Defensive mindset: Attorney relishes the strategic challenges of commercial law


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney John Gilliam enjoys the strategy and competition of litigation.

“Both sides have to utilize the same information and facts, but the outcome is largely determined by who is better equipped to convince the judge or jury that their position is correct,” he says. “Like any discipline involving strategy, if you don’t know how to play your cards right, you aren’t likely to succeed.”   

Gilliam recently joined the Detroit office of the national defense firm of Foley & Mansfield, where he serves clients in a variety of commercial matters, including employment and labor, professional liability defense, and personal injury defense.   

“I enjoy the variety of cases we see in commercial litigation,” he says. “Being able to work on everything from wrongful termination to contract disputes and civil rights claims keeps the job interesting, but more importantly, sharpens my skills.   

“I also enjoy the opportunity these matters provide us to meet and connect with all types of individuals who care deeply about protecting their businesses and employees.”

Gilliam is a member of Foley’s growing Employment Litigation practice.

“I’m fortunate to work with numerous partners in representing a number of institutional clients. This opportunity allows me to learn from exceptional, experienced attorneys, while providing a different perspective based on my experience practicing in Kentucky,” he says.

“Moreover, our insurance clients include companies and municipalities of all sizes, which takes us to jurisdictions across the state and lets us understand the connections between our clients and their communities.”

Gilliam notes a primary focus for employers in today’s business field is on recent decisions from federal courts of appeals regarding expansion of Title VII protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. 

“As our society continues to evolve toward inclusion and equality, employers need to be mindful of these developments in the law to ensure timely and appropriate responses in the workplace,” he says. “Specifically, extending workplace protection rights will require review of, and possible updates to, policies and practices ranging from interviewing and hiring to daily operations and employee benefits.”    

In Gilliam’s type of work, cases are very fact-specific, requiring deep attention to detail.

“I approach every case by working back from the jury instructions,” he explains. “Whenever I consider facts or an argument, I try to look at it from the jury’s perspective.”

A member of the State Bar of Michigan, Oakland County Bar Association, and Kentucky Bar Association, Gilliam got started on his career by earning an undergrad degree in economics from Duke University. 

“Growing up, math was always my strongest subject. Studying economics seemed like an ideal opportunity to mesh my math skills with my curiosity of the growing global economy,” he says. “I was surprised to find that economics is as much about understanding human emotion as it is profit and loss.”

Recognizing that a law license and corresponding skillset were transferable to many fields of business and industry, Gilliam earned his J.D. from the University of Louisville.

“Regardless what I decided to do with my future, I knew my understanding of the law would provide me with a variety of opportunities down the line, as well as an advantage among my peers based on the way we lawyers think and solve problems,” he says.

A native of Owensboro, Ky., Gilliam is an avid golfer and plays in a monthly league; other leisure pursuits include physical fitness, cooking, attending concerts, and watching a variety of sports. He and his wife, Katelyn, enjoy trying new restaurants and visiting areas of the Motor City they have not previously experienced.

The couple, expecting their first child this summer, recently purchased a home in Beverly Hills and look forward to raising their family in the metro area. 

“We enjoy spending time up north with Katelyn’s parents and visits back to Kentucky with my family,” Gilliam says.

The “adopted Detroiter” enjoys the opportunities that come with living in a major metropolitan city, and appreciates the pride Detroiters have for their city, rooted in both cultural influence and industrial history. 

“Not to mention, this is a fantastic sports city with a one-of-a-kind setup in The District Detroit,” he says.