Attorney Benedict Morelli’s uncanny ability to connect with jurors and deliver masterful summations is no doubt a large part of what makes him a formidable opponent in the courtroom. But know this: Mr. Morelli is not just for show. Behind every opening and closing statement and everything in between are hours upon hours of work, meticulous preparation and a thorough understanding of his client and the case. When you try a case in the courtroom, you’re the choreographer, director and producer, says Mr. Morelli. You’ve got to know every detail.
His level of preparedness certainly pays off. The Brooklyn-born Mr. Morelli is well known for taking corporate Goliaths to court in employment discrimination, medical malpractice and personal-injury cases and winning. But not all of Mr. Morelli’s most high-profile cases end up in front of a jury. Late last year, he represented former Fox television producer Andrea Mackris against network pundit Bill O’Reilly in a widely publicized sexual harassment case that was settled in less than a month. Not every case should go to trial, Mr. Morelli says. You have to be cognizant about what’s best for the client.
Even so, the straight-talking Mr. Morelli takes on each client with the idea of going to trial in mind. We never prepare to settle, he says. I try to get my clients on the wavelength that we’re going to do whatever we have to do to win.
Mr. Morelli, who is president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association the second-largest such organization in the country started his namesake firm seven years ago after more than two decades as a senior partner with another Manhattan practice. Today, Benedict P. Morelli & Associates counts some 16 sharp-minded lawyers among its ranks and is expanding its roster with more lawyers and paralegals.
We are a boutique firm and we’re going to stay that way, but we’re not afraid to take on the really big cases, he says. We are trying to level the playing field, and we’re known for taking the cases that are high-profile, difficult and complex. The firm, for example, currently represents more than 700 plaintiffs against pharmaceutical company Merck, the maker of the arthritis drug Vioxx, which has been linked to heart attack, stroke and other medical problems.
Mr. Morelli credits his wife Arlene, who works in the office next door to his, with helping to keep him down to earth and lending a familial air to his Midtown office. She is often his toughest critic when it comes to his openings and closings, frequently helping him go through dozens of revisions until a particular statement packs the appropriate punch. I can spend days, weeks even, preparing a closing argument, says the ever-effusive Mr. Morelli.
Preparation means nothing, of course, if the delivery is off, if the connection to the jury isn’t there. But that’s not something that Mr. Morelli is concerned about. I can speak to them because I am them, he says. It’s how I gain the advantage.