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Rob Parker Featured by Leading Lawyers: Peoria's Savvy Adoption and Family Law Counselor

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There's something to be said for having a tech-savvy millennial as your lawyer.

At 33, Robert R. Parker of Peoria's Parker & Parker grew up with the Internet at his fingertips, and he's not afraid to use it in his family law practice.

"The older attorneys don't know what's there, and they don't see the value of Facebook," says Parker, who subpoenas Facebook messages along with other social media.

"I obtain Facebook archives, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter histories. They don't often respond to civil subpoenas, so I typically force disclosures of them through discovery, and leverage spoliation claims if they try to delete. The archives often display deletions.

"You are combing through a person's life and what they believed was private. That's where you get the true person."

He's quick to remember the story of a father who was avoiding being served court papers. Parker Googled him and found a Target registry that belonged to the father. All it took was ordering a $5 gift card, and the man's new address popped up.

In days filled with both adoption and custody cases, the rewards can be very different.

Parker enjoys how adoption is unique from other areas of law because he is building new and stronger families, and also because the case always has a good-and-bad narrative.

"There's very much a white hat I believe you wear," he says. "You're really driving this new family unit, replacing the one that wasn't working. To terminate rights, it means a parent consistently failed a child, which becomes a true moral contrast with the adoptive family I represent."

By comparison, in divorce court the feeling of nailing a cross-examination, Parker says, just can't be beat. And for all the cases he handles, the reward is the same at the end of the day.

"When I put in real solid work, accomplishing a lot and moving cases through, there's a feeling...of relief, exhaustion and pride," he says.

A Family Connection

It's no surprise where Parker's legal mind came from: He's the only child of two Peoria lawyers. Though they divorced when he was 2 years old, Drew Parker and Theresa Rahe Hardesty remained on good terms and even joined up forces again once Parker was working in his father's practice. For years after Rob graduated from law school, she took her son under her wing and trained him to take over her adoption practice before she retired.

"Mom was always guided by her Catholic values" in adoption law, Parker explains. With the experience of handling more than 3,500 adoptions during her career, she taught him the importance of building families through adoption. Now, he does between 70 and 80 adoption cases each year, primarily domestic. International adoptions, he says, have decreased to a third in recent years as other countries have made those procedures harder to do.

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Parker remembers co-chairing a four-day trial with his mother early in his practice. She impressed on him the value of knowing adoption law inside and out.

"It really showed me how much more control you have of a proceeding if you have the Adoption Act basically memorized," he says. "That was the value of having Mom teach me."

She also impressed core legal lessons: "Read the statute, always check it again, and know it better than anyone else," he remembers. "She also taught me to never forget to be mindful of the client's feelings and emotions."

But for as much as Parker learned from his mother about adoption law, he has gleaned just as much from his father, who specializes in divorce and personal injury cases. Parker says it's common for others in the office to be uncertain about which Parker is coming around the corner - they sound and act similar. And it's fortunate that they get along so well: Even working together every day, father and son maintain a healthy relationship.

"I honestly can't remember us having any arguments at the office, ever," Parker says.

The firm was founded as Parker & Halliday until the name changed in 2012 to reflect Rob's practice. He brought with him a new focus on nursing home litigation, contested custody and adoption cases.

Regardless of the focus, Parker says his dad's basics remained the same: "Don't forget that you're also supposed to be having fun" and "Our job is to be composed and relaxed, not to feed into emotions or fuel the arguing."

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Parker secured a traditional education, too: a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Illinois and a law degree from Saint Louis University School of Law. There, he was on the trial team and served as vice president of the student bar. Before graduation, he worked at the office of the Missouri Attorney General, helping prosecutors fight child sex crimes, and at the St. Louis Public Defender's office, working on felonies.

Parker says the most challenging aspect of his legal practice is functioning at 100 percent all of the time.

"People don't understand how minute- to-minute rapid fire this job is," he says. "Phone calls, emails, appointments, court - sometimes overlapping and all at once. All the answers must be delivered immediately. In cross-examination, you must keep mental pace ahead of the witnesses, some of whom are doctors, CPAs, PhDs and so forth. Being at 95 percent on a given day can mean the difference between you and someone else."

Outside of the office, Parker is involved with the Peoria County Bar Association, where he chaired its entertainment committee and planned its annual holiday roast last year. He also is helping with a court improvement project to reduce the longevity of juvenile cases.

Parker enjoys cooking for his wife, Lisa, an exercise specialist. The pair like to listen to live music, travel and do home improvement projects.

Fighting for His Clients

If it were up to Parker, his job would be as heavy on adoption cases as possible. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, one of only about 340 lawyers in the United States and Canada.

