Jim Duffy is unquestionably one of the most talented and successful trial attorneys - and one of the most potent and ferocious personalities in the law - of his generation. Quick-thinking, to-the-point, and unsparingly competitive - even in a game of Scrabble against his children - Duffy has in many respects set the bar of performance for the entire New York plaintiffs' bar in the last three and a half decades. His courtroom victories - particularly in medical malpractice cases - have reached near-legendary proportions, a record that rival attorneys confirm with a mix of awe and respect. He has earned more than 30 verdicts of $1 million or more and negotiated over 350 settlements exceeding that amount; nine years ago he won an $80 million verdict in a Riverhead courtroom, hardly the province of sympathetic juries. Indeed, Duffy has built his reputation as a dogged warrior of the plaintiff's bar in an age of increasing cynicism among jurors and powerful political and private interests fighting him across the table.
Growing up in Oceanside, he worked in the neighborhood boatyard, "I was the first member of my family to go to college"; while in law school at night ("A friend urged me to go - I never saw him again.") he worked days for the telephone company. His sharp instincts for social justice had primed him for labor law, but "your father had to be the president of the union or the company" to land a job in it. He first joined Liberty Mutual defending claims - "I liked the whole trial experience - but something was missing." Within two years he teamed up with renowned plaintiff's attorney Charles Kramer, a "pioneer" in medical malpractice.
For over 35 years, most of them as a partner in Kramer's firm, Duffy built his reputation in the courtrooms of New York and Long Island. Twelve years ago he created with his son Michael his current firm in RXR Plaza in Uniondale. In the courtroom, rivals say, Duffy is well prepared, works from few notes, and is capable of spewing a powerful plume of Irish temper when necessary. To Duffy, there's no special alchemy to his success: "We work hard - and we do a clean job with our cases." Still, his competitiveness is legendary: "My wife used to get mad at me - I wouldn't let the kids win in board games."
In keeping with his earn-everything-you-get outlook, he required his five children to attend nearby colleges - and be responsible for half the tuition. "Going away to college is arrested adolescence - I wasn't covering any beer tabs." Getting an education, he says, is "learning how to work." As for the law, Duffy is a tireless worker himself - "this is my hobby." He'll play nine holes of golf "at the crack of dawn" on weekends and he still heads back to the boatyard (he has two boats now), but his trial work - personal- injury and medical malpractice - is his life's focus. "I've got longevity genes - hopefully I'll be doing this 'til I'm 101." Duffy & Duffy recently nearly doubled its floor space in the RXR Plaza. Now with 15 grandchildren, Duffy says he's something of a "baby hog - I can't put 'em down." He lives with his wife of more than 50 years on Suffolk County's North Fork.