From the courtroom to the stage: Attorneys know how to jam

December 2012

During the day, you'll find them in the courtrooms, law offices and at thenegotiating tables representing clients.

But at night, a few rocking attorneys trade their briefcases for guitar cases and head out in search of the neon lights. The style of music played by these attorneys varies as widely as their practice areas. However, a few things remain the same.

All of them possess a love for both the law and music and all found ways to balance their legal careers and musical endeavors.

Finding a love for music

For many rocking attorneys, a love for music developed during childhood — long before they began developing legal skills.

Personal-injury lawyer Loren Golden of Golden Law Offices in Elgin plays the piano professionally with the Elgin Community College Jazz Ensemble.

Golden said he credits his father with instilling in him a love of music. He began piano lessons at age 4.

"My dad, a podiatrist, he played honky-tonk piano, reflecting the style of the 1930s. I always had an affinity for what I now know as jazz," said Golden, who grew up in Kewanee, Ill.

"In Chicago, in the '60s, they had something called the Playboy Club," he said, adding that he played piano for these clubs in Chicago and Lake Geneva, Wis., from 1968 to 1969.

Golden said he often jokes that a real tragedy occurred when his career with the Playboy Club ended.

"I passed the bar," he said with a chuckle. But even after beginning to work as an attorney, he still would occasionally play at the clubs because he remained in a rotation with a few musicians.

He recalled a day when he finished a deposition and then went to the Lake Geneva club to perform that night. He saw the other attorney from the deposition sitting in the front row which, he said, shocked him.

Conrad Nowak, a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson, came from a musical family. His mother was a trained pianist who studied music in Poland.

"All I heard in the house was classical music. She was giving lessons in the home," he said.

"That is why I completely turned away from lessons and I gravitated toward punk rock," he said with a laugh.

Nowak said punk rock became about more than funny haircuts, big boots and fighting in the streets.

"Their songs were very political in nature. They were singing about civil rights and racial equality," Nowak said. "I think what drew me to it was a little bit of the message. Also, they were simple songs to play."

For Jeffrey Stephens, an associate at Holland & Knight, music became an outlet. He now performs as one-half of a hip-hop duo called Santiago X The Natural.

"At 8, I was seeing a lot of really bad things happening. I had a rough life growing up," Stephens said, adding he grew up in a housing project on the South Side of Chicago, where members of his family battled with substance abuse.

"When you have those things going on, you look for an outlet," he said. "I just chose to do music."

5 Thirty
Members of the band 5-Thirty performed a cover of "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" during the band's recent show (below).
Photo by Noah Gage.
5 Thirty

Guitar became the instrument of choice for John Locallo, a name partner at Amari & Locallo and immediate past president of the Illinois State Bar Association.

Locallo plays classic rock in the band 5-Thirty. Locallo's nephew Carlos Vera, an attorney, also plays in the band with Locallo and attorney Tom Battista. They've played together for about three years.

Locallo said his personal interest in music dates back to childhood. But he said he seriously began toying with the guitar as an adult. One day about five years ago, he picked up the guitar and began figuring it out.

"I always wanted to be in a rock band. I always said I wanted to play guitar," he said.

"The hard part was getting the finger-work down. The guitar slowly unravels its mysteries to you."

Alan King, a partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath who focuses on labor and employment matters, also just happens to be one of the founders of house music in Chicago.

King still DJs with his original group, The Chosen Few. The group first began making music in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before taking a hiatus to finish law school and begin his law practice.

"I apparently demonstrated a love for music as early as 5 years old or so," King said. "My older sister tells the story of me always 'breaking in' to her bedroom to play her Beatles records on her turntable."

In 1990, The Chosen Few hosted a reunion picnic in Chicago, where about 30 or 40 people gathered to hear the group perform, he said.

Now, 22 years later, The Chosen Few Old School Reunion Picnic occurs annually on the Fourth of July and attracts around 40,000 people.

Choosing law over music

Choosing a legal career instead of a music career allowed many attorneys to achieve a high level of professional success, while still enjoying and developing their musical pastimes.

