Top 40 Under 40: Jonathan Leach

When Jonathan Leach was in a private law firm, he worked as counsel to the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) on land acquisition needs and the challenges to the O’Hare Modernization Program. It was his first exposure to aviation law and it peaked his interest. So when CDA Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino asked him to leave private practice and serve as the department’s general counsel in 2010, he leapt at the chance.

As part of his responsibilities as general counsel, Leach oversees all legal affairs affecting Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Chicago Midway International Airport, including both litigation and transactional matters. Leach also manages the department’s procurement division, which procures several hundred millions of dollars in construction, work services, commodities and professional service contracts each year. He is also responsible for all of the department’s intergovernmental affairs at the local, state and national level.

He is most proud of getting the agreement with Westfield accomplished for Terminal 5. It took two rounds of introduction in the city council and numerous briefings with the alderman, mayor’s office, and disgruntled bidders, and ended in a lawsuit that the department ultimately defeated. “Now, I love watching the terminal transformation,” he says.

Leach says the most exciting part of the job is that no day is ever the same. “There is always a new challenge whether it is a regulatory issue with the FAA or the TSA or a contract dispute with a vendor or a new opportunity in terms of concession agreements or a lease,” he says. “I’ve never had two identical days and I couldn’t say the same when I was in private practice and doing litigation.”

He advises young law students to consider aviation law, noting it covers many different facets of law from environmental, transactional, lease and agreement negations, to slip and fall negotiations, contract disputes and more. “It has a little bit of everything,” he says.