My primary practice area throughout my career has been eminent domain. Recently, through our municipal practice, I have become General Counsel to the Illinois International Port District. My first job was with the Law Department of the City of Chicago, and after a positive interview with Raymond Simon, then the Corporation Counsel, he placed me in the Land Acquisition Division. Up until that time, I was totally unfamiliar with eminent domain. It was then I began to work under the direction of my mentor, Earl Neal, with whom I later went into private practice. Thus, my initial choice of practice area, as the predicate to my entire career, was completely serendipitous.
How has your practice evolved in the last few years?
I entered the field during the time of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiative. Mayor Richard J. Daley’s excellent relationship with the President resulted in massive expenditures for urban renewal projects all over the city. The legally permissible boundaries for appropriate eminent domain acquisitions expanded to conform to the needs of these social programs. Today, governments have run out of money, and the huge acquisition programs we experienced no longer exist.
The legal confines of permissible acquisitions have also become more conscious and restrictive. Instead, we are seeing public infrastructure improvements being funded by public/private partnership arrangements, such as the project we are implementing at the Port of Chicago. Acquisitions are more project specific, rather than programmatic, in their scope. This will be the trend in public acquisition for the next few years.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
My advice is to follow the direction of Voltaire and “cultivate your own garden.” By this I mean that there are things one can control in one’s career and those that are subject to circumstance. The joy of legal practice is to do the best work on a project that one is capable of achieving. Focusing on the work, instead of competing with colleagues, jockeying for position, and striving for self-enhancement, is the real key to success. The best advertisement is in the quality of our work. The decision to focus on the work, which we can control, instead of the myriad collateral issues, which are circumstantial and outside our control, is the cornerstone for a satisfying and successful career.
What is the one technological device you could not function without daily?
Probably, like most of us, email has become my primary method of communication. The speed and efficiency it provides increases productivity exponentially. Like a rising tide which raises all ships, email has vastly increased our capacity for work.
How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?
Some litigators seek to use filing schedules aggressively, as a part of overall strategy. My practice is to attempt to accommodate the scheduling concerns and problems of my adversary counsel whenever possible, except when they are used in a deliberate attempt to gain unfair advantage. Recognition of this posture by my opponents almost always results in my being the beneficiary of comparable consideration. This pays off in real benefits on a continuous basis. The substantive problems we all deal with in the practice of law are difficult enough. Being considerate of one another makes professional life far more pleasant.
What do you do for fun?
Nothing…. By this I mean that I enjoy unstructured activity, without seeking to achieve a goal. Things like driving around the country roads near my house in Michigan, walking around the city just to see what I bump into, or maybe just sitting and reflecting without an agenda. Our lives are so structured and purposeful that aimless activity can be a fun change of pace.
Michael Leroy practices with Chicago firm, Neal & Leroy, LLC.