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Mr. Gillin Goes to Orinda

A '60s Norman Vincent Peale survives. No-thrives

Published in 2007 Northern California Super Lawyers magazine

Andy Gillin is bathed in light. From the sun-drenched Orinda offices of Gillin Jacobson Ellis Larsen, the firm he founded in 1972 with Ralph Jacobson, to his own bright disposition, there is very little darkness about this ’60s survivor. Think Jimmy Stewart in a blazer and New Balance 805s.

When Gillin came to UC Berkeley in the early ’60s, both he and the school were climbing out of the 1950s into the great unknown.

From there, he went on to the University of Chicago Law School, graduating in 1968.
Thanks to the guidance of mentors Thelton Henderson, whom he met while working at the East Palo Alto Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, and his law professor Al Bendich, Gillin emerged from school with a clear, unwavering commitment to public service and social justice. Of both men, Gillin says, “I wanted to be just like them. I still want to be just like them.”

For Gillin, the 1960s were a burst of positive energy, a time when the limits on doing good evaporated. “I had this notion that life could be a little bigger,” he says. “I do believe that the ’60s infused me with optimism.”

Still, he was not the hippest yippie in the ashram; more Boy Scout than Weatherman.

“I used to get teased for being a square,” he says. “My friends would say, ‘Why are you going home? It’s only 11 o’clock.’ I’d say, ‘Unlike you guys, I have to go to work.'”

Work meant the East Palo Alto Legal Aid Society. “There were a lot of us,” he says. “All we interviewed for was Legal Services for the Poor. We didn’t want other jobs.”

Gillen went from East Palo Alto to Berkeley, and then to his own firm, with Jacobson, a fellow Legal Services lawyer, in 1972. Since then, Gillin Jacobson Ellis Larsen has won numerous sizable verdicts and settlements, among them a recent $111.7 million settlement from Tenet Healthcare for victims of unnecessary heart procedures in a Redding hospital. More important to Gillin is the lasting relationships he builds with his clients.

“If I love the client like a brother or a sister, I’m going to be here until 3 in the morning to find that extra document,” he says.

“I guess I’m easily inspired,” he adds. He has practiced law for 37 years with his enthusiasm unbowed. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

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