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Government Lawyers NewsletterThe newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers

October 2001, vol. 3, no. 1

Someone you should know: Jim Grogan

Do you have a question about legal ethics? Or maybe a question about judicial ethics? If not, perhaps you want to know something about Chicago architecture, or neighborhoods, or theater, or journalism? Would you like a detailed explanation of the various stages of construction taking place at the site of Millennium Park? Or do you need a review of a popular (or not-so-popular) musical performance, a local night club, restaurant, or political figure? Are you wondering about "The Who" (the subject of our profile was once, rumor has it, the president of the group's national fan club) or about the Brooks Catsup Water Tower in Collinsville? Maybe you have a medical question (his wife is a registered nurse) or a question about the stock market. If you are among the seemingly endless list of his friends or acquaintances, you would pick up the phone and call Jim Grogan. He's Chief Counsel to the Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, a 21st-century Renaissance man, and, if you somehow haven't already encountered him, he's someone you should know.

"Grogan," as he is generally known in the office, is a native Chicagoan who grew up near Belmont and Milwaukee Avenues. He has a bachelor of arts degree in history and rhetoric from Lewis University (where the world of theater lost a promising thespian, we are told, because he can't dance) and attended law school at Loyola University. He is married to Lynn, and has two children: Katie, who is sometimes seen in the office waiting for dad to escort her to ballet class; and Conor, an eighth grader who plays the oboe. Although he's a suburbanite now, Grogan is still a city dweller at heart, very familiar with the areas around the loop (where he can be seen running during his lunch hours,) who talks about moving back to the city when Katie and Conor finish school.

Jim came to work as a law clerk at the ARDC in 1979, almost by accident. John O'Malley (who became the second Administrator of the ARDC and who was, at the time, a staff counsel,) recalls that Carl Rolewick, the first Administrator, had asked him to interview a candidate for a law clerk position. John did the interview, was impressed by the candidate and recommended that Carl hire him, and Carl agreed. Unfortunately, when they called the promising interviewee, he had accepted another position, but he had a friend who was looking for a job, and that friend was Grogan. Jim got the law clerk job, and he never left, moving, after he passed the bar, to the position of counsel, then to senior counsel and finally to chief counsel.

In his latest capacity, Grogan supervises a group of six attorneys in the "Litigation East" division of the office (so named for its geographical location on the 15th floor of the old Prudential Building) and advises the current administrator, along with virtually every member of the legal staff who joins the crowd waiting outside his door for a chance to talk to him between two of the dozens of daily phone calls he gets from the media and the legal community.

He is the official media contact for the agency, and he delivers dozens of speeches and presentations every year to law firms, government agencies, schools and bar groups throughout the state. He edits complaints to be filed in disciplinary prosecutions, advises on pre-hearing and hearing strategies, and reviews initial grievances to help staff lawyers decide whether a matter is worth further investigation. He has taught legal ethics at DePaul's law school and continues to do so at Loyola, where his evening classes seem to pick up steam as the hour grows later. He coordinates the Current Development project for the National Organization of Bar Counsel, attending their national meeting twice a year to deliver his insights--and anecdotes--on recent disciplinary case law to packed seminar rooms. Long-time NOBC member Gene Shipp, from the District of Columbia, comments that Jim's national leadership "has caused more than one bar counsel to go the extra mile," in a reference to Grogan's ability to challenge his colleagues from other states both intellectually and physically (Grogan leads morning races at the national meetings, and he recently added several miles to a "fun-run" through Atlanta by missing a turn on the intended route.) Gene added that the still-panting followers are looking forward to more traditional leadership through Jim's recent election to the officer track of the NOBC; he became the group's secretary in August 2001, and he will ascend to the presidency in August 2004.

On any given day at the ARDC, staff members know whether Grogan is in the office or on the road, just according to the decibel level--if it's "too quiet," that means Jim is out delivering one of his speeches. Otherwise, he has a presence that will not be ignored, whether he's chortling at some item from the Tribune, the Sun-Times or even the Belleville News Democrat (he reads everything,) looking for one of the attorneys who gave up waiting outside his door, or marching up the hallway yelling for "Vicki Jean" or "Cress," two of the secretaries for whom he might have a project. His spacious--and compulsively neat--office is liberally decorated with all sorts of memorabilia, mostly reflecting his interest in architecture and prominently featuring a guest chair purchased at an auction of furniture from the vacated premises of a Greylord jurist. He loves impersonations and has successfully convinced a hapless staff attorney that the phone call he received was from a witness with a German accent; he'll frequently break into a Mayor Daley impression when he explains the ins and outs of a city project. Staff members can attest to his colorful vocabulary, augmented by foreign language phrases that seem to be more of the same--he'll translate cheerfully, if you really want to know.

Jim explains that the steady stream of coffee and Pepsi that he drinks helps him "to calm down," although "calm" is a word that surely has never been applied to him. He is, however, endlessly patient with the new lawyers assigned to his own group and always available to discuss a point with any of the other staff members, who are invariably informed that their questions are "very interesting," as a prelude to some very specific help. He has a seemingly photographic memory, and, in answer to a query about some obscure point of professional responsibility law, he'll frequently turn to a packed filing cabinet and pull out a photocopy of a case that's right on point. If Jim can't provide a final resolution of the issue (a rare occurrence,) he always offers a suggestion of someone else to call. Says Northwestern University Law School Professor Steve Lubet, "Every now and then I get a call from a reporter or lawyer that begins 'Jim Grogan gave me your name.' Then I know my work is cut out for me, because it's going to be a very tough question."

Jerry Larkin, the ARDC's Deputy Administrator, began to work for the agency the year before Grogan was hired. Observing that during Jim's 22 years at ARDC he has become adept as a trial lawyer and as a judge of the merits of a disciplinary case, Jerry explains that: "When it comes time to bring a case, Jim makes use of his intuitive sense of the human interest aspects of the case and his knack for weaving those nuances into a compelling story at trial. For Jim, cases are the stories of individuals. In 1990, Jim began to travel the state discussing the impact of the new Rules of Professional Conduct. Eleven years later, Jim is still in demand, and for good reason--he willingly shares a wealth of wisdom with Illinois lawyers."

Jim's boss, Mary Robinson, has been the administrator of the ARDC since 1992, and she sums up his role like this: "Grogan is our ambassador to the world, and he probably does more than the rest of us combined to build goodwill toward the ARDC. He is compulsively helpful and good-natured, and he has faultless instincts for selecting which of his countless bits of information and wisdom will persuade or inform or entertain. He loves getting in the way of everyone's natural inclination to dislike the ARDC. For that matter, he likes getting in the way of anyone having a bad day, and that trait alone makes him indispensable."


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