"I feel privileged to be a part of these families' lives," he says. "Like a wedding, it is sharing an intimate, touching and formative experience. Ultimately, they end happily. How many areas of law can say that? Personal injury, a big jury award? Sure, there's happiness, but it comes out of tragedy. Adoption typically has an absence of the negative."

Also, he appreciates the statutory nature of adoption, where guidelines direct the process, which is not as heavily influenced by a judge's rulings.

"In adoption, there's a pre-defined course of action that can be followed with an increasing level of skill as one knows the act better and better," he says. "So, less opportunity to go astray, and more certainty to clients that the happy result will be achieved."

Parker has the personality to do his job well. That means being a risk-taking, fly- by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of guy. And that's why the courtroom is his favorite place to be.

"When you can stop preparing and stop reading all these dry documents, and the pressure comes to a head when you finally get to a courtroom, you have all these plates spinning around you, and I love managing all that," he says.

Plus, there's the fun of seeing kids at their final adoption hearings - the only time they come to court. He remembers a 3-year-old from China who tried to eat the microphone, but ended up spitting its foam cover into the well of the court. Or the child who told a judge, "I like your costume."

"The things they do during the final hearing are hilarious," Parker says.

But getting to that point is no laughing matter.

"I definitely see the emotional roller coaster that everyone inevitably ends up on," he says. "Even if it's this wonderful ending, they're still sweating it out to get there."

FamilyCore Adoption Specialist Jill Bachman has worked with Parker for about four years to help families come together.

"He is a very professional attorney who always makes the people he works with feel welcome and important," she says. "He shows that he has a passion for representing those who are adopting and always treats them with respect."

Parker celebrates right along with families when an adoption is final, Bachman says.

"All of my adoptive parents have always told me how much they enjoyed working with Mr. Parker," she says. "Those who have used him as their attorney for one adoption always go back to him for future adoptions."

Those endings are Parker's favorite part of the job, too.

"Clients get elated at the case's completion," he says. "I get a real kick out of getting big bear hugs."

Sometimes, Parker takes on cases that should have been closed years earlier. He represented parents of a girl who was brought to the United States on a medical visa for a heart transplant in 2002. With the medical concerns and recovery, the parents didn't realize until some 10 years later that they had never updated her visa. They came to Parker to straighten it out.

He was happy to do it.

"I like connecting with people," he says. "It's very much a 'your problems have become my problems, and we're going to work through them together.'"

Theresa Farber hired Parker to represent her in a divorce where she won sole custody of her two children.

"I was extremely impressed with my custody trial," she says. "It was a two- day trial, and Rob showed how intelligent and incredibly efficient he was. There was nothing standing in his way, he was 100 percent organized and ready for anything." Parker was the third lawyer to take on her case, but Farber says he was the first to make her feel safe.

"He listened and was very open and honest with me," she says, acknowledging that he was walking into a "messy case."

"Rob took me in and stuck his feet in the dirty water and went full force and actually fought for me," she says. "Rob saved me. He saved us."

Protecting the Elderly

In addition to adoption, Parker also handles divorces along with nursing home neglect and personal injury cases. In nursing home cases, Parker files against nursing homes - not the employees. Neglect, he says, tends to come from companies who try to save money by lowering staffing ratios. It is rewarding to know that he's helping the elderly by combatting that.

"I like to feel that, when we go to court, we are on the right side of things," he says. Parker worked alongside Chicago attorney Matt Dudley on the case of an elderly man who developed bed sores while in a nursing home. They became infected, and he died.

It was Parker's very first nursing home case. He took it over from another law firm and had one day to work on a lawsuit before filing it. He spent all night researching the Nursing Home Care Act and writing up the suit. It worked: Parker and Dudley secured the highest-ever settlement for a nursing home case in Knox County.

Dudley says the way Parker worked with and consoled the family during that difficult time was impressive.

"He had the ability to shepherd the clients through a very difficult factual circumstance and allow them to express their happiness with the care received," he says. "He explained that, in the end, we were protecting someone else from this happening again, and that really gave the surviving family peace."

After the case, the nursing home changed its policies, secured a grant for improvements, opened new facilities and doubled the staff. Parker has no doubt that elder care in Knox County has improved because of that suit.

Being able to blend both adoption and nursing home neglect practices together, as Parker has, is only accomplished by a truly caring person, Dudley believes.

"With these two practices, there's a compassion that really needs to be present," he says.

Dudley has known Parker for about six years and finds his intelligence noteworthy. "He's beyond his years in terms of knowledge of legal issues," Dudley says. "One of the things I'm most impressed with is how much he enjoys being a lawyer and enjoys helping families. He knows best about what his client needs."

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You can see Rob's full profile on Leading Lawyers by clicking here.

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