Lawyer Limelight: Richard Burke

Trial lawyer Richard Burke has prosecuted cases in both criminal and civil court for more than 40 years and has devoted his career to ensuring that victims of crimes and accidents get the justice they deserve. More than 30 of those years have been spent at his current firm, Clifford Law Offices. He is a partner at the respected Chicago-based firm, and boasts a command of multiple practice areas, specializing in product liability and including medical malpractice, trucking litigation and aviation law. He is particularly known for the latter and is considered one of the foremost experts on aviation litigation in Chicago.

The successful verdicts and settlements from his aviation cases alone add up to tens of millions of dollars Burke has won for his clients. In one instance, he tried a private jet crash case that garnered a $10.45M verdict after only four hours of jury deliberation just one example of Burke’s levelheaded domination of the opposition in the courtroom. Other notable matters have included a multitude of vehicle rollover cases; in one instance, he and partner Robert Clifford recovered a $22M settlement against Ford Motor Company. In every case, Burke is driven by compassion for his clients and a fierce sense of justice.

Lawdragon: Tell us about the mix of work you do within your practice.

Richard Burke: I am a trial lawyer who handles a wide variety of personal injury claims, including product liability, truck crashes, motor vehicle crashes, electrocution cases, aviation matters, sexual misconduct cases and medical negligence claims. I am also involved in insurance coverage litigation on behalf of policyholders who have been denied coverage, especially for business claims. All the people I represent have been victimized by some company or individual wrongdoer and need our help in trying to cope with the ramifications of serious personal injuries, the death of a loved one or substantial financial losses.

LD: Why did you decide you wanted to become a lawyer?

RB: I originally became interested in attending law school because I realized that legal issues are part of every aspect of our lives and that a law degree can be beneficial in many different careers. A law school education provides a broad base of knowledge that can help anyone excel in many fields, including business, education, entertainment, journalism, government, medicine and politics, even if you are not actively involved in litigation or the practice of law.

LD: How did you first become interested in developing this kind of plaintiffs' practice?

RB: During the first ten years of my legal career, I was a prosecutor for the Cook County State's Attorney Office in Chicago and represented people who had been the victims of virtually every type of criminal activity. It was a natural transition from prosecuting criminal defendants on behalf of crime victims to litigating civil cases for our injured clients.

LD: That switch makes sense. What have you found most fulfilling about the matters you handle?

RB: The most satisfying part of my practice is the opportunity to help people when they have been involved in a tragedy or catastrophe that has truly altered every aspect of their lives. They need legal assistance in order to obtain help on many levels, including medical care, mental health treatment and financial compensation.

LD: Can you tell us about a recent case you found particularly impactful?

RB: I favorably resolved a terribly tragic case in which a 34-year-old husband and father of 5- and 7-year-old children was killed when a tractor trailer truck crossed into the oncoming lanes of traffic and collided head on with his vehicle. He was a very devoted father to his son and daughter and had married his high school sweetheart.

LD: What a terrible situation. Did you have any major challenges to overcome in that case?

RB: The defendant trucking company attempted to have the litigation transferred to a state that had caps on wrongful death claims. After very extensive litigation of that issue, I was able to maintain the lawsuit in the state where the trucking company was headquartered, and which did not have any limits on wrongful death compensation. Further, the trucking company had less insurance coverage than was adequate, so after multiple settlement conferences and extensive negotiation, we achieved a settlement that included payment of substantial funds from the corporate assets of the trucking company. This compensation was essential in order to provide the family some ability to continue with their lives and to ensure the children’s education, despite the tragic loss of their father and husband.

LD: It must have been immensely rewarding for them to see some kind of justice for the death of someone so close to them. Is this the type of practice you imagined yourself having while in law school?

RB: I particularly enjoyed law school classes involving torts and product liability, so I envisioned practicing personal injury and trial work. My ten years as a criminal prosecutor provided some of the finest training one could receive for a career in trial work.

LD: Do you have any advice you’d give to current law school students?

RB: During law school I also worked as a law clerk for a litigation firm and that experience provided a very valuable and practical dimension to my education. I strongly urge law students to work part time for a law firm during school because it will provide a real-world application of many of the concepts that are taught in law school. It will also give students a very pragmatic understanding of the practice of law that is very different from the legal principles and concepts that are a foundation of every law school curriculum. A law clerking job also puts you in touch with practicing lawyers on a regular basis and can help shape the expectations and aspirations you hold for your future and your legal career.

LD: Tell me about your firm, Clifford Law Offices. How does it compare to other working environments you’ve had before, and what do you enjoy about being there?

RB: I have had only two jobs as an attorney. One as an Assistant State's Attorney for ten years, and I have practiced plaintiffs’ trial work at Clifford Law Offices for over 30 years. Both jobs have been extremely gratifying in terms of the quality of work performed and the caliber and professionalism of the lawyers with whom I have practiced. At Clifford Law Offices we make certain to provide each of our clients with the highest quality representation and prepare every case with the expectation that it will proceed to trial. Although a large number of cases ultimately settle, the best way to achieve maximum financial compensation for our clients is to be completely prepared to have the case proceed to trial before a jury. At Clifford Law Offices we do everything necessary to achieve maximum results for our injured clients in every case.