The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law
Our own Gary Zhao named one of Chicago Magazine’s ‘40 under 40’
Gary Zhao focuses his practice on commercial litigation at SmithAmundsen. His fluency in Mandarin Chinese and knowledge of the Chinese culture also make him a tremendous asset for his firm’s China-based clients.
While all litigators think they have exceptional talent when they walk into a courtroom, Zhao, 34, actually has it -- and it shows, said Katherine Lengiewicz, who has known Zhao for over five years as a friend and a former colleague at SmithAmundsen. “No matter how large or small the task, Gary is prepared. Being a litigator is more than just going to court. A good lawyer has to see the big picture while continuing to be involved in the minutia. Gary does both,” Lengiewicz says. “I’ve observed Gary before more than one jury. He not only convinces people of his point of view, but does so while remaining respectful of his opponent and the system itself. To watch Gary before a jury is to know he is a litigator.”
James Smith of Ryan, Ryan, & Landa has known Zhao for seven years and was his supervising partner at SmithAmundson for three. Smith remembers Zhao’s perseverance in cases that at first blush seemed to not be going his way. “The measure of Gary’s litigation skills was in those cases where he was foreclosed from supplementing his disclosures… I was impressed that Gary never panicked,” said Smith. “Though he understood and appreciated the challenges, he was also resourceful enough to do the research and either challenge plaintiff’s evidence through a motion in limine practice or by finding alternative methods to introduce favorable evidence…”
As a lead attorney, Zhao obtained significant settlement after he prosecuted a breach of a commercial lease agreement on behalf of a large real estate and financial services company against a large cable television operator; successfully defended a $38 million dollar false internet advertising suit in the Northern District of Illinois; and won a motion for judgment on the pleadings for a global membership association facing civil fraud and conspiracy claims. Gary has significant experience defending clients who are subject to regulatory investigations undertaken by various state and federal government agencies. He currently serves as co-national coordinating counsel for a major food processing and packaging company in connection with a FDA recall. Using his bi-cultural and bi-lingual background, Gary has also served as outside litigation and corporate counsel for large publicly traded Chinese companies and their subsidiaries in the Chicago region.
Prior to joining SmithAmundsen, Zhao worked for two years as a judicial law clerk for Presiding Justice Mary W. McDade of the Illinois Appellate Court, Third Judicial District. “Gary’s greatest strengths are his very practical approach to litigation and his unflinching focus on representing the interests of his clients,” said one nominating attorney. “His experiences as a judicial clerk…have provided him with a valuable perspective as a judicial officer.”
Zhao is a member of the Illinois State Bar Association, where he serves on the Standing Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law. Zhao has been appointed to serve a two-year term, from 2010 to 2012, as an ABA Business Law Section Ambassador, an honor which carries a prestige and distinction reflecting the substantive contributions of a business lawyer of color. Gary is also active in both local and national Asian American bar organizations. He currently co-chairs the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s litigation committee. He is a past board member of the Asian American Bar Association (AABA) of Chicago and a current board member of AABA Law Foundation. He serves as a pro bono attorney with the Chicago Chinatown legal clinic hosted by the AABA and volunteers for the National Immigrant Justice Center, where he helps Chinese children in immigration detention centers with their asylum proceedings.
“Gary uses his legal knowledge and skills not just to advocate for the clients he is paid to defend, but he gives back to his community and to those less fortunate,” said attorney Heather Kingery, who has worked with Zhao and known him for seven years “Gary is not just a well-rounded attorney, but also a well-rounded member of our community.”
He earned his B.A. from the University of Michigan in 1999 and his J.D. from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law in 2002. While in law school, he was the Executive Essays Editor of the Washington University Global Studies Law Review. ■