"I wanted to make an impact on society and believed, and still do believe, the law is the best way to accomplish this," Locallo said. "Over time, I have come to realize that music has a large impact over people's lives too. But whether I'm playing guitar quietly at home, or rocking out with my band at a bar, the pleasure of playing music and seeing people enjoying listening to us is enough for me."

Attorney Thomas M. Battista played the drums while looking out the bar's rear entrance as his band, 5-Thirty, played a gig.
Photo by Noah Gage.

Locallo said his band recently earned $300 for playing in a bar, which the members appreciated but did not expect.

"It doesn't sound like much, but it made me laugh," Locallo said. "We would have played for free."

King chose law over music as a career because his family stressed education.

"I guess you could say I chose law over music because I grew up in a family and attended a high school, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, that stressed academics," King said. "A lot of my friends who pursued careers in music did so right after high school and not going to college didn't strike me as a viable option."

For Nowak, choosing law as a career actually allowed him to pursue music as a creative outlet.

"The other way around, however, would not work and I would not be able to pursue the law as a profession if I chose music full time," he said.

Stephens, however, did not need to choose between law or music. While practicing law, he also pursues his musical career and he said he hopes to hit it big.

In October, Stephens and Lawrence Santiago, the other member of Santiago X The Natural, played at the House of Blues Chicago as part of a show called Legends Under the Lights. The duo tries to perform as often as possible.

Stephens met Santiago during their undergraduate studies at the University of Notre Dame. Santiago, an architect, recently relocated to Chicago.

"We are trying to become superstars," Stephens said. "Any bit of free time I have I am spending now trying to get the group to the forefront of what is going on."

Already, one of their songs, "Warriors," has been chosen as the theme song for the Twin Cities professional lacrosse team, the Minnesota Swarm. They also placed second in the 2012 RedEye Rock 'n' Vote music contest.

Blending music and the law

Rocking attorneys find many ways to blend law and music, including incorporating music into their practice, jamming with fellow attorneys and getting clients through musical connections.

Michael Graham, a partner with Marshall, Gerstein & Borun, said he cannot remember a time when music was not part of his life.

"For me, I entered the law after being in publishing and arts administration," Graham said, adding that as an intellectual property attorney, he works with copyright law and entertainment matters often.

"My interest has always been music. As a pastime, it is a wonderful fit with my profession. It fits right in. The two feed each other."

Several years back, Graham found himself as part of a group called Dads Gone Bad.

The band first formed to help with a middle-school fundraiser. The members just kept rocking together after the fundraiser, playing block parties and birthdays.

Dads Gone Bad played cover music from the BoDeans, Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones, Graham said.

These days, Graham plays in a country and string band, which goes by Crow Island or Crow Island Swamp Stompers. The music offers more of an old-time feel, he said, adding that the band plays a lot of bluegrass, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and bass guitar.

Graham said fellow attorney Andrew Ratts of Winston & Strawn also plays in the band. Ratts plays drums and focuses on corporate tax matters.

Nowak blends law and music by playing with his co-workers. He met several fellow attorneys at Hinshaw who also played instruments.

Attorney Dana Rice got active in bands in college, played bass guitar and could sing, Nowak said. Attorney Cecilia Horan played drums. Thomas Mulroy, another attorney, also played guitar.

The colleagues began a band, The Nuisance, which now plays mostly modern rock music.

The Nuisance also plays original music and cover music, with hints of the punk rock that inspired Nowak as a young man.

A few years ago, The Nuisance entered the Fortune magazine Corporate Battle of the Bands contest.

They played at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel in May 2010 and were among the winners there. The band advanced in the contest as finalists. The group then played at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in October 2010.

"It was pretty cool, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was an honor to be on that stage," Nowak said. "Alan Parsons was a judge. It was really fantastic to play in front of him. We took third place. We got a little gold record as a trophy."

Nowak said the group tries to practice at least once a week at Superior Street Studios, where they rent space.

Attorney Joe Bisceglia said making time for the guitar has not always been easy, but the music always calls him back.

"I have done it intermittently throughout my career," Bisceglia said. "I don't have one constant band. There were periods for a lot of my career as a lawyer when I played hardly at all."

