His website tells of an illustrious legal career spanning decades. Pictured next to an antique race car, Terry O’Reilly boasts that he is “one of the most distinguished and successful trial lawyers” in the entire United States. O'Reilly lists many awards he claims to have received and explains that “I have the largest number of seven and eight figure verdicts in Northern California.” He speaks of one aviation case he settled for more than $160 million. Scattered through the website are other photos showing him surrounded by the trappings of his success.
A prospective client couldn't help but be impressed.
But it now looks as though O'Reilly's show is mostly smoke and mirrors. Yesterday the Boalt Law School graduate filed personal bankruptcy, with unpaid debts approaching $10 million.
O’Reilly brings with him into bankruptcy the O’Reilly Law firm itself. O'Reilly is legally permitted to continue practicing law even though he is bankrupt. But all that is left of his firm is a small desk in a San Mateo, California office building. The office is staffed by a disbarred lawyer, Pamela Stevens. Stevens, according to State bar records, bilked her injured clients out of millions of dollars of settlement money and is considered a danger to the public. Not someone who an accident victim would want working on his or her case.
Certain types of attorneys can serve clients perfectly well even if they are themselves insolvent. But plaintiffs lawyers working on contingency need to finance their clients' cases. They must advance on their clients' behalf hundreds of thousand of dollars for experts and court costs. With no money, it’s unclear how O’Reilly will be able to adequately represent the clients he seeks to attract.
How was O'Reilly able to appear to be so successful for so long? Last week a California court of appeal ruled that over the years O’Reilly was able to buy flashy stuff by improperly siphoning money from his previous law firm. As a result, he ended up driving that law firm, O'Reilly & Collins, into bankruptcy in 2012:
O’Reilly, “in a concerted effort to wring from the firm every last dollar . . wrote firm checks to others to: build and furnish for him and his wife a luxury ranch in Idaho; buy expensive vintage cars here and abroad in furtherance of his racing hobby; buy fine wine, entertainment systems, and clothes; pay taxes and insurance on his home in San Francisco; fly around on private jets, take ski vacations and travel to rugby matches; pay for vacations and shopping sprees for his current spouse; and fund his personal trust and retirement accounts. . . “
In short, O’Reilly was buying things with other people’s money. And he apparently had no way of paying those people back. Yesterday, it all caught up with him.
Having worked with O'Reilly years ago, it's sad to see.