Chicago legal legend Philip H. Corboy, whose influence was felt far beyond his hometown for more than six decades, passed away June 12 at age 87. The legacy of the renowned personal injury attorney at Corboy & Demetrio ranges from Chicago’s ban on smoking in elevators — a law drafted by Corboy early in his career — to the tamper-resistant packaging adopted by the drug industry after Corboy represented the families of Tylenol poisoning victims.
Business litigator Dann K. Webb at Winston & Strawn spoke to us about the passing of his longtime friend.
“Philip Corboy was the ‘best of the best,'” he said. “He was not only a great trial lawyer, he was a superb gentleman. He is a legendary figure in the legal community, and he will be deeply missed.”
Another acquaintance of many years, Joseph A. Power Jr. with Power Rogers & Smith, also shared kind words with us about his friend: “Phil Corboy was not only a superb trial lawyer but a most generous human being. The great trial lawyers he mentored as well as the Loyola School of Law Building which bears his name will be an important part of his legacy and a lasting tribute to his generosity. He will be missed.”
Personal injury attorney Thomas Demetrio was Corboy’s legal partner at Corboy & Demetrio. He was hired by Corboy straight from law school in 1973. “His accomplishments in the courtroom pale in comparison to his contributions to his fellow man. His life was long and filled with much love, happiness and success — at all levels,” Demetrio said in a statement.
In an article on Demetrio that ran in the 2009 issue of Illinois Super Lawyers, Corboy explained how the partnership began. “We just clicked. It was that simple. He was likeable. If I don’t like lawyers, I don’t expect juries to like them. People who try cases have to be liked, and I liked him immediately.”
For Demetrio, working alongside Corboy was a treasured opportunity. “I’ve taken the time to realize what an experience it was to practice law with Corboy,” he noted in the article. “My admiration for Phil has kept me here.”
Known for championing those in need, Corboy lobbied heavily against caps on personal injury awards. His name was often mentioned as a valued mentor by colleagues interviewed over the years in Super Lawyers magazines.
In an article in last year’s Illinois Super Lawyers, personal injury attorney Timothy Cavanagh with Cavanagh Law Group reminisced about his high school days, when he would go to the courthouse to watch the masters in action.
“I loved to go downtown and watch some of the big personal injury lawyers in town — people like Phil Corboy and Tom Demetrio — try cases,” Cavanagh said. “This is clearly one of the things that made me want to be a trial lawyer.” Cavanagh ended up working at Corboy & Demetrio until 1997, when he opened his own practice. He saw Corboy’s firm as a place where “representing the little guy” was honored.
And in the 2012 issue of Illinois Super Lawyers, personal injury lawyer Bruce Pfaff, with Pfaff & Gill, said the work ethic he learned while working for Corboy has stayed with him through the years. Pfaff said attorneys often worked on 100 cases a year at Corboy’s firm, and Corboy insisted that every desk be cleared at the end of the day. To this day, Pfaff’s desk is spotless.
Said Demetrio of Corboy, “While he’ll be missed greatly, his spirit and legacy will live on for generations.”