Bisceglia, a partner at Jenner & Block, plays soft rock, usually as a solo artist.

Recently, he favored an "unplugged" sound, which he accomplishes with an acoustic guitar. He plays mostly cover music, but does some original tunes.

Bisceglia plays for an audience, whether at a restaurant or for various functions, every month or so.

"I do not have time to do it every Friday, Saturday night," he said.

Billy Gibbons
Top: Attorney Joe Gagliardo (second from right) and his band, the Cool Rockin' Daddies, played with ZZ Top this summer. His band posed for a photo with ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill (third from the left). Bottom: Gagliardo playing with Chuck Berry.
Gagliardo and Berry


When Bisceglia does find a need to form a trio, he usually will call first upon his brother, Frank, who plays percussion, and longtime friend and fellow attorney Joe Gagliardo.

Gagliardo, managing partner of Laner Muchin, played bass guitar for the Cool Rockin' Daddies for about a decade. Before that, Gagliardo, who focuses his practice on labor and employment law, played with the band The Boyzz.

Gagliardo played shows with many famous performers, including ZZ Top, the Little River Band, Heart, the Doobie Brothers, Ted Nugent and Cheap Trick.

When in The Boyzz, the group toured with Aerosmith and Meat Loaf. Gagliardo also played bass in Chuck Berry's band.

"Most people don't know I am a lawyer," Gagliardo said, but added some clients sought him out as an attorney because they know him through music.

The Loren Golden Jazz Ensemble, Joe Bisceglia plus Three and 5-Thirty are among the musical acts that performed as part of the Illinois Bar Foundation's Lawyers Rock Legends at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago.

"Lawyer's Rock Legends started in 2011 and continued in 2012," Locallo said, adding the upcoming annual event is planned for Feb. 28. "The idea was the brainchild of Illinois Bar Foundation President George Mahoney, and then ISBA President Mark Hassakis. They thought, correctly, that lawyers would enjoy seeing their fellow lawyers playing music on stage, and would pay to see it."

Money from the event goes to the foundation, which helps fund organizations across the state that provide legal services for those in need. The money also helps lawyers' families that have fallen on hard times due to sickness, incapacity or death.

Locallo said the combined net income from the last two events was about $20,000, after expenses.

Common threads

Bisceglia said he can draw some parallels between music and the law.

"Being a practicing lawyer requires certain skills and playing an instrument requires certain skills. I think in order to be good at either one of those things, there is a discipline that is required," Bisceglia said.

"They both require a passion. To be an excellent lawyer you need to have a passion for being a lawyer. The same is true of musicians. You can't do either one unless you do it 110 percent."

For Gagliardo, who grew up near Wrigley Field, living in Chicago has only increased his musical reach and appreciation.

"Chicago is a very musical place. I have a pretty sizable record collection and I focus a lot on Chicago music," Gagliardo said.

Graham of Marshall, Gerstein & Borun was not surprised other attorneys turned to music. For him, it has always been a natural outlet.

"Music is really, in a lot of ways, becoming more do it yourself," he said. "People are making their own music. In a lot of situations, people will get together and play music both in a family setting and a social setting."

King of Drinker Biddle & Reath said he prepares for shows by staying up-to-date on the latest music and sounds. It doesn't take a lot of his time and helps him relax. For him, finding success is both music and law takes balance.

In October, King performed as part of the History of House Music at the Congress Theater with Frankie Knuckles and Bad Boy Bill.

He hosts an event on the third Saturday of every month at a club called Park 52 in Hyde Park.

Recent media publicity and the Internet helped spread the word of King's DJ abilities in the legal community, although for a long time he preferred to keep his music career and legal career separate.

"I really did not tell anyone for years and years that I was doing this. I didn't want my partners to think I wasn't fully committed," King said.

But he later received overwhelming support from the legal community and his clients. He said fans of his music often express surprise when they learn he practices law.

King recently turned down an invite to perform in Las Vegas due to his work schedule.

"I think for most attorneys and busy professionals, they do need an outlet. This is my outlet," King said. "I try to confine it to the weekends and put my day job first."