The more things change

Opening Statement

Paul Dailing


November 2016

In the back of our River North office, between the spot where we corral the page designers and a short bookshelf half-full of promotional copies of legal texts publishers keep sending us unbidden, Editorial Assistant Chris Pusateri maintains her unofficial library of every Chicago Lawyer issue in existence.

Stacked high in a metal filing cabinet, the old issues wind back through different owners, different decades and different ideas of how best to cover Chicago’s legal profession.

So for this, my first issue as editor, I went to Chris’ library for some inspiration, and some help figuring out what the heck I’m doing.

From Nov. 1, 1978, I dug out Vol. 1, No. 1 of an eight-page Chicago Council of Lawyers publication the size of a high-school newspaper and with a masthead font I’d only before seen on refrigerator magnets. It was the very first Chicago Lawyer in existence.

The issue held some delightfully aged references, such as an upcoming talk by “State Sen. Richard M. Daley” and a huge Kroch’s & Brentano’s ad, but what struck me most was how modern the first Chicago Lawyer felt, like it could have been written today.

Law schools grads nervously waited to hear on jobs, with graduation rates outpacing openings. Calls for pro bono volunteerism got more lip service than bodies. Bar groups declared which judicial candidates were unqualified, nervously hoping the voters read or cared. The Cook County Public Defender’s Office was overworked, legal fees were rising and young associates spent nights wondering how to get ahead in their firms.

The Page 3 cartoon contained a background gag about the firm of “Dewey, Cheatum & Howe.” A 27-year-old had made the same joke to me earlier that day.

It got me thinking about what changed in the practice since this publication’s first days. I decided to ask someone who was there.

Jenner & Block partner Thomas P. Sullivan has one of the most storied careers in law today. Since his admission in 1952, he has represented Guantanamo Bay detainees, served as co-chair on the commission that helped sway Gov. George Ryan’s decision to clear Illinois’ death row and, during a stint as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, started an investigation the legal community might remember — Operation Greylord.

And, in 1978, he wrote the lead article for the first issue of Chicago Lawyer.

Reached by phone in early October, Sullivan took the time to chat with me about how the profession has and has not changed in the 38 years since his article. Issues like judicial elections and the availability of advocates for the indigent remain issues, but Sullivan said the biggest change has come in who practices the law.

“When I went to law school, there were no women in my class. When I started at Jenner & Block, there was one woman in the office and she was a secretary,” Sullivan said. “She was a lawyer, passed the bar, but couldn’t get a job.”

Today, there are 110 to 115 women in Jenner & Block’s Chicago office alone, about 40 percent of the office’s legal team.

The biggest similarity between 1978 and today, Sullivan said, is the continued need for racial diversity in the practice.

“I believe there is a much larger role for minority lawyers than we now have,” Sullivan said. “It would be good, in my opinion, if there were more African-American and Hispanic lawyers — non-white lawyers — in the practice.”

I don’t know where law will be 38 years from now, if Chicago’s legal community will still be fighting the same fights when Chicago Lawyer is pushing 80. I don’t know what the struggles, triumphs and jokes about law firm names will be tomorrow, the day after and the day after that.

But I hope we can find out together.

Sincerely, The New Guy