July 2017 • Volume 105 • Number 7 • Page 22
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From Bar to Bench and Back
Retired circuit judge, mediator/arbitrator, veteran trial lawyer, football referee, and longtime ISBA champion Russell Hartigan begins his term as ISBA president.
He's been a litigator for 33 years, a Cook County Circuit Court judge for 6½ years, and currently works as a mediator and arbitrator - with a side gig as a high school football referee for 40 years - but perhaps the most consistent, year in and year out feature of Russell Hartigan's career has been his deep involvement in the Illinois State Bar Association.
So dogged has been his advocacy of bar membership that he has been kiddingly dubbed "the pied piper of the Illinois bar" by his older son, Michael, who stepped into his father's shoes with the Chicago-based firm of Hartigan & O'Connor when the elder Hartigan became a judge in the Fifth Municipal District in southwest suburban Bridgeview in 2010.
And now that pied piper has become the bar's president after being sworn in June 16 at the ISBA Annual Meeting. Hartigan plans to spend his year prioritizing issues like helping solos and small firms with succession planning, finding ways for the legal profession to help combat gun violence in his native Chicago, addressing law student debt, and - in keeping with his son's nickname for him - attracting young attorneys to ISBA membership.
"I've always been in a position to recruit young lawyers as a judge and a part-time instructor" at DePaul, Northwestern, and John Marshall law schools, Hartigan says. "Sometimes Millennials aren't ready to join something. We've got to work on that culture. I'm pretty good at recruiting new members, and I will continue to do that. It's a certain passion you have - you devote your energy to certain things, and mine has been the state bar. So I'm going to do a whistlestop campaign, go to various cities and try to promote ISBA membership to people who aren't members and let them know what we're all about."
A long ISBA history
Hartigan first became involved with the bar in 1979, three years after receiving his J.D. from John Marshall Law School in Chicago. He has served in the Assembly since with a few short breaks, plus two six-year stints on the Board of Governors, terms as Secretary and Treasurer, and time as board liaison to the Insurance Law, Workers' Compensation Law, Civil Practice and Procedure, and Local Government Law section councils. To top it off, Hartigan served as director of the Illinois Bar Foundation for nine years.
"I've liked the camaraderie," he says. "I've liked the fact that the association stood for certain principles. There were so many section councils and committees that might apply to your practice. …I've been on section councils since 1986."
Over the years, Hartigan says he has enjoyed speaking at continuing legal education events, writing articles, and drawing on the bar's resources to strengthen his own knowledge base and practice experience. "Keeping abreast of the law was the most important thing, and hearing from other attorneys throughout the state in terms of what's going on and what they are doing," he says. "My focus was mostly civil litigation. I wanted to excel in that area, and I think the state bar helped in that regard."
While leading or co-leading a series of firms that never expanded beyond seven attorneys, Hartigan says the state bar's membership base and emphasis always reflected his own professional existence. "The state bar represents a lot of small firm and solo practitioners," he says. With a main office in Chicago and satellite locations in Berwyn and Countryside, "We were typical of the Illinois state bar membership."
In addition to serving on the board of the Illinois Bar Foundation, Hartigan chaired both the grants committee and the Lawyers Care Fund, which helps attorneys considered to be in financial distress by giving them a monthly stipend. "We have a fund raiser every October to raise some of the money that goes out," he says. "It's kind of a feel-good situation to be able to help attorneys. It was enjoyable to help where we could."
In addition to increasing membership, particularly among younger attorneys, Hartigan's plans for his year as president include programming to assist older lawyers who are nearing retirement age think about what's next for their practices - and clients - or provide a temporary solution if they are medically disabled for a period of time.
"We'll be talking about succession, as far as how to help older lawyers sell or ease out of their practice," he says. "The ARDC does have a program for what to do when a solo practitioner dies. I've personally had two close friends who suffered strokes, and they're sole practitioners. Their spouses came into the office, and they had no knowledge of what was going on." Ideally, he adds, attorneys "have a plan of succession where you designate another attorney to help out and take over."
