Raising the Stakes: President of Bar Foundation eyes banner 'Signature Event'

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By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

Tom Tallerico, a Bodman attorney with a national and international reputation for expertise in complex commercial litigation cases, has spent much of the past few months focused on a decidedly local matter.

Raising money for the Oakland County Bar Foundation.

In today's economy, it is not an easy task.

Actually, as anyone with a background in fund-raising can attest, it is difficult work in "any kind" of economy, let alone one racked by high unemployment and fiscal uncertainty.

But this year, even as many law firms and legal-related businesses continue to tighten their budget belts, the OCBF is on the threshold of something big -- a record amount of money raised for the organization's upcoming "Signature Event" scheduled for the evening of Friday, April 15 at posh Oakland Hills Country Club.

Tallerico, as president of the OCBF, can take pride in the work that he and his fund-raising colleagues have done on behalf of the organization that supports various legal aid programs and educational initiatives in Oakland County. Last year, under the leadership of then President Mike Sullivan, the OCBF raised $160,000 at the event, a figure that will be surpassed this year.

"We have received an incredible response from members of the legal community as we have reached out for their support," Tallerico said during a recent interview with The Legal News. "In all honesty, we didn't know quite what to expect this year based on the economy, but we are really delighted with the generosity that has been displayed. It will enable us to continue supporting a number of very worthwhile programs."

Since 2002, the OCBF has contributed more than $1 million to legal aid work and legal education programs, according to officials. Approximately $700,000 has been raised over the past five years, Tallerico indicated.

Grant recipients have included the "UDM Mobile Law Office, the Michigan Center for Civic Education, Lakeshore Legal Aid, the Salvation Army William Booth Legal Aid Clinic, William Beaumont Legal Aid Clinic for Children, the RESTORE Foundation, the Youth Law Conference, and the Oakland County Law Library," Tallerico wrote in a recent column for Laches, the monthly magazine for the Oakland County Bar Association.

"All grant recipients pledge to use the funds we give them to provide legal aid to identified groups (e.g. veterans) or legal education to the community at large," he added.

Tallerico, who has been a member of the OCBF board since 2006, credits members of the Foundation's fund-raising committee for "getting the word out" about the Signature Event. The committee is co-chaired by Diane Dietle, Eric Pelton, and Mark Stern, and also includes Alan Ackerman, Liz Brown, Tom Cranmer, Joe Papelian, Dan Quick, Mike Schloff, and Mike Sullivan.

"They are a very dedicated and determined group," Tallerico said. "We owe them a debt of gratitude for all the work they have done to support such good causes."

Of course, sponsorship support is still welcome, said Tallerico, noting that tickets priced at $150 per person also can be purchased by calling the OCBF at (248) 334-3400 or by sending an e-mail to membership@ocba.org.

"We sell out the event every year, so it would be smart to reserve your tickets early," Tallerico said of the April 15 gala that will run from 7-10 p.m. at Oakland Hills. "We want to raise as much money as possible, simply because the needs have never been greater in the community. The demands for legal aid services are sky high."

Tallerico received a first-hand look at the needs during a recent visit to an intake clinic sponsored by FLAP, short for the Family Law Assistance Project run by the Auburn Hills campus of Cooley Law School.

"There were more than 50 people lined up in the hallways waiting to be seen by FLAP representatives," Tallerico said. "It was clear evidence of the pressing need for legal aid services in this county. It's work that we need to support to an even greater degree in the year ahead."

A native of Detroit, Tallerico grew up in St. Clair Shores, attending Sacred Heart Seminary as a high school and college student. He earned his bachelor of arts from Sacred Heart Seminary College in 1968, fully intending to become a Catholic priest. He taught junior high English at St. John's Seminary in Ypsilanti following graduation and "loved the experience," but it wasn't long before a career in the law beckoned.

Upon graduation from the University of Michigan Law School in 1973, Tallerico joined the Office of the Legal Adviser for the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., working in the nation's capital for three years during the height of the Watergate crisis.

"For my last year-and-a-half in Washington, I worked for the Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs, handling various legal issues related to telecommunications for ships at sea," Tallerico said.

He then returned to Michigan, landing a job with Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, eventually spending 16 years there as head of the commercial litigation department. Tallerico left Jaffe to direct commercial litigation efforts at Howard & Howard in Detroit, a role he filled for six years until he joined Bodman 12 years ago.

At Bodman, Tallerico "represents clients in complex commercial litigation and arbitration, nationally and internationally, particularly matters involving professional liability, securities, distribution relationships, and antitrust law," according to the firm's website. He regularly represents clients in cases overseas, and speaks Spanish, French, and "some Italian and Portuguese."

When stateside, Tallerico supports various charitable and civic organizations and participates in pro bono efforts by Bodman, which has donated "more time to indigent causes than any other Michigan firm," according to Legal Aid and Defender, the state's largest provider of free legal services. In addition, Bodman recently was honored by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) for "completing more pro bono work than other firm in the last five years," according to Tallerico.

More than 25 years ago, Tallerico enjoyed perhaps his greatest legal triumph, helping reverse the conviction of a pro bono client charged with first-degree murder of a car wash owner.

"It was a very difficult case in many respects," Tallerico said. "The entire experience was probably the closest I'll get to giving birth. There was nothing easy about it. A life hung in the balance."

His parents, undoubtedly, could relate. Tallerico's father, Joseph, is a veteran of the D-Day invasion during World War II and worked as a plant general foreman for Rockwell International, a major contractor for the defense industry. His mother, Irene, is retired from Hudson's and now lives with Joseph in Shelby Township. Tallerico has two sisters, Lori and Kathryn, and a pair of grown children. Son Brian is a movie critic for an online outlet in Chicago, while daughter Anne lives in Fowlerville with her husband and two children.

They are a tight-knit family with a healthy respect for Tallerico's leadership role in the legal community. It has been his career-long "signature," a role that he has relished just as much as trumpeting the April 15 event at Oakland Hills.

"Our Signature Event does indeed distinguish us as a group," Tallerico wrote in a recent column in Laches. "It underscores the dedication of many members of our community -- whether lawyers or not -- to combine our efforts and cooperate to give and raise the funds needed to provide legal services and education to people who could not otherwise afford to obtain them. By the sheer force of the dollars we raise and the number of people who attend, the Signature Event identifies the Foundation and all who support it with the premier law-related gathering of the year."

Published: Tue, Mar 15, 2011

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