Some lawyers become personal injury attorneys through happenstance or because they believe doing so will provide them with a stable career.
For Thomas J. Murphy, practicing the law is personal.
When Tom was a law student, his sister was hit by a vehicle while riding her bicycle. She spent 5 days in a coma and never fully recovered. At the time, she was less than 2 months away from becoming a nurse, a dream that had carried her through 4 intense years of nursing school.
To make matters worse, Tom’s sister received minimal compensation for her injuries. It was in the aftermath of her accident that Tom decided he wanted to spend his life fighting for accident victims like his sister.
Even before his sister’s accident, Tom was attuned to the injustices of the world.
He grew up in the 1960s with little money and 5 siblings. From his perspective, attorneys were the most effective in challenging unjust power structures in society. Tom decided to follow suit and enroll in law school.
“I love to help those in need,” Tom told Enjuris. “I believe that is what Jesus would have us do.”
For a lot of lawyers, there comes a point—usually brought on by the stress associated with practicing law—when they reconsider their career choices. But, Tom isn’t like most lawyers.
When asked whether he ever considered giving up the law for some other career, Tom responded with an emphatic: no.
“I love representing clients, and I know they need my help. We fight against billion-dollar insurance companies for life-giving items and compensation. Recently, I sued a workers’ compensation insurance company to obtain a wheelchair for a newly paralyzed 32-year-old man. There is no quitting that—there is no giving up—there is nothing better than winning that kind of fight.”
Ten years into his law career, Tom observed that the state of Montana was denying equal protection to people seeking compensation for occupational diseases, as well as to elderly claimants who had suffered work injuries. He spent the next 10 years challenging those unconstitutional statutes.
In 2 landmark cases before the Montana Supreme Court, Tom’s law firm overturned 50 years of bad law. For his efforts, Tom was awarded the Appellate Advocacy Award from the Montana Trial Lawyers Association.
Shortly after, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that Tom couldn't receive attorneys fees for his work. In response, the lawyers from his town presented him with the Don Quixote Award—a good-natured award given to the “craziest” lawyer in the city.
Though he may not have gotten paid, Tom doesn’t regret the work or think that he was “crazy” to do it. His goal was to help people and his efforts resulted in legal precedent that has benefited thousands of injured workers in Montana.
Tom has worked on a number of other notable cases and received many other distinctions, including being the only lawyer in Montana to be inducted as a fellow in The College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers.
But he doesn’t like to focus on his accolades or think in terms of “most notable cases.” Instead, Tom insists that whatever case he’s working on at any given time is his most important case.
Life outside the law
Tom’s fast-paced career running a top-rated workers’ compensation and personal injury law firm in Great Falls, Montana can be hectic at times, and things don’t slow down much when he gets home. As a proud husband of 37 years with 3 boys, 1 beautiful granddaughter and a dog, he spends a lot of his free time serving his family.
“I love to go hiking with my wife and dog. They are very good at hiking, but I am not. Nevertheless, I love being out there struggling along about 100 yards behind them.”
Tom also likes to golf and go fishing in the beautiful rivers, streams, and lakes throughout Big Sky Country. “These places are pristine, quiet, beautiful, and powerful,” he said.
If you’ve been injured in an accident and are looking for an attorney, Tom encourages you to keep a few questions in mind.
“Why does this attorney care? How long has this attorney been doing this kind of work? Is this the only type of work this attorney does? Is this attorney active in the state and national bars? Has this attorney been recognized by peers as an excellent practitioner?”
Finding the right attorney is important because being a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit isn’t easy.
“In America, we have an adversarial system of justice. Your adversary will be the insurance company, which possesses immense power and money. Insurance companies act through innumerable experts and attorneys. You will be in a fight, and you will need someone on your side.”
Of course, Tom is happy to fight for you. The best part of his job is giving a client a check that will put them back on track for life. Though getting there is a challenge, it’s one he takes personally.