Interviewed by Kenny Matuszewski
Now celebrating its 20th Anniversary, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin’s 40 Under Forty recognizes rising stars in the legal community. Past winners come from all practice areas and settings, including the government, private practice, and in-house. The one thing they all share is their commitment to excellence and dedication to the legal profession.
Kenny: Where do you work and what is your practice area?
Tracy: I practice personal injury litigation at Clifford Law Offices. While I handle all areas of personal injury, much of my practice consists of catastrophic and/or complex cases, particularly in the transportation sector. I’ve handled cases involving pretty much anything that moves, from segways and bicycles to boats, trains, and planes. I also enjoy the intersection between personal injury litigation and probate administration.
Kenny: Where were you in your career when you won the 40 Under Forty Award?
Tracy: In addition to being in the midst of multiple bicyclist wrongful death cases, I had just wrapped up a tragic case involving a boat sinking on Lake Michigan, resulting in three deaths and one survivor. From that case, I got a taste of maritime law–a completely different world!
Kenny: What was your initial reaction when you found out you won?
Tracy: I was so honored to be considered a young leader in Chicago. More than winning, I was really touched to read some of the comments made by those who had recommended me. The experience made me realize the importance of reputation and relationships in this profession–we all rely on each other for our growth and successes.
Kenny: You won the 40 Under Forty award early in your career. What do you believe you did differently from your peers to stand out right away?
Tracy: I am fortunate to have had opportunities to work on cases that give me the chance to engage in complex issues. I try to take pride in my work product–I think judges and fellow attorneys take note of who is well-written, researched, and prepared. Even if it’s a simple brief, it’s important to put your best foot forward every time. Most importantly, just because we are working for different sides doesn’t mean we can’t be nice to each other. I’ve noticed that too frequently, young lawyers think they cannot be friendly with the other side, but it makes this job so much more enjoyable to be able to smile genuinely at your opponent and chat about other things after your hearing or deposition. And, those are the people whose opinions count for recommendations like this one, so I always make an effort to establish a friendly rapport with opposing counsel–something that one of my recommenders specifically recognized.
Kenny: Did you have a mentor or sponsor who helped your career trajectory?
Tracy: Yes! Bob Clifford’s leadership and attitude is always a guiding example at my office. Since I started there, I’ve worked with Kevin Durkin, who has consistently included me in the strategy and decision-making process on our cases, which is the best way to learn, if you ask me! I am so grateful for his guidance and generosity over the years–it definitely takes time and energy to teach a young lawyer rather than just do the job yourself. Finally, my father, also an attorney, both instilled and continues to reinforce the professional values which underly my choices.
Kenny: You are one of the attorneys involved in the Boeing lawsuits. What unique challenges do these types of lawsuits present, and how have you handled them?
Tracy: A case like this is challenging and complicated for many reasons, including the number of lawyers involved, the number and type of legal issues raised, and the number of factual issues to be resolved. In the Boeing cases, you also have the addition of several different lawsuits and investigations being conducted by various US and international bodies, which may or may not affect case development.
One persistent challenge that might not seem obvious though is communication–with so many involved, having some method of organized communication among our clients, the plaintiffs, and the parties are important. I am the court-appointed Liaison Counsel for the plaintiffs in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 case and am responsible for serving as one of the primary contacts (along with the Lead Counsel) with the defense counsel on behalf of all the plaintiffs. Working with so many lawyers on a single case has been a new experience for me, in terms of managing all of the communications.
Plus, this plane had passengers from at least 35 countries, so the global reach and scale of this litigation is unprecedented (compared to other crashes historically). As a result, I’ve had to learn different approaches than the ones I might have used in the past with my single-plaintiff clients when communicating with clients, other plaintiffs’ lawyers, and the defense–especially while sheltering in place!
Kenny: Currently, you are the Second Vice Chair of the YLS. How has the YLS helped your career, and why should young attorneys get involved with the YLS?
Tracy: I got involved with the YLS right after becoming an attorney and at the recommendation of my firm leaders. The YLS helps with networking and referrals–you need to be engaged with the legal community to get business. Likewise, it’s also a great resource when I need to refer a colleague to a lawyer in another practice area. This happens frequently–how many times have you been asked for a criminal, divorce, estate, or employment lawyer? I am so glad I have my YLS network for that. Plus, the YLS is a great source for CLE that lets you interact with local practitioners and judges to discuss relevant and specific local issues: not just on a national level. For example, the Lunch with a Judge series and Eight O’Clock Call let you ask judges about their courtroom procedures. And, of course, the YLS is also a fantastic social club!
Kenny: Knowing what you know now, what would you tell a younger version of yourself?
Tracy: Double-check your work, ask someone else to check it, and then double-check it again.
Kenny: What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your legal career?
Tracy: Feeling like I am helping people in their time of need and being someone my clients know they can count on. Getting that hug and “thank you” at the end of a case makes you and your work feel so valuable. Recently, a former client gave me a review that made me realize how important our services are to them; it means everything!
Kenny: What advice would you give to our readers who are looking to excel in their careers?
Tracy: Talk less, listen more. You’ll learn more and faster. Then, when you have something to say, it carries more weight. Also, proofread! Correct spelling and decent grammar go a long way.
Tracy is an attorney at Clifford Law Offices, P.C. Her practice focuses on aviation, transportation, premises, and construction liability in addition to other areas of personal injury and wrongful death litigation. She obtained a certificate in advocacy from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and has served as a judicial extern in the Northern District of Illinois. Previously, Tracy has been involved in the YLS as Public Services Manager and enjoys participating in the YLS Wills for Heroes project. She also serves on the Board of Managers of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.