Lawyer and Theater Supporter Richard Orlikoff Dies at 92

Hyde Park lawyer defended the theater troupe that would be the genesis of The Second City.

By Laila Abdelmonem

Richard M. Orlikoff (J.D. ’49), a long-time Hyde Park resident and lawyer, defended Chicago’s budding improvisational theater scene and helped establish the University’s legal aid clinic.

Orlikoff died Thursday, December 10, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital due to congestive heart failure at the age of 92.

Orlikoff was born on July 23, 1923 in New Jersey and attended the University of Michigan after high school.

He served as a communications officer on a U.S. destroyer during World War II, which enabled him to pursue higher education under the GI bill. He received his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1949.

While his career included representing clients in corporate mergers and acquisitions, securities class actions, and antitrust cases, Orlikoff spent many years working in the Hyde Park community and with the University of Chicago.

According to Orlikoff’s son Jamie, “he [Richard] was very interested in social justice. As he told it, he was concerned that there weren’t many legal services for people who couldn’t afford it.”

Orlikoff was an early proponent of the idea of a legal aid clinic that would offer advocacy for lower income residents. The Mandel Legal Aid Clinic was officially established in 1951 after Orlikoff had graduated from the Law School.

“It’s very interesting because the clinic didn’t exist while he was a student at the law school,” according to Jamie Orlikoff. Listing him as a graduate of the program was a “tribute to his help” in founding the institution.

Orlikoff proposed that the clinic function in a two-fold manner, giving back to the Hyde Park community by offering legal aid to disadvantaged groups and serving as a learning and teaching opportunity to students attending the Law School.

Orlikoff’s sense of “social responsibility toward [Hyde Park]” stemmed from his desire to “counterbalance the more conservative approach the university was known for,” Jamie said. “He thought the University was much more conservative than it should have been; its focus was too narrow and too business-minded.”

Jamie Orlikoff said his father’s involvement with the clinic lasted for a couple of decades and that he often went into partnerships with the law students who worked in the clinic. He sought out students who were both intelligent and socially responsible.

Orlikoff was a huge supporter of theater, representing comedy troupes from the University pro bono. He represented the Playwright’s Theatre Club, later known as the Compass Players. Some of the members of the Compass Players went on to found the Second City, the enterprising Chicago comedy troupe.

“He was very seminal in the formation of comedy clubs,” said Anita, Orlikoff’s daughter-in-law. Licensing requirements set by the City of Chicago made it difficult to set up theaters outside of the Loop. Orlikoff subsequently registered the Compass Players as a private club so that they could perform in the city. His defense of the Compass Players against the city of Chicago “set a precedent, eventually getting the regulations overturned,” Jamie said.

Orlikoff’s pro bono legal work for the Playwright’s Theatre Club “opened pathway for all the vibrant comedy clubs downtown,” Anita Orlikoff said.

Orlikoff’s other accomplishments included serving as arbitrator for the National Association of Securities Dealers and as Chairman of the Legal Aid Committee of the Chicago Bar Association. He also served on the Board of Editors at the University of Chicago Law Review and on the Board of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago.