Illinois Bar Journal

July 2011Volume 99Number 7Page 340

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A Business Lawyer Plugs into the Business of Law

ISBA President John G. Locallo will use his bully pulpit to help lawyers understand the power and importance of practice-oriented technology.

John G. Locallo will emphasize business combined with camaraderie as he begins his year as president of the Illinois State Bar Association. "My goal as president is to assist Illinois attorneys in ramping up the use of technology to compete, become more efficient, and provide better legal service to the public."

As president, Locallo will lead a continuing expansion of ISBA's presence on the internet, both through its website and social media, that will benefit both lawyers and the general public. He also hopes to oversee a significant increase in lawyers' comfort level with technology. "We have to be a lot more efficient. Technology has just boomed in both business and the law."

Locallo wants lawyers to use technological tools to free up their time to do what they do best: counsel their clients and practice law. "There's so much new stuff out there, and lawyers are aware of it but aren't sure whether it's a good thing or a bad thing."

From accountant to lawyer

Locallo says his business background fired him with a passion for helping lawyers.

"I always knew I was going to be a lawyer," he says. Growing up on the northwest side of Chicago, Locallo's policeman father would occasionally recount details of his days in the court system, including stories about trials, capturing his son's attention.

Locallo's older brother and law partner, Joseph, followed their father into law enforcement but then went to law school. As a college student, Locallo's occasional choice of entertainment on his spring breaks was going down to the criminal courts building at 26th and California and watching Joe, then an assistant state's attorney, doing jury trials. "It was fascinating. Right away, I knew this was what I wanted to do."

Locallo loved not only the challenge of the adversarial process in the trials he watched but also the results the lawyers were working toward. "I liked that as a lawyer, you'd be making good decisions on things that would help not just your clients but the public in general. I felt that this was a job where you could be out there making a better society. It was exciting."

Beginning his studies at the University of Illinois as a liberal arts major, Locallo soon switched to the college of business to major in accounting. "I thought I needed more substance. I felt it was important to pair a business-related background with a law degree." After receiving his bachelor's degree, Locallo passed the CPA exam and went to IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law for his J.D.

Though Locallo owns up to being less than passionate about his undergraduate accounting classes, he discovered that he loved tax law. "It surprised the heck out of me. I enjoyed the legal aspect, the policy aspect, and the business aspect."

He went on to get a master's degree in tax law and went to work in the tax department of a Big Eight accounting firm in the 1980s. But after a few years, Locallo started yearning for more lawyerly duties. "I started feeling less and less like a lawyer and more and more like an accountant."

He left the Big Eight for a small law firm, where he spent a year doing criminal defense. "It was great because it gave me a year of trial experience in DUI law and the like. It was all bench trials, but I became comfortable in the courtroom."

Though Locallo was enjoying trying cases, he started missing tax work. "I felt that if I could find a job where I could still litigate and also get to use my tax background, that would be perfect."

He found his dream job through his brother, who, in the meantime, had also gotten an LLM degree in taxation and joined the practice of Chicago lawyer (and past ISBA president) Leonard Amari. "About a year later, Joe and Leonard needed another lawyer. They called me, and it took me about a second to decide."

With offices in Chicago's River North and Bloomingdale in Du Page County, the law firm of Amari & Locallo limits its practice to real estate property assessment reduction. "Each of us has a different concentration within the firm. My focus is the litigation of the cases that we file in the Circuit Court of Cook County."

Like most ISBA member law firms, Locallo's firm is on the small side, with only nine lawyers. "We reflect the typical ISBA member firm. This used to be a one-person law firm, and then it became a two-person firm. All of the same issues everyone else has come right through our office door."

Locallo uses the unplanned, unexpected shifts in his career as lessons for younger lawyers. "When I speak to new admittees as they get sworn in, I sometimes use the analogy that the beauty of law is that it's like going down a river on a raft. Rivers bend and fork, so you don't always know what's around the corner. The nice thing about it is that the river's always moving and you don't have to be stuck in one area. Law allows you to adapt, to move around a little bit and change. It makes it more fun and more interesting, and creates more opportunity, too."

The Justinian connection

Speaking to newly admitted attorneys is only one of many ways in which Locallo demonstrates his commitment to leading and mentoring, which he traces to his involvement in bar associations. Though Locallo has been a bar leader for years, he says his involvement was gradual, beginning with an organization much smaller than ISBA: The Justinian Society of Lawyers, the professional association of Italian-American lawyers, law students, and judges in Illinois.

Locallo remembers the first day he walked into a meeting of the Justinians. "Walking into the meeting room as a young lawyer, there were all these lawyers, some my age, most older. I knew only a few people."

But though those lawyers weren't previously acquainted with him, they exerted themselves to make him feel welcome. "They asked me 'How are you? What kind of law are you practicing, John? What's going on?' Just because I showed up, I had all these people interested in me and helping me in my career. It was an amazing feeling. I just could not believe that an organization like that existed!"

Locallo became more and more involved with the Justinians, eventually becoming president in 2001. "Time flies. In the blink of an eye, you're one of the older lawyers in the organization. You see young kids coming in and they remind you of yourself, walking into that room for the first time with a look of apprehension on their faces. So you go up to them right away and bring them into the fold."

As he became more active with the Justinian Society, Locallo also started sampling more of what ISBA had to offer. "I started by getting involved in the State and Local Taxation Section Council and going to some of the Young Lawyers Division events in the 1990s." Before he knew it, he was attending ISBA's annual meetings as a matter of course. "The annual meeting is great because you get to see the whole organization all at once. You really get a feel for the issues and the leadership."

In 1996, Locallo decided he wanted to get more involved with ISBA's leadership, ran for Assembly, and won. "When you go to your first Assembly meeting, you realize all the issues that are on the table that affect our practice as lawyers and affect the public, too. It's fascinating to see all the thought and hard work and research that the section councils and committees put in."

Eight years later, Locallo ran for Board of Governors. "The main difference between being on the Assembly and on the Board of Governors is that the issues come to you earlier on the Board. You're helping to decide which issues are ripe to go to the Assembly for a vote and which need more work and have to go back to the section councils. You get to fine tune and shape policy more."

In 2008, Locallo, then ISBA treasurer, was elected 3d vice-president, putting him on the path to the presidency this year. "People sometimes say, 'They sure make you wait a long time to become president.' I say, 'Thank goodness they do!'"

Likening the leadership sequence to an internship program, he says, "There are different assignments for each year that you're an officer. One year you're dealing with the budget, another year with supreme court rules, another year, scope and correlation. By the time you become president, you're very familiar with the organization's workings because you've participated in each area."

Now, Locallo, says, he's hitting the ground running. "It's very exciting. You get so much energy from the membership, the staff, and the issues."

Locallo's firm and family will be at the annual meeting to see him installed as president. His sister, Diana Locallo Vera, a professional opera singer, will sing an aria, "Where'er you walk" from G.F. Handel's "Semele," and his cousin, retired Cook County circuit judge Daniel Locallo, will swear him in.

Lawyers "need technology right now"

The most pressing need for lawyers, Locallo believes, couldn't be more clear. "We need technology right now. The economy has forced industry to be more efficient. They're making sure that their service providers are cost-effective. At the same time, lawyers are dealing with globalization and competing with websites that aren't lawyers. Offshore services provide discovery review and document production services." For thought-provoking insights into current trends and the future of the practice of law, Locallo recommends that all lawyers read Richard Susskind's "The End of Lawyers?"

Locallo frets about 20th-century-style business methods. "A lot of people are still doing things the old-fashioned way. If they use a computer, they're just using templates and filling in the blanks to create documents" instead of using a case management system designed for a law practice. "If they're doing case management, they're just using basic calendars, not systems that are going to alert them when their trials are up."

He credits his strong business background for his fascination with technology. "I've been able to see how new technology can really help our practice. Our firm is continually trying to stay on the cutting edge of things."

ISBA, Locallo reveals, is working on providing some downloadable case management tools to members either as a benefit included with membership or at a discount. "Where forms and information are already available to the general public, we ought to be able to provide them to lawyers for free. This is the future practice of law."

Locallo's technological agenda for lawyers also includes ISBA's website and social media. "More and more business is being done over the internet." For that reason, he says, ISBA is in the middle of revamping its website to make it more accessible and attractive to both lawyers and the general public. "We're going to make our member website easier to use, with easier access to archived materials, like past newsletter and Illinois Bar Journal articles. We're going to make information very easy to find."

Also toward helping members do more and better business, the organization is working on creating more ISBA buzz and optimizing its presence for search engines. "We have to do more than just draw people to the ISBA lawyer finder page. We want to bring people who are searching for legal information and a lawyer to their own portal with information they can use." He envisions people searching for, say, a divorce lawyer arriving at an ISBA page with basic information about divorce, including what they need to bring to their first appointment with a lawyer - who will, ideally, be an ISBA member lawyer.

"We're going to use different media to communicate with the public. If we provide information, they'll keep wanting to come to us." Locallo envisions providing the public with everything from announcements of legal developments to brief web videos of ISBA lawyers speaking about the law.

"We want the public to come to us, the lawyers of the Illinois State Bar Association, and think, 'This is a group of lawyers I can trust and like.' An educated client is a good thing. There's going to be information on the internet anyway, and I'd rather have it come from us."

Locallo is walking the talk when it comes to social media. He's set up a LinkedIn profile and a Twitter feed, @jglchi, and invites lawyers to connect with him there. He also hopes that friends will connect with him on Facebook. "I'm going to tie my sites in with ISBA's and using them as a way to communicate with members."

Referring to Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride's concomitant technological agenda of advancing e-filing in the Illinois courts, Locallo says, "We believe the court is headed in the right direction. I think Justice Kilbride has great vision and ideas, and I applaud his initiative."

The garage band that wouldn't die

As president, Locallo hopes to use his avocation, a garage classic rock band, to help continue a project spearheaded by outgoing ISBA president Mark Hassakis.

"When Mark Hassakis created Lawyers Rock Legends to benefit the Illinois Bar Foundation, I figured I could compete. Why not? I'd been taking guitar lessons for a handful of years, and it kind of forced me to get together a band of a few other people connected with the legal profession. We ended up making the cut, played at Buddy Guy's [a noted blues club in Chicago], and had a lot of fun."

Though Locallo says he thought the occasion would be a one-off for his band, "As soon as we were done on stage and took our bows, everyone in the band said 'We have to keep on doing this!' So we are. We're still practicing and we're going to be playing some gigs this summer." [You can read more about Locallo's band, 5-thirty, in Illinois Lawyer Now Quarterly (Summer 2011), p. 6.] And, Locallo says, ISBA and the IBF are already working on the next Lawyers Rock Legends event, also to be held at Buddy Guy's in February 2012.

"I know this year is going to go by really fast, and I wish I could slow time down a bit," Locallo says. "This is a wonderful profession. I'd like all attorneys to know that you can make a difference."

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