trial attorney Mark
McNabola has advocated for victims in personal injury and medical
malpractice cases for more than three decades. Since founding McNabola Law Group in 1992, the
plaintiff’s attorney has continued to obtain more than $550 million in
verdicts and settlements for his clients, many of whom suffered catastrophic
is a Chicago native who prides himself on being accessible to clients and on
giving back to the community. McNabola has leadership roles in charities across
the city and deep ties to DePaul University.
Learn more in our featured Q&A:
Tell us about your early career. How did you decide to become an attorney?
When I graduated from DePaul University in 1981, I, like most people at that age didn’t immediately know what I wanted to do with my life. I thought I might teach or coach, but several trusted people recommended I go to law school. I am so glad I took the advice. I love being a lawyer. It is challenging and rewarding. It gives you the opportunity to do things that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise and to make a positive impact in the world.
I enrolled in night classes at DePaul University College of Law and worked various jobs during the day. I tended bar and later became a sheriff’s deputy under former Cook County Sheriff Richard Elrod, who later became a judge. As an attorney, I was lucky to try numerous jury trials in his courtroom. Judge Elrod is one of my heroes: he was a person who really understood the law and was always thoughtful and respectful about how his rulings affected people’s lives. He was also wickedly smart and had a great sense of humor.
My experience with the Sheriff’s Office was very educational. People do not realize how much exposure and responsibilities most deputies have. The job involves everything from service of process to being in the “holding pen” with inmates to working in a courtroom. The training and experience gave me a valuable perspective and allowed me to observe and interact with the day-to-day practice of law. I learned how a crime scene is properly quarantined, how to separate witnesses, how to properly document statements and investigations, and most importantly how to empathize with victims. In that environment, I could not help but become attuned to the nuances of civil and criminal cases. And I was fortunate to meet a lot of interesting attorneys and judges along the way.
Were you always interested in personal injury law?
Actually, I did not know much about personal injury law when I passed the Illinois Bar in 1985. I started working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and thought I might pursue a career in criminal law. Then I had the opportunity to work at a personal injury firm with several experienced attorneys here in Chicago and to learn from them in the course of handling many jury trials. Experienced lawyers told me that in order to effectively negotiate a case for your clients you need to know how to win at Jury trial to earn the respect of your opponents. I worked at a personal injury firm for seven years and had solid training over those years. I learned from experienced mentors and had the opportunity to work up the cases and act as first-chair for many jury trials. I learned the importance of thorough preparation, and consistent effort to improve my trial skills. These lessons helped me be a strong advocate before going out on my own.
I have always believed it is important to help people, especially those who have been victimized. Often these victims are having their first experience with the legal system and it can feel like they are being victimized again with the uncertainty and delays inherent in our legal system. I always try to make the process as smooth and easy as possible for our clients, explaining the process and keeping them regularly advised as their case moves through the system.
What do you find most rewarding about being a plaintiff’s attorney?
Helping people who have been devastated and who are really vulnerable and at a disadvantage. Most clients have no experience with the legal system, and then through some random negligent act, their lives have been upended. Frequently our clients have been financially and emotionally wrecked as a result of their injuries. They have physical pain, disability, and financial trauma — and then they are confronted by an overwhelming legal system that they have never navigated before. It is very rewarding to be able to guide our clients through the trauma, to act as an advocate and provide comfort as we help them achieve some measure of justice.
What sets apart McNabola Law Group?
I think it’s our attention to detail, the fact that we work hard and that we are respectful of our clients. I believe that makes a big difference for them. We try to minimize the level of stress they encounter as they navigate the process and we work with them as a team to achieve the best possible outcome. We tell our clients: We are here for you, and you should not be embarrassed or hesitant to share your concerns. We understand that this is, hopefully, your only journey through the legal system, and we are here to help. Our attorneys are experienced and focused. We work hard, we’re knowledgeable, and we collaborate with the client and each other to try to obtain the best result.
What types of cases does McNabola Law Group handle?
All of our cases involve personal injury involving trauma or medical malpractice. There are fundamental standards of reasonable care we all have toward each other that apply whether someone is driving a semi-truck or treating a potential medical condition. When someone acts negligently by failing to do what they are required to do or by doing something they should not do, and it causes serious injury, that’s where we step in.
If someone loses a leg, that is not just a physical trauma. It’s an emotional trauma. It’s a confidence trauma. It has an effect on the injured person’s personal relationships. A case like that is also about how your spouse’s life has been permanently changed, how your kids and other relationships have changed as they deal with their loved one’s pain and disability every day. There can be extensive collateral damage that most people do not initially appreciate.
We represented the family of a beautiful 17-year-old boy who was killed when a tire came off a truck and crashed through the windshield of the car where he was riding as a passenger. We had a medical malpractice case where a husband and father of four was prescribed a combination of drugs that caused a severe mental imbalance that ultimately led to his suicide. We saw a young child drown because lifeguards weren’t doing their job, and an elderly woman become paralyzed because a driver was watching his cell phone and not the roadway.
