William Gallagher had many admirers in the legal profession. Other lawyers, to be sure. But judges as well.

Now-retired Superior Court Judge Jonathan Silbert said that Gallagher, who passed away in late December at age 76 following an illness, was simply “the best.”

“At oral arguments, he would drive me nuts, in the best possible way, coming up with amazing legal theories and ideas that might rescue cases that seemed doomed to dismissal,” said Silbert, who now has a private alternative dispute resolution practice. “I loved those arguments. I’ll miss them, and him.”

Gallagher, the founder of The Gallagher Law Firm in New Haven, was known primarily as an appellate lawyer, but following his death, many colleagues spoke of his versatility.

The Branford resident was a “man comfortable in all courts, all venues and with everyman, regardless of his station in life,” said Kenneth Laska of Segal & Laska in Plainville. “A jovial man of wit that resided within a serious scholar. A man who would take your call to help, assist or just listen to you. A man who was an attorney, just plain and simple, not a litigator, not a transactional attorney, just an attorney.”

Barbara Cox, an attorney who has worked at the Gallagher firm since 1991, said, “Bill had a huge heart, despite a sometimes gruff demeanor. People who knew him well knew that.”

Gallagher’s practice was based in a restored 20-room Victorian house in a New Haven residential area. According to the firm’s website, “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.”

So did his staff members. Cindy Bott, who worked at the Gallagher firm for 13 years before moving to Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, said some of Gallagher’s staffers worked for him for decades.

“He was respected and loved by his staff,” Bott said. “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.”

He also enjoyed collecting antique clocks and playing the fife with the Ancient Mariners, a fife-and-drum band whose barefoot members in red-striped shirts are a staple at Connecticut parades and patriotic holiday celebrations.

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,” she said. “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 [Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association] conference” in some subtropical setting.

Gallagher had a long history with the CTLA, serving on the board of governors and as president in the early 1990s.

“He edited the CTLA Forum from 1993 to 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 1990s, Bill started giving a review of Supreme and Appellate Court decisions, important to the plaintiffs bar, at the CTLA’s annual meeting. This quickly became an event not to be missed.”

Patricia King, the state’s chief disciplinary counsel worked for Gallagher for a short time about 20 years ago. She described her one-time mentor as an excellent 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 observed Gallagher in action for 25 years.

“One of the first cases I ever tried was a paternity case,” Ecker said. “Bill represented the defendant. I was a young, inexperienced nobody. He nonetheless treated me like a peer, a colleague.”

He continued: “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.”

Overall, Ecker 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 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.”

Eckert noted that Gallagher handled hundreds of state and federal court appeals over the years. This was possible, he said, 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.”•