Cliff Ganan Celebrates 50 Years as an Attorney

They Call Me “Mr. Egg Foo Young”

It’s been quite a journey from delivering Chinese food for the Sang Lee Restaurant on 75th & Yates, located in the South Shore neighborhood in Chicago. “It was a carry-out or delivery place only and we would take orders over the phone. Lem Fong, the proprietor, would prepare the food, we would put it into a paper sack and I would deliver to the customers on my bike.” For this, he was paid $1.00 a night, plus tips.  And as an added bonus, Mr. Fong taught him how to prepare an egg foo young sandwich: “Crack open a few eggs and scramble with bean sprouts and green onions, fry it up into a patty in the wok and put between two pieces of Wonder bread. Delicious!”  Thus began the illustrious career of a young Clifford Ganan. 

Despite his early success in the food service industry (and lifelong love of all things culinary), Cliff’s life took a turn in a different direction after graduating high school from Chicago Vocational School.  He matriculated at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1962.  It was also during college that Cliff met Barbara “Bunny” Volk on a double date; the two were married on June 30, 1963 and raised two children together, Jordan and Dori. 

Cliff had an interest in pursuing a career in diplomacy following college and considered seeking a master’s degree in that field, but ultimately chose to attend law school at DePaul University in Chicago.  He graduated from DePaul with a Juris Doctor degree in 1965 and began to pursue a career in law.

His first job out of law school was with the firm of Brown, Barry & Deutsch, for which he was initially paid the princely sum of $50.00 per week, with a raise to $75.00 per week after passing the bar exam and being sworn in as full-fledged attorney in November of 1965.  During his time with that firm, he learned the nuts and bolts of practicing law: how to draft and argue motions in circuit court, preparing and answering discovery requests and defending and taking of depositions. After nine months, however, it was time to move in yet another direction.

In 1966, Cliff teamed up with another young lawyer, Brian Wolfberg, and they opened a small office at the corner of Lake and Wells Streets (Fun fact: Bunny worked as the firm’s secretary until the day before she gave birth to Jordan!).  It was during this period that Cliff handled his first jury trial, for a client who sustained a leg injury as a result of the negligent use of a chainsaw by a neighbor; Cliff cut to the chase and obtained a successful verdict for his client, the first of many to come.

After about a year, however, Mr. Wolfberg decided to take a position with the Illinois Department of Revenue, leaving Cliff looking for a partner to take his place.  In 1967, he formed a partnership with Dale Boton and the two opened an office at 105 W. Madison in Chicago.  The practice concentrated in the defense of traffic matters and misdemeanor criminal cases. 

The firm of Ganan & Boton was beginning to do well for itself when it caught the eye of a young Jay Shapiro, who was in-house counsel for Hartford Insurance Company, practicing in the field of workers’ compensation.  By 1968, Jay joined the firm, which was rechristened as “Ganan, Boton & Shapiro,” and the firm moved into offices at 221 N. LaSalle Street. This partnership lasted until 1970, at which point Mr. Boton parted ways with Cliff and Jay, giving rise to the firm of “Ganan & Shapiro,” which is still going strong 45 years later.

The new firm continued with the handling of traffic, criminal and civil matters, but as a result Jay’s connections and experience at Hartford Insurance,  it began to branch out into the defense of workers’ compensation matters.  In addition to work for Hartford Insurance, Cliff and Jay also began to defend claims on behalf of Kmart, through an association with attorney Earl Friedlander. Mr. Friedlander handled a rather large volume of defense work for Kmart in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, but by 1974 he wished to wind down his practice and retire.  To ensure that his long-time client had excellent representation in defense of their workers’ compensation claims, he recommended the firm of Ganan & Shapiro, thus beginning a long and beneficial relationship for all concerned.

In fact, Cliff credits the early association and work with Kmart as a springboard into defense work with other employers and insurance carriers, eventually leading to the specialization of the practice into the defense of workers’ compensation claims.  In 1975, Cliff and Jay met Jack Molloy, the Director of Workers’ Compensation for Kmart, who recommended that they join such associations as the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC) and the National Council of Self Insurers.  As Cliff and Jay traveled throughout the State of Illinois to represent Kmart (and other clients), their reputations grew.  In conjunction with their work with the IAIABC and the National Council (as well as introductions by Mr. Molloy), they attracted new defense clients, on both a local and national scale.  By the end of the 1970’s, it was time to expand the practice.

To facilitate their growing practice, the partners shrewdly looked into purchasing their own building and settled upon a four-story loft building in Chicago’s River North area.  The building, located at 210 W. Illinois Street, was purchased in 1979 and at the time was home to a machine shop, an architectural firm and a photography studio. After renovations, the firm moved into the second floor in 1980. Over the years, the firm has continued to grow, filling out the building with attorneys and staff, all working toward a common goal of providing the best possible service to our clients.

When asked, Cliff will say that his success over these 50 years is due in large part to those he has had the pleasure of working with since his graduation from law school in 1965. He is quick to credit those who imparted knowledge in the practice of law, or referred business his way or made introductions with potential clients.  Cliff notes that he and Jay had different personalities and each brought a different skill set to the firm and it was this dynamic that made it successful. But if the truth be told, most of his success and that of Ganan & Shapiro over the years is due to his own hard work and engaging personality. As he likes to say, we are not just building a client base, we are creating relationships and friendships that will hopefully go beyond the practice of law. Those who have worked with Cliff over the past 50 years can certainly attest to his success in that regard.  

And he has not forgotten his roots; during a discussion with a restaurateur in New Buffalo, Michigan, he suggested his famous egg foo young sandwich be put on the menu, in honor of his first mentor, Lem Fong.  She laughed and told him that from now on, “I will call you ‘Mr. Egg Foo Young!’”  He has been that and much, much more to all of his family and friends.  We are proud to be part of the firm that he started years ago and hope to carry on the tradition of excellence that he has established over a successful 50 year career for many more years to come.



Cliff and Bunny enjoying the evening

Cliff and Bunny enjoying the evening