Money can’t correct those problems or turn back the clock, but it can pay for medical care and treatment, alleviate the financial burden of lost wages and medical care and it can compensate people for the pain and suffering they endure and for the loss of the life they knew before the injury. It will pay for medical bills and college for a victim’s children. The look on the faces of our clients and their families, after we have accomplished what we set out to do is unbelievably rewarding. To know that we have helped these people during what may be the most difficult time of their lives, is what keeps us doing what we do.
What do you do for fun outside the office?
It seems like we are always busy. My wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this year, and we have four kids. We live in Lincoln Park and love Chicago sports teams. I like going to the gym and we stay involved by volunteering with all kinds of different charities. I’m a people person and I love living in such a great city engaging with people from all different walks of life and attempting to make a positive difference for them.
You donate your time and resources to different charitable organizations across Illinois. Can you tell us about a few?
I am on the Board of Directors for The Mulliganeers which is a nonprofit organization that raises money for children and families in need. I have known some of the people in the organization since I was a teenager and I am so pleased to be a part of this great group. We host annual fundraisers, and 90 percent of the money we raise goes directly to families. These funds go to families whose children have suffered devastating tragedies, typically rare cancers or other medical conditions that financially devastate these families. These funds raised help these families cover the costs of medical bills or procedures. Mulliganeers is like a mulligan in golf: It’s giving a kid a second chance.
I’m also involved with Dreams for Kids, a nonprofit started by a college classmate and fellow lawyer, Tom Tuohy. I am a member of the Dreams for Kids’ Executive Board. We hosted an event this summer in Wisconsin giving kids with different abilities the opportunity to try waterskiing and kayaking, some for the first time in their lives. Some of these kids had never been in the water before. Just to see the excitement and joy on their faces — it was fantastic.
Right now, we are gearing up for a holiday gift program that we put on every December. We have about 1,000 disadvantaged children that come to celebrate Christmas and do arts and crafts, exchange presents and spread joy. Santa will make a big entrance and, kids who may not normally receive any gifts have a chance to take home presents and feel loved. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White gets involved and helps us provide transportation for the kids to and from the event from shelters and other places all over the city.
I am also on the Board of Advisors for Catholic Charities, a group which positively impacts thousands of lives on a daily basis. Catholic Charities influences so many different areas of the world — from hospitals and nursing homes to providing services for the homeless and people with disabilities. It is such a powerful mission and I am happy to be able to help.
I also involved with Misericordia Heart of Mercy on the North Side of Chicago. Misericordia is a terrific place that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities create lives for themselves.
My wife and I also volunteer at the St. Vincent de Paul Parish soup kitchen and sandwich pantry. You do not realize the struggles homeless people face with things like dental hygiene and medication — simple things most of us take for granted — until you meet and talk to people. This is a place where the disadvantaged have an identity and a name, where they feel welcome and human.
My mom always had a funny saying: “If you died tomorrow, would anybody miss you?” What she meant was: It’s important to give back to other people. Life is bigger than you. I am grateful to be able to help.
What does being Irish in Chicago mean to you?
Being Irish in Chicago is about family, community, friendships and laughter. The way I was raised in the 1960s and 1970s, there were large families, and a lot of people were not “too far off the boat”. They were frequently first- and second-generation Irish Americans. You had the Catholic church as your foundation, and people knew you in terms of your family. You were always from a certain parish or “so and so’s sister or brother.” I seemed to know everybody that way.
Your family has deep ties to DePaul University that go back generations. How has that played a role in your life?
DePaul University has always been part of our family’s history. My great-uncle on my mother’s side of the family, Father Edward Smith, was one of the people responsible for envisioning the beautiful church at the corner of Sheffield and Webster Avenues that people know today as Saint Vincent de Paul Catholic Church. At the turn of the century he was on the first Board of Directors for St. Vincent College which soon changed its name to DePaul University. Both Father Edward and his younger brother were priests from Ireland. When Father Smith died at the turn of the century, his was the first funeral mass held at St. Vincent De Paul. The newspapers reported 100 priests were in attendance.
My father’s side is also involved with DePaul University. My father played basketball on the 1945 Blue Demons national championship team with George Mikan. The people at DePaul were very good to him. Like most of the students in his class, my dad was the first in his family to attend college. He also served in the United States Navy and DePaul held a spot for him until the war ended. He used his DePaul education to eventually become a general surgeon. He would not have achieved so much unless others helped him along the way. He was very devoted to DePaul University his entire life.
When DePaul was trying to get the Wintrust Arena project off the ground, my wife and I knew we had to support the effort. For a long time, the school didn’t have the location or the money to build a new facility. I’m grateful for the opportunities the people at DePaul gave me, both in undergrad and at law school. It was a really good time and big opportunity for me. I was fortunate to have a lot of support and made lifelong friends and I am happy to be able to give back to DePaul.