Gail M. O'Connor
Divorce Law - Chicago, IL

Still relatively early in her career, Gail O'Connor has emerged as one of Chicago's most successful independent divorce lawyers. In an era in which launching and building a law practice carries huge risks, the 42-year-old O'Connor has already done it: She leads a respected three-lawyer firm she founded a decade ago, now based in the 30 North LaSalle building; the firm handles a range of cases, including contentious custody cases, now something of a specialty. O'Connor brings to divorce law a maturity, determination and practical sensibility rare among younger professionals today - peers say she is perhaps the fiercest and most talented courtroom lawyer with her level of experience in Chicago. And she knows the court system and the family-law community as well as any city lawyer today, they add. As such her influence and her already-strong reputation are likely to keep growing, particularly in ultra-litigious Cook County. For all that, O'Connor is reluctant to trumpet herself: "It's just not my style to talk about what I do. I want my work to speak for itself."

Growing up on Chicago's North Side, O'Connor learned early a sense of independence and focus: Her mother, who worked as a banker in trust and estate management, ran into "glass-ceiling barriers typical of her generation," she says. "My mother encouraged me, not in a pushy way, to get past that, to make sure I had the credentials to chart my own course." At the University of Wisconsin she majored in communications, speech theory and creative writing, but "I knew in the back of my mind I wasn't becoming an ad copywriter." At IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law she took to moot court right away. At first she thought she'd practice copyright law, staying close to the creative community. Divorce law, meanwhile, was still emerging from its second-tier place in the law. In many respects the specialty came to her: Out of law school she joined a small practice run by an infamous divorce litigator - "someone out of Central Casting - theatrically combative, the way the law was practiced back then." O'Connor says she "picked up the phone one day and found myself handling a divorce case. It was trial by fire."

Three years later she joined a true divorce boutique, a "refined firm" by comparison; O'Connor took more and more complex cases. Then, barely 30 and five years removed from law school, O'Connor, confident of her skills and armed with a failure-is-not-an-option outlook, started her own practice. Somewhat typically, O'Connor downplays the significance of her move: "In a way it's the nature of the work - you build a book of business and you move on." In fact, few could have pulled off what O'Connor has so steadily and effectively, especially in Chicago, where some of the largest divorce-law firms in the nation have dominated. Much has to do with her success in the courtroom, where she is always well prepared, naturally competitive and quick on her feet. Her insight: "I treat every appearance in court like a job interview - you're scrutinized by everyone. I know there's more than simply a judge and client watching." Clients will find her always understanding, but she's counsel who doesn't coddle and who insists on forthright behavior.

She and her husband, Dr. Sean O'Conner (an internist who also teaches internal medicine at Northwestern) have three children. Away from the office she enjoys being with her family, gardening - "it clears my head" - and travel.

Gail M. O'Connor
"We work to have a positive impact on our clients' lives ... I'm proud of that."
Phone: (312) 621-0100
Fax: (312) 621-0102
University of Wisconsin, B.A., 1993
IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, J.D., 1996
2014-11-04 10:59:29