Daniel F. Wilhelm is President of The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. Based in New York, the Foundation generates research and disseminates knowledge to illuminate the causes, nature, and control of violence in its many forms, including crime, war, and human aggression.
What do you enjoy most about your current role?
I enjoy dealing with an important and challenging topic — violence — and seeing how research and knowledge can enhance our understanding and responsiveness when it comes to phenomena such as armed conflict, violent criminality, and terrorism.
Employing research to address real-world concerns is an approach I learned at the Vera Institute of Justice, where I spent 14 years before the Foundation and served as Vice President and Chief Program Officer. I oversaw collaborations with government to improve policies in sentencing and corrections, youth justice, immigration, prosecution, and other areas.
What is your proudest achievement in your current job?
The Foundation has always enjoyed a strong reputation in the academic world and within the many scholarly disciplines where we support research. That trend continues, especially through our Distinguished Scholar, Emerging Scholar, and African Fellow programs.
In 2021 and earlier this year, we took an in-depth look at the sudden and steep rise in gun violence and homicides in New York and other American cities, through At the Crossroads. Intentionally, we sought out views that didn’t necessarily agree with one another, as it seems clear that no one answer fully explains this startling jump.
One important role of a foundation is to facilitate respectful discussion of important issues, even when — perhaps, especially when — interlocutors disagree. We are doing our small part to model a type of dialogue on which the scientific method that is the Foundation’s work, and indeed democracy itself, relies.
How did your time at Sidley prepare you for future steps in your career?
The core legal skills that were honed at Sidley have been important throughout my career and certainly in my current role. The deep analysis that is intrinsic to the practice of law at Sidley is easily transferrable to other professional settings. The same goes for constructing an empirical argument with evidentiary support, spotting the flaws in someone else’s reasoning, writing concisely, diving into minutiae and data to understand subject matter, and advocating for an organization’s mission or interests. It’s all invaluable.
The ability to function in an environment where expectations and standards are high and the work ethic is robust, sometimes under the pressures of tight deadlines or adversarial circumstances, pays dividends for years.
Much of my work since leaving private practice, first in a clerkship with U.S. District Judge Frederic Block, in the Eastern District of New York, then at the Vera Institute of Justice, and finally at the Foundation, has directly or indirectly implicated the law, legal structures, or systems of justice. My Sidley experience gave me a much fuller appreciation of these realms than I would otherwise have possessed.
What is your best memory of your time at Sidley?
It may sound obvious, but my best memories of Sidley are of the people. I had the opportunity to work with smart, talented, hard-working lawyers, who were also good colleagues and good people. I remain close to a number of these folks to this day. There is nothing like the shared bond of working under pressure, with a lot on the line, sometimes under tough circumstances, to create a lasting bond of respect and friendship.
Published October 2022
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