The House that Tom Geraghty Built

By Steve Drizin (JD ’86)

I’ve been asked to tell a story about Tom Geraghty as we in the Northwestern Law community come to grips with the fact that Tom is stepping down as the Director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic. To be sure, over the span of 25 years of working with Tom, co-counseling on cases with him, co-teaching with him, and serving as his Assistant Director, I have a few recollections of great moments of Tom in the courtroom and in the classroom. But for me, my more vivid memories are of Tom working in collaboration with others — leading faculty meetings, strategizing about how to improve the status and job security of clinical professors, hosting clinical law professors from around the globe, sitting in his office or a conference room surrounded by students, or brainstorming about how to achieve juvenile and criminal justice reform in Cook County.

When I think of Tom, I do not think of singular stories, I think of his body of work. And the single greatest work-related accomplishment of Tom Geraghty is Northwestern’s Clinical Program. Tom’s drive, determination, and vision transformed a program composed of a small group of committed public interest lawyers working in the basement into a public interest law firm, with over 35 faculty members, occupying the entire eighth floor of the Rubloff Building. Tom’s vision included giving students a menu of different clinical programs from which to choose. And he gave the students a voice in shaping the Clinical Program. When students clamored for a Supreme Court Clinic or an Appellate Advocacy Clinic or an environmental law clinic or a human rights program, he hired the best people to help make these happen. He expanded the options for students who were interested in doing transactional work or business litigation or complex federal civil rights work. His goal was to engage as many students as possible in the Clinic, whether it be in our live-client clinics our simulation offerings like trial practice and negotiation and dispute resolution, or our externship programs. He favored the live-client work because he believed in the transformative power of the attorney-client relationship as a way to excite and inspire the best out of students.

There is one story that to me captures the essence of Tom — his humility, his selflessness, and his devotion to students — and it goes something like this. When the Clinic was told that we would be moving to the Eighth Floor of the Rubloff Building, Tom took me up to the barren Eighth Floor space. I remember him looking out at the long row of windows facing the Lake and saying:

“This is the nicest space in the law school with the best views. I want this to be for the students. I don’t care if others want to use this space for offices; this is reserved for the students. And I want this to be a showcase space for the Clinic and the law school. I want to host lectures, and events and gatherings here. This should be a space open to the public and to the entire law school. And as far as my office is concerned, I don’t want my office to be any bigger than anyone else’s. I want the offices to all be the about the same size.”

Now you can understand why I often refer to the Bluhm Legal Clinic as the House that Tom Geraghty built.