Koenig: The very basic explanation of what we do is that when somebody becomes disabled or dies, and there’s a family fight over who receives the inheritance, we deal with those disputes while representing private family members, fiduciaries, or charitable organizations and nonprofits.

When there’s a dispute over what a document means such as a will,  trust, or power of attorney document, or when the validity of a will, trust, or other document is challenged, we litigate and deal with those issues as well.

Especially in Chicago, we handle a lot of guardianship controversies when somebody is no longer able to make decisions for themselves. We follow a legal process where someone makes allegations and another has the right to challenge them, and it can be full-on litigation to determine whether someone truly needs a guardian and who that should be. Once you have the guardianship up and running, then there may be disputes because frequently elderly people have been taken advantage of by others. In those instances, we frequently represent the guardian to go after those people who took advantage and maybe took or stole their property.

We’re also hired from time to time to consult on situations where somebody may have diminished capacity or there’s a complicated family history, and they need to do estate planning and we’ll be brought in for advice and consultations.

How do you try to differentiate yourselves in this field?

Hyde: As Ray mentioned, we do a lot of work on behalf of large corporate fiduciaries that serve as trustees, executors, or guardians. We help advise and do everything from interpreting documents to figuring out what they mean to help them get out of disputes that they may have found themselves in through no bad actions of their own. We also represent them to defend wills and trusts when there’s a will or trust contest. Our group may be called trust and estate controversy but that necessarily includes fiduciary and guardianship litigation.

What are some trends or changes that you have seen in this area of law recently?

Hyde: Will and trust contests go hand-in-hand with guardianship and they’re becoming more intertwined as people are living longer. Family members get impatient waiting for inheritances, so we often have guardianship disputes that end up being pre-death contests. That’s where our experience in guardianship helps us because a lot of people don’t handle that side of it, so they don’t know how to handle the pre-death contests quite like we do.

Koenig: Another area is that Illinois, like many other states, adopted a form of the Uniform Trust Code as a statute, so we’re seeing more litigation related to that as well. It was enacted in January 2020 and opened more avenues for trustees and beneficiaries to seek relief from the courts. We’re also seeing more litigation around misunderstandings with directed trusts.

Did either of you have a specific inspiration for wanting to practice this kind of law?

Hyde: I spent tons of time with my grandparents while growing up and knew I wanted to help older adults as a career. I got into Loyola’s Elder Law program and then started as a law clerk at Ray’s former firm as a second-year law student. From the start, I loved the guardianship litigation and helping  protect older adults from unscrupulous family members and third parties and to try to make sure that they could live their remaining years with dignity and how they wanted to live, not how other people wanted them to live.

Ray, you’re wrapping up your one-year term as president of the Chicago Bar Association, what are you especially proud of from holding that position?

Koenig: It’s been the professional honor of my lifetime. We’ve got 18,000 members, and it’s one of the biggest and best-known municipal bar associations in the country. It’s been really fun and an honor to kind of be the face of the Chicago legal community for the last year.

Working on the CBA’s 150th anniversary was a big deal, and being the first LGBTQ president of the association was very cool. My theme was inclusion and working to implement inclusion within the legal community and the CBA itself.

And you just got to throw out the first pitch at Cubs and White Sox games through that role, how did that go for you?

Koenig: Leading up to it was nerve-wracking. I can try a case or go out and give a speech to 500 people and not get anxious or worry too much, but throwing out the first pitch probably gave me the greatest anxiety I’ve felt since I was studying for the Bar Exam. I practiced a lot with my husband, and we made sure we were throwing the exact distance – we threw enough to the point where I was getting about 80 percent of them over the plate. My biggest fear was throwing the ball in the dirt, but both got over the plate successfully.

You have been integral to the growth of the Chicago office and your practice area, what has that journey been like for you?

Hyde: One fun fact about my career with Clark Hill is that I’m the first person to start my career as a first-year associate in the Chicago office and go on to make equity partner. The Chicago office has only been around for 18 years, and it’s gone from six attorneys to over 90 so it’s been fun watching the firm develop and grow along with our practice area. It’s all been a great experience.

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