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Approach the Bench: Robert A. Clifford

CLO Approach the bench Robert Clifford

Bob-Clifford-attorney.jpgSteve Jobs and Michael Wozniak founded Apple Computer. The Blues Brothers debuted on Saturday Night Live. Peyton Manning was born. A gallon of gas was 59 cents. Jimmy Carter was elected as President. The country celebrated its bicentennial.

The year was 1976. It also was the year that I was sworn in as a lawyer. Obviously, a lot has happened since then, in the country, around the world and in each of our lives.

I have taken in every day as a learning experience, enjoying the fulfillment of having a profession that let's me get up in the morning and look forward to going to work. I have the same vigor and enthusiasm of making the civil justice system a bit better today than I did as that idealistic young 20-something lawyer just passing the bar exam.

I recall my first case - being sworn in ahead of everyone else - so that I could take the deposition of a federal court judge and go on to win his case after he was unceremoniously bumped from a flight without any compensation from the airlines. That law still stands today for everyone.

Of course, I remember the cases that garnered the big headlines - Rachel Barton, the violinist's trial against Metra that was on the front page and lead story for a month; the record settlement against Cook County for a fire that killed several people and injured many more in a stairwell blocking their exit; the scaffolding collapse from the John Hancock Building that killed innocent people below.

But it is also every person who I've had the opportunity to counsel, to talk to, to comfort throughout the years. People who have relied on my experience and my common sense to seek answers to questions when simply they didn't know to whom to turn. That's where I felt that I have had the greatest impact on a day-to-day basis outside of a courtroom.

I take greatest pride, though, in my family. Although my parents are no longer with us, nor my wife's parents with whom we were so close, life moves on to the next generation, and I find myself talking endlessly about my daughters and son in law. It seems like just yesterday they were babies as we picnicked in our back yard in our tiny apartment on Chicago's Northwest side.

Now, my oldest, Erin, is a lawyer. How proud does that make a dad feel knowing that one of your children follows you in your footsteps as she clerks for an appellate court justice. My youngest daughter, Tracy, followed her dream to become a fashion stylist, traveling the world and married to the best son in law one could ever ask. He, too, is a lawyer, and takes care of my daughter like every father in law could only dream.

And my wife Joan of 43 years surprises me every day with her love, her loyalty, her unending philanthropic work, her support of me and what I do. I have no greater friend and no closer person in my life than someone who has stood by my side watching me as I worked full time going through law school, raising two beautiful daughters with me and now looking forward to many more years to come as we enjoy the fruits of our labor.

I still love working every day, seven days a week, mentoring the younger lawyers at our firm and the challenge of winning that critical motion in court. It never gets old. I like the strategizing, the intellectual challenge, the professional sparring. I also enjoy giving back to the community in many ways, supporting our bar associations through my own efforts and that of my firm's lawyers. Having served as the American Bar Association Chair of its State Delegation for nine years, the President of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, the President of the Chicago Bar Association and so many other positions I held with pride as I felt the responsibility of representing the profession.

Has our profession changed? Obviously, the internet in the last 40 years has put everything we do at warp speed, but really the fundamentals of what we do is the same. We must keep up with the law, do our best in representing those who count on us, and communicate with our clients to make sure that they understand the importance of a justice system that was created to give them their day in court in an equitable manner.

That will never change.

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