I was saddened to learn that Ray Niro died yesterday while vacationing in Italy. For those of us engaged in contingent-fee patent litigation, Ray was the superstar, the source of inspiration — in short, the best there ever was.
I was fortunate to know Ray, although it came at a real cost to my client and more than a bit of personal humility for myself. You see, we were on opposite sides of a patent infringement case that went to trial in Chicago in the early 2000s. I, as lead trial counsel for our side, had the “pleasure” of hearing the jury award $12 million against my client. Ray, for reasons of his own, elected not to be there when the verdict was read. Later that night my dejected team and I retired to the Italian Village (my favorite Chicago Restaurant) to lick our wounds and drown our sorrows. Eventually the waitress came by and said that “Mr. Niro had seen us come in and wanted to buy us dinner.” After first thinking “that won’t be necessary,” I quickly decided that was, in fact, a very nice gesture on Ray’s part and that we would indeed take him up on it. At the end of the night, I went down to find Ray, thank him for the dinner and congratulate him on his victory. He enthusiastically shook my hand, slapped me on the back, confided he actually feared he had lost the case, and said we did a great job ourselves. At no point did he gloat, make snide comments or act anything other than a gentleman and gracious winner. A class act all the way around.
In losing that trial I got a great education. Ray was easily the best trial lawyer I have personally seen. My experience with that trial and observation of Ray’s practice induced me to begin a contingent-fee practice of my own. When I decided to take the plunge I called Ray to seek his guidance and counsel. Ray was gracious enough to meet with me in his Chicago office where he gave me valuable advice and guidance. I mentioned that I did not intend to compete with him and asked that, if they had otherwise good cases that might be too small to be of interest to him, he send them my way. He said he would, and he did — many times.
Over the subsequent years Ray and I stayed in touch and he was always ready and willing to speak and offer advice. Ray was the champion of the underdog and was more than willing to stand up to those in power. He also had the legal chops to make things happen in the courtroom. How many young lawyers start with the same lofty intentions before being seduced by the money, power and creature comforts of big law corporate practice. Ray was the real thing and again, losing to him in court was the best thing that ever happened in my legal career.
Bashing Ray Niro has been a popular pastime among lawyers for quite a while. I suspect much of it comes from jealousy and envy. But that is testimony to his greatness. He was good — in fact, the best there ever was.