Recently elected to the presidency of of the National Italian American Bar Association, Frank Sommario dedicated his career to shining a positive light on his heritage and his profession.
Justice may be blind, but Chicago attorney Frank Sommario has a clear-eyed view of his duties as an American attorney of Italian descent.
“I want to show that Italian Americans continue to contribute to the legal system in a positive way, despite the stereotypes that our community has endured over the decades,” he says. “It makes you work harder because you know you not only represent yourself, your firm and your client, but your heritage.”
That deep sense of commitment has propelled Sommario to the top of not just one but two Italian-American bar associations. From 2011-16, he worked his way up through the ranks to the presidency of the Chicago-based Justinian Society of Lawyers, and he has served as comptroller since then. In 2019, he embarked upon a similar ascent within the National Italian American Bar Association, accepting the gavel at an installation ceremony on June 10 at Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago.
The son of a Melrose Park police officer, Sommario earned his J.D. from the DePaul University College of Law and has spent most of his professional career at Romanucci & Blandin. A role model to Sommario for more than three decades, firm co-founder Antonio Romanucci boasts a similar ethnic pedigree, having served as president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans as well as the Justinians.
Sommario earned his partner stripes at the firm in 2013, and his prowess as a workers comp lawyer has earned him a slew of accolades, including recognition by The Best Lawyers in America, Illinois Super Lawyer and the Law Bulletin Publishing Co. Meanwhile, he’s been extremely active in the larger legal community, holding leadership posts with the Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Association, Illinois State Bar Association, Illinois Trial Lawyers Association and Illinois Bar Foundation.
As busy as he is, Sommario has always found time to honor his heritage. He paused to explain why in a recent interview with Fra Noi.
Paul Basile: Did your Italian background have anything to do with your decision to become a lawyer?
Frank Sommario: I’m a third-generation Italian American. My parents, Frank and Mary Jo, didn’t speak Italian, but they did instill in us all the traditional Italian values, like family, hard work and honesty. My dad had a big influence on me. As a police officer, he instilled in me the importance of always doing what’s right. I’ve wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember. My dad says that as a child, I liked to argue and that I was hard-headed, so maybe my Calabrese background did play a part. (He laughs.)
PB: Antonio Romanucci has been another major influence in your life. Tell me about that.
FS: I first met Tony at the David Awards. I wasn’t even in law school then, and he was accepting an award. He gave a nice speech, and my mom, sitting at the table next to me, said, “You should be like him! He’s such a great speaker!” He and I talked at the event. We know some of the same people. Fast forward several years, and I’m at the Justinian installation dinner. Tony was very welcoming. He was like that with all the law students. I started to go to meetings. We got to know each other better and became friends. When I finished law school and was looking for a job, his firm wasn’t hiring at the time, but he did successfully represent me when my ankle was crushed in an accident. I was of counsel for his firm for a few years, and then I joined the firm in 2007.
FS: At Italian events, we introduce Stephan [Blandin, the firm’s other founding partner] as Blandini! (He laughs.) Tony has always had connections with the Italian-American community, especially through the Justinians. He was mentored by many of the members, including Bruno Tassone and Richard Pellegrino, who are of counsel to Romanucci & Blandin. Tony has always encouraged promising Italian-American law students to apply for a job with Romanucci & Blandin, and then as our clerks to get active in the Justinians.
PB: How did you get involved with the National Italian American Bar Association?
FS: NIABA has always had strong ties to Chicago and the Justinians, from Richard Caifano, who helped found the organization in 1983, to Bruno Tassone and Sam Tornatore, who served as president. When I was president of the Justinians, NIABA officers attended the installation dinner at the Palmer House and invited me to join the board, and it all evolved from there.
PB: How are the two organizations similar and different?
FS: They both offer CLEs (continuing legal education courses) and networking opportunities. The Justinians hold a series of social and fundraising events throughout the year in the Chicago area, so it’s a great way for members to get to know each other and learn about the areas of law that they practice. NIABA holds quarterly board meetings in different states across the nation as well as a biannual trip to Italy, so you get to expand your network nationally and internationally.
PB: Why have you become so involved with both groups?
FS: On a personal level, it’s wonderful to spend time with others who have a similar culture and upbringing. On a professional level, it creates long-lasting relationships that allow you to showcase the contributions that Italian Americans have made in the legal arena.
PB: What are your goals for your two-year term as NIABA president?
FS: To increase membership, maintain fiscal responsibility and find ways to offer more benefits to our members. By making all local Italian-American bar associations free members of NIABA, we are looking to increase our numbers and attract corporate sponsors to the CLEs that we co-host with the local bar associations. It also strengthens our national voice when we address prejudice and Columbus Day in concert with other national organizations.
PB: You’ve also become quite active in the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, serving as legal counsel and on the committee to restore the Columbus statue in Arrigo Park. What compelled you to add these two roles to your already very full plate?
FS: I try to support the community in any way that I can. I had attended JCCIA meetings in the past as a delegate for the Justinians, and (JCCIA President) Ron Onesti asked me to serve as legal counsel. In that capacity, I had an obligation to best represent the JCCIA along with Enrico Mirabelli and the other attorneys on the Columbus Statue Committee. It’s all part of that call of duty to my community and my heritage.
The above appears in the August 2023 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.