Gun violence in Chicago is personal to Hartigan as a native of the Austin neighborhood on Chicago's West Side, which has one of the highest incidences of violence in the city. "Every time I hear about Austin, I hear about people being shot," he says. "That bothers me. In the summers I worked for the Chicago Park District [in Austin], and my father went to Austin High School. That's near and dear to me."
Hartigan plans to form a blue-ribbon committee on gun violence that will work on defining an appropriate role for the ISBA. He envisions hosting educational programming about the issue and how it can be addressed.
He also plans to expand programming to help lawyers manage their practices. "ISBA is launching a web-based law-office management portal called PracticeHQ," Hartigan said, which will be a one-stop location for management and technology whitepapers and training videos, product comparisons, and more.
Hartigan also wants to keep alive the ongoing effort to address law student debt and practice-oriented training in law school. The ISBA will continue to discuss these issues through its Council of Law School Deans, which was formed by Hartigan's predecessor Vincent Cornelius.
Those who know Hartigan the best expect great things from his year as ISBA president. "He's highly committed, he pays it forward, and he never gives up when he wants something," says Bill Haddad, a childhood friend and football teammate of Hartigan, and a former Cook County judge who now works as a mediator and arbitrator for ADR Systems of America. "He's not a quitter. He's a guy you want in your foxhole."
Hartigan has strong leadership skills and a consistently respectful attitude, says Francis "Pat" Cuisinier, a former law partner. "He knows how to get out and talk to people," Cuisinier says. "The practice of law for some is kind of an in-your-face type of thing. I never knew it that way. You want to win the case, but you're congenial, gentlemanly. I've never heard an obscenity [from Hartigan]. He's just not that type of guy."
Judge Tom Murphy, who worked alongside Hartigan at the Cook County Circuit Court, says his energy and commitment will be invaluable. "He's always ready to go," Murphy says. "A bar association president needs that. Plus, he's got the time to commit to it, now. …He's lectured, and he's been involved in seminars, so he'll be able to push that in his duties as president, too."
Hartigan has been active in the ISBA virtually since being sworn in as an attorney and held an array of positions at every level, notes Judge Pat Rogers, another former colleague on the bench. "He has consistently worked to ensure that his guiding principles, which include promoting the fair administration of justice and high quality legal services for litigants, remain foremost in his mind," Rogers says.
From litigator to judge to mediator
Hartigan's legal journey began after he completed both a bachelor's degree and MBA from DePaul, at a time when he planned to follow in the footsteps of his father, an executive for Illinois Bell. "I thought that [business] was the way I would be going," he says. "We didn't have any lawyers in the immediate family. I blazed a new trail."
Hartigan says he was inspired by friends who were attending law school at the time and telling him about the cases they found intriguing. "To me, it was interesting to listen to them talk about cases related to contracts and property, as compared to dry business courses. I did a 180," he says.
During his 33 years of law practice, Hartigan handled worker's compensation and personal injury cases, starting with defense work, moving to the plaintiff's side, and ultimately doing some of both. He also did a reasonable amount of municipal work, especially for the Village of Berwyn, and he spent four years apiece as a trustee in the Village of Western Springs, where he lives, and as Lyons Township Supervisor.
Hartigan first started his own firm in 1981, and he moved in and out of partnerships with Ed Scanlan, Cuisinier, and Pat O'Connor (not the Chicago alderman). "I liked obtaining new business," he says. "I enjoyed the trial and motion work, and the deposition work. I appreciated the interaction with attorneys, and the thrill of having your own place and being your own boss - having that freedom. Sometimes there's a price to pay for that. There is overhead. But you manage all of that. You develop what you can in terms of getting new business, and I was pretty good at that."
Over the years, Hartigan handled a number of memorable state and federal cases, notably Smith v. Evanston, 260 Ill. App. 3d 925 (2d Dist. 1994), which established a new jury instruction for what was termed "loss of a normal life" as an element of damages in personal injury litigation. He argued cases before the Illinois Supreme Court and the federal seventh circuit.
