Mr. Richard A. DiLiberto, Jr., Esq.
Former Delaware Journal of Corporate Law Staff Member, Richard A. DiLiberto, Jr., Esq. gives candid insight into what he learned as a law student and a practitioner that shaped him into the attorney he is today.
(1) What was your position on the Journal?
(2) Where did you earn your undergraduate degree and what was your area of study?
B.S. in Education (cum laude) with area of concentration in Psychology, 1982, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania
(3) Where are you currently employed?
Partner, Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP, Wilmington, Delaware
(4) In what area of law do you practice?
Plaintiff’s Personal Injury
(5) What do you wish you had known about law school while you were a law student?
Law school is primarily intended to help the student to develop an analytical thought process, and problem solving skills. Learn to think like a lawyer. It is not intended to educate the student on all aspects of law. The law is immense and overwhelming, constantly changing, and the lawyer will be re-educated every day of his/her career. That’s why they call it a “practice.” Do not expect to be an expert on every area of law. Choose one or two areas which you enjoy, and at which you seem to excel, upon which to focus and specialize. The law is simply the set of rules we must follow to live in a civilized society. At its truest level, the law is not intended to be complex and mysterious. It is intended to be practical, simple and equitable. It is the lawyer’s job to interpret and explain the law to her/his client to assist in everyday problem solving.
(6) Aside from excelling academically and joining the Journal, what are some ways that students can stand out to secure job offers?
Take courses and participate in activities which stress good, quality writing, and public speaking. Show initiative and ambition by stepping outside your comfort zone. Be visible in the community and Bar-related organizations. When I was a student, Dean Anthony Santoro asked me to participate as the law school’s student advocate in the Delaware branch of the American Inns of Court, and prepare a mock trial with local lawyers and judges at the New Castle County courthouse. I initially resisted, because I was already overwhelmed with my legal studies, law review, an internship, and family responsibilities. Dean Santoro said, “Rick, you should do it. You never know who’s watching.” I did the hard work to prepare, and presented a mock trial with some very experienced members of the Delaware Bar, with many lawyers and judges in the audience. A year later, I graduated Delaware Law School and started a judicial clerkship in Delaware Superior Court. During my judicial clerkship, I started applying for attorney positions with Delaware firms. I went through two rounds of interviews with Young Conaway, and the partners wanted me to come back for a third interview, with Mr. Bruce Stargatt, a name partner, founder of the firm, and a giant in the Bar. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous as I entered his dark mahogany wood paneled office and was directed to sit in a low chair in front of his tall and seemingly massive desk as he inquisitively peered over his half-moon reading glasses at 25-year-old me. I could barely make out his face through the dim green glass desk lamp’s low-wattage illumination, and a thick shroud of cigar smoke (Lawyers were allowed to smoke in the office in those days). “What in the world will he ask me?” I wondered. Bruce continued to stare at me, silently and tilted his head slightly. Then a slight avuncular smile came over his face. His first words came clearly though the smoke. “Didn’t you do a mock trial at the courthouse for the Inns of Court a few years ago?” he asked. “Yes, I did, sir!” I responded confidently. “I was in the audience,” Bruce continued. “You did a fine job. I think you are going to be a good lawyer.” Well, I got the job offer, eventually became Bruce’s friend, trusted colleague and law partner, and have been at the firm 31 years. Had I not done the hard work to go “above and beyond” and prepare the mock trial, it would never have happened. And, Dean Santoro’s words still ring true, “You never know who’s watching!”
(7) What are some lessons you’ve learned during your professional career that will be valuable to current Journal members and recent graduates?
Master the Rules of Civil or Criminal Procedure, Evidence and Professional Responsibility, and you will be ahead of 90% of your colleagues. Treat your clients and colleagues as you would want to be treated. You gradually gain a reputation with the court with years of credibility and candor, but can lose it in a moment by doing something stupid. There is no such answer as “I don’t know” to a question from a partner, client or judge. The better answer is, “I will research it and provide you with the law.” When you are winning an oral argument, sit down. Waive rebuttal if the court suggests it. It means you are winning, and you don’t want to inadvertently change the judge’s mind. Do not allow clients to lead you into giving advice you know is wrong, just because they want to take the easy way out. My response is usually: “I can tell you the law, or I can tell you what you want to hear. I think it is best that I tell you the law.”
(8) What experience have you gained since graduating from Widener University Delaware Law School?
Judicial Law Clerk, Hon. Vincent A. Bifferato, Superior Court of Delaware, 1986-1987; Attorney at Law, Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP, 1987-present (partner 1995-present); Member, Delaware House of Representatives, 1992-2002
(9) What are your future career goals?
I want to continue to give everyday people the opportunity to get justice. In a plaintiffs’ personal injury practice, I usually represent “David” against Goliath. My clients are everyday people whose family member have been injured or killed by someone else’s negligence. The defendants have abundant resources and highly skilled lawyers from the nation’s largest, wealthiest and most powerful insurance companies. My clients have only me. I like the challenge. I will continue to follow the message in Isaiah 1:17 NIV: “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
(10) What are some of your other interests outside of the law?
I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, serving on my high school alma mater’s board of directors, enjoying the Delaware beaches, fishing, bicycling, following the Phillies, and Eagles, serving as chairman of the Delaware Commission on Italian Heritage and Culture, cooking (usually, I am the family chef on weekends), and co-chairing my firm’s Government Relations committee.