Bill Gallagher, the founder of The Gallagher Law Firm in New Haven, was remembered by colleagues as a highly acclaimed appellate lawyer, who had a passion for the law.

Gallagher died on Wednesday after an illness, according to colleagues who knew him.

Barbara Cox, an attorney who has worked at the Gallagher firm since 1991, said that a memorial service is being planned for Jan. 4 at 11 a.m. at St. Mary’s Church in Branford.

Cox said that “Bill had a huge heart, despite a sometimes gruff demeanor. People who knew him well knew that.”

Attorney Cindy Bott, who worked at the Gallagher firm for 13 years and now works at Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, said that “many, if not most of Bill’s staff have worked for him for decades. He was respected and loved by his staff.”

“Bill had a wonderful, sort of quirky sense of humor, a lot of people probably don’t know this. He loved to play practical jokes,” Bott said, adding that he was a collector of antique clocks and used to play the fife and was involved with the Connecticut Ancient Mariners.

When it came to clients, he was a tireless worker, Bott said. “He was well known as a work-horse or workaholic. But he loved it. He had a great passion for the law. Many years ago, he was teased by some of his fellow plaintiffs’ lawyers when he was discovered reading court decisions from the Connecticut Law Journal on the beach at a CTLA conference … “

The conference was either held at a Caribbean island or Florida, she said.

“Aside from being an acclaimed appellate lawyer he was truly a great advocate for his clients in all venue, trials, arbitration, mediations, settlement negotiations. Basically he was an excellent problem solver,” Bott said. “Bill was extremely generous in helping other lawyers with their legal problems. I worked for him for 13 years. I remember countless times waiting to talk to him about a case when he was on the phone helping another lawyer with a legal problem. Years later, when I was working for another firm, I called him from time to time to pick his brain. He always took my calls. He always took the time to help.”

Bott said that since at least the 1980s, Gallagher was very involved with the CTLA. “He was often the go-to person if an amicus brief was needed quickly. Of course, he was a leader in the organization for many years, serving on the Board of Governors and as president in 1990-1991. He edited the CTLA Forum from 1993 – 2002. He took the position seriously and always strived to produce an informative, educational publication,” Bott said. “I don’t remember the exact year, but in the early 1990′s Bill started giving a review of supreme and appellate court decisions, important to the plaintiffs’ bar, at CTLA’s annual meeting. This quickly became an event not to be missed not only because of his discussion of the cases, but also his comprehensive materials, which included summaries of the key cases of the year.”

Pat King, the state’s Chief Disciplinary Counsel, who worked for Gallagher for a short time about 20 years ago, said “he was among the best appellate lawyers in the state.”

“You could ask Bill these obscure questions and the law, he knew the answer,” King said.

King described him as a good strategist, who was always thinking ahead, like a good chess player. “I learned a lot about how to think about a case from him,” King said.

Attorney Steve Ecker, of Cowdery, Ecker & Murphy in Hartford, who said he observed Gallagher in action for 25 years, described Gallagher as an “icon, a larger-than-life figure who provided a constant reminder to all of us of what it meant to be a lawyer.”

“We have lost a truly great one,” Ecker said. “He, and a few other members of his generation, were the real, complete, total package, general practitioners of law like they don’t make any more. Bill could very ably handle everything from a real estate closing to a complex medical malpractice trial to a probate matter to a tax appeal to a zoning dispute to a criminal appeal, you name it. He was everywhere, knew everything, had done everything at least ten times, and never ever stopped serving his clients with commitment and dedication. He tried hundreds of cases, handled hundreds of appeals, in state court and federal court.”

Ecker said that this was possible because Gallagher had an “almost superhuman work ethic combined with a deep passion for the law. He cared a great deal, not only about serving his clients, but also about serving his profession. He really wanted to get the law right, and help judges get the law right.”

“Two other things I saw that made Bill special. One was his ethical backbone. He would never mislead the court or his opponent. He was a very honest person. That is a hard thing to be as a lawyer, at least if you are a fighter, yet Bill never wavered in his commitment to candor. The second, and related, trait I saw was his decency and respect for his opponent. One of the first cases I ever tried was a paternity case. Bill represented the defendant. I was a young, inexperienced nobody. He nonetheless treated me like a peer, a colleague.”

The firm’s website, states that Gallagher “has extensive experience handling appeals and is recognized by Best Lawyers in America for appellate practice, personal injury litigation, product liability litigation and medical malpractice matters. Many attorneys consult with Mr. Gallagher on appellate and liability issues and seek out his many published articles.”

According to the firm’s website, his law firm is located in a “restored 20-room Victorian house in a residential area in New Haven. It’s a place where we can comfortably provide focused personal attention that recognizes our clients’ diverse legal needs and concerns. Our clients feel most welcome here.”