Sidley Austin partner to head Chicago’s LAF – Law News

on Jun10

9 June 2017 | 5:53 pm

The head of Sidley Austin’s litigation practice is leaving his law firm to become the new executive director for Chicago’s largest legal aid organization.

John Gallo, 56, will join LAF, formerly known as the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. He will replace Diana White, who is retiring at the end of this month after two decades with the organization. Gallo takes over Oct. 1.

Sidley Austin, headquartered in Chicago, is one of the largest law firms in the country, with 1,836 lawyers and $1.93 billion in revenue in 2016. LAF provides impoverished Cook County residents with free services in legal matters related to family, housing, public benefits, consumer issues, and immigration and employment. It has a $14 million budget and a staff of 125, including 75 attorneys.

The leadership change comes at a time when legal aid, a victim of chronic underfunding, faces increasing uncertainty. The budget proposed by President Donald Trump would eliminate funding for the Legal Services Corporation, which funds legal aid programs across the country.

For Gallo, the presidential election meant a change in priorities. So when Bob Rivkin, a lawyer at the Chicago office of Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila who served in the Obama administration, emailed him about the open position, Gallo was intrigued.

“I’ve always thought there would be another chapter,” he said.

Gallo has supported LAF financially and advised its attorneys on some cases, said Katherine Shank, LAF’s director of volunteer services. She will serve until the fall as interim executive director.

“It’s clear that he has got a heart for our work,” Shank said. “He’s an incredibly bright and committed person. He has a tremendous management and leadership experience, particularly in the legal context. He’s also served on boards and has those kinds of relationships.”

Because he comes from outside the world of legal aid, Shank said Gallo will bring new perspectives to the work, including how nonprofits can better interact with private law firms. Given the political climate, “it’s not in our best interest to strictly rely on government sources of funding,” Shank said. LAF needs an executive director who can broaden public understanding of the value of legal aid.

“Someone who has different ideas about how we can spread that message is going to be critical for us,” she said.

Gallo has been a partner at Sidley for 21 years. The litigation practice he leads includes more than 100 lawyers and serves clients like Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Eli Lilly and General Electric. He also acts as global co-leader of the firm’s white collar practice group.

He also represents indigent clients pro bono in criminal cases. He leads the firm’s pro bono project representing clients on Alabama’s death row and, in Illinois, succeeded in overturning the conviction of a client accused in a 1978 murder.

Before joining Sidley, Gallo spent a decade as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Illinois. He was the lead prosecutor from 1994 to 1996 on the public corruption case Operation Silver Shovel.

It’s rare for a lawyer, particularly one of Gallo’s stature, to move from an elite law firm into a management position in legal aid, said Marc Kadish, the pro bono advisor at Mayer Brown. (White, LAF’s retiring chief, previously worked at Jenner & Block but started at the nonprofit in a lower-level position before rising to the top job.) Though he’ll face a new environment, “anybody who can navigate through a large firm, which in terms of people, capital and structure is like a large company . . . ought to be able to quickly learn how to handle the administrative tasks that are necessary for an organization like LAF.”

The pay might take some adjustment, though. Last year Sidley Austin reported average partner compensation of $1.4 million. In 2015, the latest year that records were available, the executive director at LAF made $186,047.



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