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Niall P. McCarthy came to the Burlingame, Calif., firm headed by legendary trial lawyer Joseph Cotchett in 1992 because “I wanted a place I could try cases early on.” The Cotchett firm was a leading force in gaining compensation for investors who lost billions in the collapse of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. But the firm’s attraction went beyond its status. “I knew the firm had a great mentoring program and it was one of the rare places I would get to try my own cases and pick my own juries. I knew I’d get a lot of opportunities to succeed,” he says. In his second year, McCarthy became involved in a suit that would eventually lead to his becoming one of the nation’s top specialists in elder-abuse litigation. McCarthy does handle elder-abuse litigation involving physical abuse or negligence by a nursing home, but he has become a leader nationally in using litigation to fight financial victimization of the elderly. That first case involved an 87-year-old man who had been befriended by a 30-year-old woman after his wife had died. “In six months, this woman had depleted his bank account.” The total loss was about $500,000. The plaintiff had little hope of recovery, but “fortunately she bought a house with the money.” He sued and was able to recover $400,000. “That got some publicity and then it snowballed.” He began to pursue more cases involving financial elder abuse. For instance, he won a multimillion-dollar recovery on behalf of senior citizens in an action involving reverse mortgages where he claimed that the insurance company defendants were taking advantage of the seniors. But many of his cases involve lawsuits over the cheating of specific individuals by acquaintances or relatives. In one recent case, he says, he was representing a woman whose husband had died. A friend put a $1.5 million lien on her property and siphoned off the money. McCarthy sued the “friend,” but also went after the real estate and title companies. Ultimately, “we got back $1.4 million.” The individuals who take advantage of seniors are aided by professionals, McCarthy says. “The relatives or friends bring the paperwork to the seniors and tell them, ‘Sign this.’ ” Once the papers are signed, the estate looters “ are off and running. But the real estate agent is supposed to see red flags and raise questions. They have a professional responsibility.” McCarthy became a name partner in his firm — now Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy — this January. He has also won many substantial verdicts and settlements in other cases, including a $12.4 million verdict in the collapse of a negligently maintained balcony and a $14 million judgment against Old Republic Title Co. over charges the company had kept as income millions of dollars in dormant escrow accounts. But the financial elder-abuse cases are the most satisfying, he says. “There truly is no better feeling than when someone comes to you who has lost their entire life savings and a year later you’re able to hand back a check for most or all of it. That’s the reason I became a lawyer,” he says. “I love representing the little guy in a fight.”

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