About Theresa Amato
Theresa Amato is an award-winning lawyer, author, and advocate. She has spent more than 25 years working from the local to the global, and across sectors in the nonprofit, for profit, political and advocacy arenas.
Amato’s legal work has included litigation and supervising litigation at all levels of state and federal courts; testifying in front of public bodies; navigating regulatory agencies; and conducting corporate transactional work in the areas of banking, trusts, and securities in private practice. She is currently a lawyer in the international practice of a global law firm. Earlier this decade she served as “Of Counsel” to the legendary Chicago firm of Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan. Amato has also engaged in philanthropic fundraising and grant making when she served as the executive director of the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation in Illinois.
In 1993, Amato founded the nationally-recognized, Illinois-based Citizen Advocacy Center to build democracy and served as its first executive director for eight years. She currently serves as its Board President. For more than twenty years, the CAC has pioneered community lawyering as it continues to train public interest advocates from its storefront suburban office.
In both 2000 and 2004, Amato was the national presidential campaign manager, in-house counsel (2000) and General Counsel (2004) for Ralph Nader, producing with her team the highest vote count in the United States for a third-party progressive candidate since 1924, and shepherding myriad election reform efforts and litigation to open up the political system to competition. In 2009, The New Press (New York) published her book, Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny, based on these experiences. She also appears prominently in the Sundance-selected and Academy Awards short-listed documentary “An Unreasonable Man.” Amato, the only woman to run two high profile presidential campaign outside of the two parties, has also written about the legacy of the Nader campaigns in “Beyond the ‘Spoiler’ Myth: Exploring the Real Lessons of the Nader Campaigns for Progressive Politics,” in Empowering Progressive Third Parties in the United States, Defeating Duopoly, Advancing Democracy (Routledge, 2015).
Amato is a manager of Amato & Main, LLC, through which she has provided consulting advice for independent, third-party and progressive presidential and congressional campaigns, nonprofit organizations and foundations. Amato has also served as a former co-president of the League of Women Voters of Oak Park/River Forest, and as a current board member of Citizens in Charge Foundation, the Center for Competitive Democracy, Citizen Advocacy Center and Citizen Works. Amato was the former president and executive director of Citizen Works, which she started with Ralph Nader in 2001 to advance justice by strengthening citizen participation in power and creating innovative public interest initiatives; for example, she launched in 2009, the Fair Contracts Project (FairContracts.org) to reform the fine print in standard form contracts.
Amato graduated with honors from Harvard University in 1986 with a degree in Government and Economics, and from New York University School of Law in 1989, where she was a Root-Tilden Scholar, an executive board editor of the Law Review, and the recipient of the Orison S. Marden for first place oralist in moot court competition and of the Vanderbilt Medal for “extraordinary contributions to the school of law.”
After a federal judicial clerkship in the Southern District of New York for the Honorable Robert W. Sweet, she was a consultant to the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (Human Rights First) and wrote an influential human rights report on child cane cutters in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. She then became the youngest litigator at Public Citizen Litigation Group, where she was the Director of the Freedom of Information Clearinghouse in Washington D.C.
Amato is the recipient of several honors, including being named a Wasserstein Fellow at Harvard Law School, and as a Fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, where she led a seminar entitled “Mobilizing for Justice: How to Take on the System and Make a Difference.” Amato has received both the NYU Law and Loyola University of Chicago Law School Public Interest Awards, and in 1997 she was named at age 32 by the American Lawyer as one of the country’s “45 young lawyers (under 45) whose vision and commitment are changing lives.” In October of 2014 Amato was elected to the American Law Institute, and in 2015 she was invited to become a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation.
Amato serves on the U.S. Board of Advisors to the Institute of Consumer Antitrust Studies Loyola University Chicago School of Law, and from 2013-2015 served on the Council of Regents, of Loyola University Chicago, where she was a non-voting liaison on the Academic Committee of the University’s Board of Trustees, and a 2014 recipient of the “Order of Merit.” At the law school Amato was a “Distinguished Scholar in Residence” from 2013-2105, and remains a member of the adjunct faculty. She has taught the Community Lawyering & Civic Rights Practicum, Consumer Law, and The Art of the Presentation; from 2012-2015 she also taught “Advocating for Social Justice in Illinois” for the Justice Studies Department at Northeastern Illinois University. Her next book with The New Press, New York is titled “Liberated Lawyering, How Lawyers Can Change the World.” In June 2015, the New York Times published Amato’s OpEd “Put Lawyers Where They’re Needed,” about the need to fix the access to justice gap in the legal profession.
The New York Times’ Public Lives section profiled Amato in 2000; Rick Perlstein also wrote about her work in The Nation in 2013. She has appeared in major national and international media outlets including the BBC, NPR, CNN, CSPAN, CBS, MSNBC, FOX, and the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and Chicago Tribune. Her writing has also appeared in the New York University Law Review, The National Civic Review, The Stanford Law & Policy Review, The Yale Journal of International Law, The New York Times, The LA Times, The Washington Post, CNN, The Kansas City Star, The Chicago Tribune, The Hill, Trial Magazine, and The Harvard Law Record, among many other publications. She and Nader have a joint piece in “What Every Harvard Law Student Should Know,” a publication of the Harvard Law Record.
For five years Amato wrote the monthly column Vita Bella Stories on raising children for the Italian-American magazine, Fra Noi. She contributed a piece, “Nonna e Ninella,” to Casa Italia’s anthology “Italian Women in Chicago, Madonna mia! QUI debbo vivere?” which was published both in English and Italian. She is also a 2001 recipient of the Impresa Award.
Amato is now based in the DC area with her spouse Todd Main and their two daughters – who are strategically plotting to get a dog.
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