Hartigan was initially appointed to the bench by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Fitzgerald and then ran and won election countywide. He began in traffic court in downtown Chicago, moved to the First Municipal District, where he handled primarily personal injury along with some landlord-tenant cases, and then moved to the Fifth District in Bridgeview, near his native Western Springs, where he also did mostly personal injury.
"Having practiced for over 33 years, I was appreciative of lawyer and client demands," he says. "I would give them the benefit of some doubt if they didn't arrive on time, or get a brief in right away, because I know it's tough practicing now. You appreciate what lawyers are doing to try to get by and make a living. I enjoyed jury trials the most - and settlements, too - because I've tried over 60 jury trials, so I had a natural inclination. I felt very comfortable and at home sitting in a courtroom with jurors."
"He certainly knew his business," says Murphy, Hartigan's supervising judge in the Fifth District. "I knew just from working with him and dealing with him how important the Illinois bar was to him.… I wish him the best. I was surprised that he was retiring, but he saw a conflict between his judicial duties and the time he wanted to put in [as bar president]. He loved being a judge, but given his commitment to the bar, he knew he would be shortchanging one or the other."
Indeed, Hartigan shifted his focus to mediation and arbitration largely to ensure that he has enough time to devote to serving as ISBA president. "I didn't know how I could balance both the bench and bar," he says. "I've spent a lot of time the last couple of months leading up to my presidency attending events, and various local meetings. The time leading up to being president is very critical, and I'm glad I had the freedom to do that."
Becoming a mediator and arbitrator - he is with Resolute Systems in downtown Chicago - has been a logical outgrowth of Hartigan's prior career stops as a trial lawyer and judge, he says. "It's a natural carryover from being an attorney who settled many cases," he says. "I tried a lot of cases as a trial attorney."
Cuisinier figures that Hartigan's experience in doing both plaintiff's and defense work helped him as a judge and, now, a mediator and arbitrator. "He understands both sides of that business," he says. "He has great legal ability and a great sense of humor. I think he's a natural in bringing people together to settle a case."
Football ref and family man
Hartigan does not particularly think that his mediation and arbitration work - or his time spent on the bench - were influenced by his four decades as a football referee, for which he was recently recognized by the Illinois High School Association.
A star quarterback at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago (he entered that school's hall of fame three years ago), Hartigan later coached at Marist High School before becoming a referee of both high school and college football. "It was for my love of football," he says. "I couldn't coach anymore [once he became an attorney] because I couldn't take the time. It was awkward at first, being a referee, but you kind of get into it. It's a little bit of exercise, and it's fun."
The awkwardness stemmed from Hartigan still needing to mentally make the transition. "The first couple of years, I was told I was still coaching them," he says with a laugh. "You're a referee - you can't be coaching. If you can insulate yourself from some of the yelling that coaches do, it's kind of a pleasure to make some judgments and know the rules. And there was camaraderie - you'd have a beer afterward and talk about what you failed to do."
Haddad and Hartigan had plenty of camaraderie starting with a recital duet in first grade and continuing through St. Ignatius, where Hartigan played quarterback and Haddad fullback and linebacker. "He was the slowest quarterback on two feet," Haddad says. "He never could scramble, but he had a great arm.
"He put himself through all these schools, when student loans [provided less,]" Haddad adds. "He was always working, and struggling financially to finish up."
Hartigan has one sister, and he's a second cousin to former Illinois Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, and Appellate Court Justice Neil Hartigan, although they didn't know each other well. "They were North Siders, and we were West Siders," Hartigan says.
In addition to his son Michael, Hartigan has another son, Brian, who works for the mutual fund Invesco, and a daughter, Kelly, who works in health and fitness and married a son of the late Joseph Tybor, well known in the legal community as a spokesman for the Illinois Supreme Court. Hartigan has five grandchildren and soon will have a sixth, which perhaps provided another reason for retiring from the bench. "All of them are very young, and they're all close by," he says.
Ed Finkel is an Evanston-based freelance writer.