Summer Job Diaries: Burnishing Tort Knowledge Handling Wildfire Litigation

Refugio Ortega-Carrillo

Rising second-year day student Refugio Ortega-Carrillo '22 is spending his summer working on mass tort claims related to California wildfires at iconic plaintiffs' firm McNicholas & McNicholas LLP. Several LLS alumni lead the firm, including Matthew S. McNicholas, who regularly guest lectures on campus.

How did you land your summer job?

I landed this summer position with a little luck, patience and perseverance. I spent a significant amount of time during the spring semester applying to jobs since I was not in a position to work unpaid for the summer. However, with COVID, it became increasingly difficult to find job postings. I worried that I would have to settle for a job outside the legal field, so I contacted my Career Development Office counselor to ask if this would be okay. She reassured me that it would be fine as long as I tried to gain some legal experience and told me to get creative. Through this I emailed my immigration law professor and asked to be his research assistant, and that same week I received an interview and offer from the Wild Fire Demand Team at McNicholas & McNicholas after applying in Symplicity. I’m helping the firm with its mass tort action lawsuits filed on behalf of the victims of recent wild fires.

What is the most interesting part of your job?

The most interesting part of my job with McNicholas has been substantiating claims with a wide variety of experts, declarations, invoices and tax documents to calculate future loss. Making sure that clients are fairly compensated for everything they lost is always a priority, so finding ways to substantiate these losses is just as important. It took a while to get the hang of it, but after a couple of demand packages I became more comfortable with my ability to find evidence that proved losses. It was extremely rewarding when I submitted my first multimillion-dollar demand, especially because I had established a great relationship with the client.

What has been your most challenging assignment thus far?

The most challenging assignment thus far was drafting a demand package for a client who owned multiple properties, with multiple structures on each property. Most of my other clients owned a single-family home, and depending on other losses, obtaining the documents for these claims was difficult because clients are still living their regular lives and are often busy. Obtaining the rebuild estimates, personal property losses and vegetation loss for multiple properties and structures required an incredible amount of time compared to my typical assignments.

What new legal skill have you acquired during your summer job?

A new legal skill that I acquired during my time with the Wild Fire Demand Team has been calculating non-economic damages with the help of casel aw. I used cases to justify annoyance and discomfort damages, while referencing the judgments in similar wild fire cases to set a reasonable expectation of damages. Then I used our client’s facts to analogize and ultimately justify why they deserve similar damages.

What bit of legal knowledge have you been able to display?

I was able to recognize one of the two main theories of liability, which was negligence – and I was able to break down the elements and understand why this theory was appropriate for this specific case.

How has Loyola Law School helped you map your career path?

Well quite literally, I would not have found this position without the help of my career counselor or Symplicity. The firm is owned and run by several LLS alumni, and I am grateful for the relationships that Loyola maintains with its graduates. This position has provided me with invaluable experience that I know will inform and assist me in my future legal work.