Robert A. Clifford
Robert A. Clifford

Soon after graduating law school in 1976 and starting his career at Philip H. Corboy & Associates, Robert A. Clifford tried his first case representing a man hit by a train after he cut around a railroad gate.

Clifford thought the trial went well, until the judge allowed a directed verdict.

Clifford called Leonard M. Ring, one his mentors, for guidance.

“He encouraged me to take an appeal,” he said. “If you were on trial and had an issue, you could call him up and he would freely give advice.”

Clifford followed Ring’s advice and ultimately had the trial court’s decision reversed.

On Friday, Clifford received the Leonard M. Ring Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. The award is given to someone who, among other things, “has the standards of Leonard, the work ethics of Leonard and the commitment to ITLA that Leonard had.”

As a young lawyer, Clifford said he admired Ring.

“I was very fortunate to have known him,” he said.

In an interview with the Daily Law Bulletin last week, before the ITLA dinner, Clifford also recognized the late Philip H. Corboy, his boss for his first decade in law.

Clifford, 68, first met Corboy during a presentation at DePaul University College of Law.

“I was taken a back by [Corboy], he was so impressive,” Clifford said. “He made litigation sound exciting and alive and complicated and worth pursuing on behalf of people who need help at the time when some of the worst things happen in their lives.”

From that encounter, Clifford pursued a clerkship with Corboy and was hired after graduation.

“Phil Corboy has been a mentor to so many outstanding lawyers in this community including me. I count my blessings everyday that I met him,” Clifford said. “Like Leonard Ring, Corboy was a strong advocate for victims’ rights and tried to be role model for young lawyers.”

Clifford worked at Corboy’s firm, until 1984 when he opened his own firm. In 1994, Clifford merged the firm with Corboy & Demetrio, but he returned to his own practice one year later.

Dan L. Boho, a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, said Clifford is a worthy competitor who always remained a gentleman.

“He can be a very aggressive advocate for his client and yet be very professional and courteous in his dealings with people on the same side and opposite side of the case,” Boho said. “He has a folksy manner and common sense way of presenting a case.”

Boho said he believes Clifford has assumed the role Corboy filled as a resource for younger plaintiff’s lawyers.

“Bob really took the mantle that had been worn by Phil, who helped mentor lawyers, who then went on their own much like Bob did,” Boho said.

Richard L. Pullano, founder of Pullano Law Offices, spent 11 years working at Clifford Law Offices before opening his own practice in 1998.

“He teaches you what it takes to get the best result,” he said.

One lesson he learned from Clifford: There is no substitute for time, and you have to outwork your competition.

“He’s never content. He’s always looking for a new and better way to be a trial lawyer,” Pullano said. “We are in a world where lawyers get trashed and bashed all the time. … He loves the profession.”

Another protege, Timothy S. Tomasik, worked with Clifford for 15 years before starting Tomasik Kotin Kasserman LLC in 2013 with co-founders Shawn S. Kasserman and Daniel M. Kotin.

“For decades, Bob has been fiercely devoted to ITLA’s mission to serve and protect the rights of the people and families we all represent,” Tomasik said.

“He has made enormous contributions to our profession in terms of his time, energy, creativity and financially,” he said.