Read McCaffrey’s father and both of his grandfathers were lawyers, but when the younger McCaffrey headed off to college, he planned to buck family tradition and become a writer instead.
His writing career didn’t take off as quickly as he’d hoped, however. So he opted for law school after all, where he found that he enjoyed the law and resolving disputes. And as it turns out, his legal career has involved the kind of global figures and events that make great fodder for an aspiring writer.
“I’ve written stories about the cases that have had the most impact on my career,” said McCaffrey, who is perhaps best known for his work representing the families of victims of the 1987
Amtrak/Conrail train collision and the 1988 downing of Pan Am 103, known as the Lockerbie bombing. Those cases are at the top of the list of those he’s written about, as is a case in which he sued the late Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafic Hariri, who was a billionaire construction tycoon.
For now, McCaffrey writes primarily for himself. But “I will publish someday,” he said.
Meanwhile, the 74-year-old attorney is still practicing law. In May, McCaffrey joined Miami-based Rasco Klock Perez & Nieto as senior counsel in New York. Prior to that, he was counsel at Liddle & Robinson for about two years. But he spent much of his career—24 years—as a senior litigation partner and the commercial litigation chair at Patton Boggs in Washington, D.C. In 2015, he moved his litigation practice to New York after Patton Boggs consolidated with Cleveland-based Squires Sanders, becoming Squire Patton Boggs.
But McCaffrey started out as a public defender in Baltimore—a job he chose simply because it then paid $1,500 more than working as a prosecutor and he and his wife were expecting their first child.
Eventually, he moved on to a small Maryland firm—Whiteford, Taylor Preston— where he did mostly insurance defense work. And it was while he was there that he was approached by a woman whose daughters, ages 14 and 16, had died in the train collision on their way to visit their grandparents. The Amtrak/Conrail collision claimed 16 lives and injured over 150 people.
“My daughters at the time were exactly the same age so it was difficult. I was easily able to understand her grief,” McCaffrey said. “She had been offered a sum of money by the insurance company for the railroads, which was a ridiculous amount of money. She wanted my advice as to whether she should accept it. I advised her not to take it.”
It became his first plaintiffs case. He teamed with the lawyers for the 14 others who died in the accident. The federal judge named him liaison counsel for the group, an administrative position that in such a high profile case came with significant press coverage. The group of lawyers obtained a settlement from the insurance company that varied by passenger, but when the case settled in 1989, the mother McCaffrey represented was awarded $4 million for each daughter.
McCaffrey was still dealing with the Amtrak/Conrail accident when the widow of the most senior crew member of the bombed Pan Am Flight 103 called him, having read that McCaffrey was representing families of the train collision victims. McCaffrey became the lawyer for the flight’s crew. Again he worked with the lawyers representing other families of victims on the flight, and together they filed the case against Pan Am Airlines.
The airline was already bankrupt, but its insurance companies were responsible for paying the millions in claims. In 1992, a jury found Pan Am Airlines was liable for the bombing that took 270 lives over Lockerbie, Scotland. Later, after changes to the sovereign immunity law in 1996 made it possible to sue countries in U.S. District Court in cases involving countries designated terrorist states, McCaffrey and other lawyers sued the Libyan government. The lawyers met with Libya’s lawyers and officials in Paris.
“We finished a very productive meeting in August 2001, and then 9/11 occurred,” McCaffrey said. “We were visited by the CIA and the State Department. We were told in no uncertain terms that we would have no more negotiations with the Libyan government until they had excluded Libya from having had any responsibility for the twin towers.”
The following year, the intense, dayslong meetings continued with the six attorneys on one side of the table, 13 Libyan lawyers and officials on the other.
“In the evening we would go out to dinner,” McCaffrey said, “and one of them I thought was a security adviser would show me a picture of his son sitting on Muammar Gaddafi’s knee and how proud he was of that moment. This was the best picture he had in his whole life. And what do you say? Wow. That’s a cute kid sitting right there on Gaddafi’s knee.”
The legal team eventually obtained a settlement in which the families of the 270 victims would get $10 million per victim, paid out over time as the various sanctions on Libya were lifted.
“Gaddafi wanted to be taken off the [terrorism] list because he wanted his government and his economy to come out from under the sanctions which he felt were paralyzing his nation,” McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey’s work also took him to Windsor Castle, where he was part of a group that met from time to time to talk about the legal aspects of certain international issues. He even once had an opportunity to discuss an issue with Prince Philip, he said. He also once negotiated outside a small café in Paris with then-Lebanon prime minister Saad Hariri.
The locales and historical events and figures notwithstanding, McCaffrey says one of the things he is most proud of is having made it home in time for dinner almost every night so he could be with his wife and their two daughters as they were growing up. He has been married for 45 years.
“Whether I was in trial or walking around looking at the torn gantry from a railroad disaster, I was home by 6 or 6:30,” he said. “Once those days are gone, they’re gone. I’ve seen too many examples of people in my profession who … are making a lot of money and are working really hard and think that maybe they’ll get around to being a father when they have a chance. They don’t realize that’s not really how it works.”
Children: Emily and Sarahlee
Education: University of Baltimore Law School, JD, 1969, University of Virginia, English major, 1965
Experience: Rasco Klock Perez & Nieto, 2017-present; Squire Patton Boggs 2014-2015; Patton Boggs, 1999-2014; Whiteford Taylor Preston, 1973-1990; Baltimore Assistant Public Defender, 1972-1973