Gretchen Harris Sperry’s plans for the Appellate Lawyers Association are an outgrowth of the values that drove her into becoming a lawyer in the first place.
In an interview with the Daily Law Bulletin, the new appellate bar group president said she is planning events that focus on lawyers who are using the law to “move and effect change, or in support of the rule of law.”
Having enrolled in law school because she thought the law could be a faster agent of change than academia, Sperry noted that her planned programming for the ALA “brings together many of my interests.”
“As appellate lawyers, we have this tremendous obligation to be making those arguments, to be creating the context for which the appellate courts, the supreme courts, are making these decisions, preserving and shaping the rule of law,” said Sperry, who chairs Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP’s appellate practice group.
Sperry, who was sworn in Thursday as the ALA’s 52nd president at the bar group’s installation luncheon at the Union League Club of Chicago, said she was inspired by Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier and former acting U.S. solicitor general Neal Katyal, both of whom in May emphasized the importance of the lawyer’s role in upholding the rule of law.
Sperry was sworn in by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis. Sperry worked as both a judicial extern and a law clerk for Theis when the latter was serving on the 1st District Appellate Court.
It was in Theis’ office that Sperry met and befriended Clare Quish, who is now a Cook County circuit judge and the now-immediate ALA past president.
“It’s bittersweet. I’ve really enjoyed my year as president, but I’m ready to hand it over to Gretchen,” Quish said. “We’ve been friends for 15 years which I couldn’t believe when I thought about it.”
Quish during the ALA luncheon announced that, along with a new president, the bar group also has a new logo and a new website as of Thursday.
Sperry, in the interview and in her installation speech, was not able to list specific dates for the events she is planning. But Sperry said the bar association will continue to host roundtables with judges and justices of the state’s appellate courts, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Illinois Supreme Court.
Sperry received her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduating, she worked with Linda A. Teplin, a researcher at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine who has conducted long-term studies on juveniles and their interactions with the criminal justice system.
“I was fascinated by the process, but I was less fascinated by the world of academia and the fact that all of these results of studies went into journals and nothing much came of them,” Sperry said. “But it really did pique my interest in following a career in the law, because I saw it as a more immediate way to effect change and help people along the way.”
Sperry enrolled at Loyola University Chicago School of Law when she was 27; she graduated in 2005. It was during her third-year of law school that Sperry had her judicial externship with Theis. Sperry said her experience with the then-appellate justice blossomed into a love for the law and how it develops over time.
After graduating from law school, Sperry joined Whitt Law LLC in Aurora as an associate. But in spring 2007, Sperry said she got “a phone call that changed my life.” Quish was leaving Theis’ office to become an appeal lawyer at Crisham & Kubes Ltd. Theis said she immediately sought out Sperry to fill Quish’s role.
“To which I said, ‘I can be there this afternoon!’” Sperry said.
Sperry clerked for Theis until October 2010, when Theis was appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court to fill the seat vacated by Thomas Fitzgerald, who retired early.
Sperry stayed on the appellate court for another 3½ years, working as a law clerk for Theis’ replacement, Justice Maureen E. Connors.
In April 2014, Sperry joined Hinshaw. She became the firm’s appellate practice chair last year.
Outside of the office, Sperry is a “traveling baseball mom,” shepherding her 9-year-old son to his games. She’s also the head scripter this year for an annual variety show that is put on by the parents of her son’s elementary school. And she has also completed the improv program at Second City Chicago.
Rounding out the rest of the ALA’s officer board for the 2019-20 term is Tabet DiVito & Rothstein LLC partner John M. Fitzgerald, Pretzel & Stouffer Chtd. partner Scott L. Howie and Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP partner Jonathan B. Amarilio, who will serve as the vice president, secretary and treasurer, respectively.