In April 2010, three ConAgra Foods Inc. workers in Chester, Ill., were injured by an explosion in a clogged grain bin they were attempting to clean. Last June, Clifford Law Offices won $112 million of a $179.7 million verdict for two of those plaintiffs from a federal jury in East St. Louis, Ill.
Robert Clifford, founder of the 20-attorney Chicago boutique, started his career with local personal injury legend Philip Corboy. He described the award, which included $67.6 million punitive damages, as "fitting into our top-tier" awards. But he added: "I grew up believing in a full-service model. As big as we are, we’re not above handling my mother’s hairdresser’s case."
In the ConAgra case, Clifford argued that company officials knew about but never conveyed the danger that grain dust particles might combust or supplied the workers with the proper precautions to do the job. Partners Kevin Durkin and Colin Dunn were on the trial team.
During 2012, the firm reported more than 20 verdicts or settlements of more than $1 million, including at least five worth more than $5 million. The firm, founded in 1984, handles personal injury, medical malpractice, hospital negligence and aviation litigation involving both private and commercial aircraft. Among its more notable cases, Clifford Law Offices helped secure a $1.2 billion subrogation settlement in 2009 for a group of insurance companies that paid out more than $4.6 billion for the destroyed World Trade Center.Clifford emphasizes his South Side Chicago roots and Democratic Party leanings, offering this assessment of tort reformers: "Even the most right-wing Republicans get in plane and car crashes." John Schultz of Franke Schultz & Mullen’s St. Louis office, represented a co-defendant in the ConAgra case. "Bob is a powerful presence in the courtroom, but he is not intimidating — and I mean that as a compliment," he said of Clifford. "What makes Bob different from other top-flight trial lawyers is that he is humble, and he uses that to his advantage in connecting with everyone in the courtroom — most importantly the jurors."
He continued: While the jury was deliberating, I told Bob, ‘I admire you as a wonderfully talented and committed trial lawyer, but what I respect about you most is how you treat all the nonlawyers in the case — from your runners to the court personnel. You always take time to show interest in them and make them feel important and part of the team.’ And it’s genuine."
There’s no such thing as too much preparation, but there certainly can be too little. So beware, for both will reveal themselves to the seasoned opponent and trial judge.
Great lawyers persuade with facts, not just boisterous rhetoric. It may seem like a trite cliché, yet the best lawyers in America are skillful and determined in their preparation for all aspects of litigation.
Never make promises that you cannot keep. It is "game, set, match" if you promise a client or the court or an opponent or indeed the jury something that you fail to deliver. Credibility once lost is gone forever.
Apologies work, whiny excuses don’t. If you make a mistake, be honest enough to admit it.
— Robert Clifford, Clifford Law Offices