Opinion: Bill Gallagher Was A Cut Above The Rest

The Connecticut Law Tribune


News that New Haven's Bill Gallagher died caught me by surprise. You get to thinking that certain members of the bar are immortal, that they will always be there, that their voice will forever be at the other end of the phone, regardless of the day or night. Then they are gone. Just like that.

The old syllogism about mortality doesn't console.

Yes, all men are mortal. Bill Gallagher is a man. Therefore, he, too, is mortal.

Conceits of reason are thin gruel.

Years ago, I needed a lawyer to guide me through an unpleasant civil proceeding. I hired Bill. It's not that I knew him. Truth be told, his demeanor always scared the bejesus out of me. And on the few occasions I asked him advice, he gave it with a sort of Olympian sense of detachment that made me feel like it must have wearied him to consort daily with we we lesser mortals. I don't know if he was a genius, but I do know he stood a cut above the rest.

There really wasn't a mean bone in him, at least not one that I could see. He simply loved the law, with his whole heart, and with his mind, and even with that part of him the poets say is immortal, his soul. Those of us who see things through a glass darkly must have moved him to some species of pity, a sense that we were missing things, sublime things.

When his representation of me ceased, he sent me a bill. I shuddered when the envelope arrived. I had, after all, hired one of the lions of the bar; I was now going to have to feed him. The bill was minuscule, detailed and it reflected a parsimony that told me he was not in it for the money. I wondered how he could maintain a practice and charge so little.

I had heard rumblings for the past year or so that he was ill. I did not pick up the phone to call him, even when he filed an appearance to represent a client I had just sued. He kept his own counsel, ever the professional. As always, his correspondence and pleadings were simple elegance. He had a job to do; he knew how to do it; he set about defending his client in a way that challenged me to be a better lawyer.

My sense is that Bill never forgot for a moment that the practice of law is privilege. We are ambassadors for other people, representing them in fora that yield sometimes devastating sorrow and anger. Yet I never once saw him lose his temper. I've never heard another lawyer grumble about his professionalism. He was dependable.

I suppose I knew he could not last forever, but I hoped to have him just a bit longer. There's still so much to learn about the law, about how to keep one's wits amid the chaos of litigation, about being a better and gentler man. Death wounds the living, and I am wounded now.

There is no paradise for lawyers. Neither is there a hell. We make of the world what we can, as we can. Bill Gallagher is gone, a simple enough statement to make, but a devastating loss to endure. Somehow I can't quite summon the stoic grace with which he would have faced loss.

Farewell, Bill.

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