As a plaintiff-side litigator, Jack Connelly ‘81 roots for the underdog, aiming to vindicate miscarriages of justice and hold government agencies accountable. His work has repeatedly landed him in The Best Lawyers in America for representing plaintiffs in cases ranging from wrongful death to sexual abuse; last year he was even ranked as the 2015 Personal Injury Litigation Lawyer of the Year in Seattle.
Aside from his recent honor, Connelly has also received Trial Lawyer of the Year awards from both the American Board of Trial Advocates and Washington Association for Justice. But as with most specialties, his path to personal injury litigation was a circuitous one.
Shortly after graduating from UC Hastings, Connelly did insurance defense work for a large firm in Tacoma and Seattle, until he recognized his true calling as a trial attorney. “I much preferred representing real people who had horrible things happen in their lives and who we could help achieve justice,” Connelly said. He then established a plaintiff’s practice at the firm, which he worked at for the next 25 years, and even served a stint as the firm’s chair of the board of directors. Connelly later presided over the Washington State Association for Justice, where he defended the campaign against initiative 330—a reform that would have imposed limitations and caps on medical malpractice cases in Washington. In 2006, he finally spun off into his own practice, Connelly Law Offices, which was founded on the values of equal access, truth, justice and accountability.
Although Connelly contends that he and the seven other attorneys at his firm try not to have a primary focus, they solely specialize in plaintiff’s litigation and take on a variety of cases. His notable wins include Smith v. OK Boys Ranch — in which he secured over $70 million in recoveries for boys who were the victims of sexual abuse at a group home. His firm also recently represented two men who spent 17 years in prison on a wrongful conviction. The plaintiffs were exonerated and recovered millions of dollars in settlement and stipulated judgment.
Connelly said that he was always drawn to “serving as a voice for people who need a voice” because of his desire to inspire change. “For most of the people who contact us, it’s not about the money; it’s about making sure that what happened to them doesn’t happen to other people.” He added that his education at UC Hastings helped prepare him for the demands of the courtroom.
For Connelly, The 2015 Best Lawyer Award is the cherry on top of his already successful law career. “It’s a nice honor to receive, and it represents the hard work that our firm has taken on for these cases.”
But he seeks to remind students that accolades shouldn’t be the ultimate goal for a lawyer. He added that students would have a fruitful career as long as they work hard to represent clients. “I always tell people, don’t work for money — work for justice.”