Environmental: Bill Dannelly

By Frank Maley

Should you meet or get a phone call from Bill Dannelly, be warned: He might sing “Good morning to you/Good morning to you” to the tune of Happy Birthday. “It’s amazing how you can start a good conversation with somebody,” he says, “by greeting them with a little song.”

About one in 10 people grimace when he does it in person, he says, but the rest smile. Count Dan Uyesato among the grimacers. He’s general counsel of Reichhold, a Research Triangle Park-based maker of polyester resins that’s one of Dannelly’s clients, and moonlights as a musician. “Hearing somebody sing off-pitch is more irritating to me than it is to a lot of people.” But Uyesato sings Dannelly’s praises as a lawyer. “Bill is one of the mentally toughest people that I’ve ever worked with. He doesn’t let emotion get in the way of a task. He’s very good at handling 15 or 20 tasks all at the same time and keeping track of them.”

Growing up in Andalusia, Ala., Dannelly loved puzzles and honed a talent for handling numbers and for strategic thinking partly by playing bridge. He went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and got a bachelor’s in interdisciplinary science, with a heavy course load in chemistry. He wanted to teach and took the first job offer he got — from Northwood High School in Chatham County.

A year later, fed up with the bureaucracy, he left teaching for law school. After graduation, he joined Allen Steed & Allen in Raleigh. He spent his first years doing a variety of work, including criminal defense, personal-injury work and real estate.

It wasn’t until 1984 that he began settling into environmental law. His firm had become the Raleigh office of Charlotte-based Moore & Van Allen. It needed someone to represent Wilmington, which was being sued over a landfill deemed hazardous by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The firm had six months to prepare. “With the federal trial coming up and my scientific background, I was the one who was able to drop everything else I was doing and devote full time to that.” The case was settled, and the firm’s environmental practice grew. But after the firm scrapped plans to expand into Atlanta, where EPA has its Southeast regional office, and Washington, its headquarters, Dannelly and his team moved to Hunton & Williams in 1992. The Richmond, Va.,-based firm has about 850 lawyers in 17 offices.

In 2005, he used those resources to help management buy Reichhold from Tokyo-based Dainippon Ink and Chemicals. The deal involved at least 20 law firms. It was an unusual role for an environmental lawyer, but Reichhold has been a client since 1990. Uyesato figured he and Dannelly knew more about the company than the other lawyers involved. “Bill was the glue that held it all together. He was the person that figured out how to use the resources available to him within Hunton & Williams and all the different offices and also identified outside resources that could be involved.”

Preparation is a hallmark of any good lawyer, and Dannelly does his homework. “I cannot imagine Bill undertaking something he was not fully prepared for, even if it was being the master of ceremonies at an ice cream social,” Uyesato says. “I’m sure that he would know what ice creams were being made available, which ones were no-sugar-added and whether or not there was BHT in the milk from which the ice cream was made.”