Turning 100:
Alumni Stories from Business, Music & Law

Fall 2012
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(left to right): Gwen Moore and Frank Sommario

Edited interviews by Pete Kelly

Tenacity, Good Advice from Mentors Created Success for
Law Alumni

Earl S. Wylder
BUS ’53, LAW ’58
Retired; Attorney,The Walter L. Gerash Law Firm

Legendary DePaul Coach Ray Meyer gave Earl Wylder a basketball scholarship after a tryout scrimmage. Though he started only one game, Wylder always hustled while absorbing his mentor’s lessons about the game and about life.

“Ray taught me to master the fundamentals, to be well-prepared and to do my best,” he recalls. “Before starting law school, I approached Coach about the possibility of being an assistant coach. He asked, ‘Do you want to be a coach, or do you want to be a lawyer?’”

Wylder chose the court of law over the basketball court. The Denver lawyer’s 50-plus-year career has included clerkships with two federal judges and dozens of significant cases—including the successful defense of a falsely accused murder suspect and a landmark trial ethics case that went to the Colorado Supreme Court.

“The fundamentals that I learned in law school—and from Ray Meyer—have helped me every day of my personal and professional life.”

Frank Clark
BUS ’72, LAW ’76, LLD ’04
Retired; Former CEO, ComEd

Frank Clark made a successful career out of solving complex problems, a critical skill that contributed to his rise from Commonwealth Edison mailroom clerk to the company’s CEO and chairman.

Clark, who retired after 46 years there, recalls the significant impact of “a cadre of excellent professors”—especially John Mortimer—in the law school.

“The most lasting benefit of my law school education was learning how to approach case study,” says Clark. “We were taught how to look at a problem and to determine potential solutions. Never accept the obvious answer. Always dig deeper. That has served me well for my entire career.”

The service-minded alumnus, a continuing member of DePaul’s Board of Trustees, says the university’s focus on urban populations and first-generation college students provided him a chance to achieve his potential. Providing similar opportunities for others remains a hallmark of his personal and professional life.

Robert Clifford
BUS ’73, LAW ’76
Principal, Clifford Law Offices

Robert Clifford’s ascent from the unpaved streets of Chicago’s Southeast Side to the ranks of top U.S. aviation attorneys was not always smooth, but he took off at the right time.

Limited resources kept him home for college and law school, and he worked at a lumber and hardware business to help fund his education. Law clerk positions would follow, with legal experiences complementing his course work.

Professional contacts also proved provident—particularly a guest lecture by renowned attorney Phil Corboy. “I asked my professor what it would take to work for a guy like that,” Clifford recalls. “My professor said, ‘He went to Loyola and only hires Loyola grads.’”

Undeterred, he found the firm’s address and walked over to Corboy’s office to pose his question. “Phil said, ‘It took courage for you to come down here,’” Clifford recalls. “‘I like that, and if your dean likes you, I may be able to find you some work here.’” He started clerking the next week and stayed on as an attorney for eight years.

Clifford’s initiation to aviation cases arrived with the 1979 DC-10 crash near O’Hare Airport, and the now-senior partner at Clifford Law Offices has represented victims in every major commercial airline disaster since then—including the 9/11 attacks.

Patricia Mendoza
LAS ’82, LAW ’84
Associate Judge, Circuit Court of Cook County

Patricia Mendoza’s first semester of law school was so difficult that she planned to drop out before final exams. Withdrawal forms in hand, she approached Professor Rodney Blackman.

But instead of signing, he asked why she was quitting. “Because I’m going to fail,” she recalls saying. “He said, ‘You don’t know that. Finish the term, take the exams and then come back [to withdraw] if you’re not successful.”

Mendoza took that advice and went on to earn her J.D.—as well as a fellowship in legal services. Now in her eighth year as associate judge in Cook County’s juvenile circuit court, her legal career also has included work as the bureau chief of the Attorney General’s civil rights division and regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund.

“I might not have survived law school without the support system of professors, advisors, colleagues, the Latino Law Student Organization and alumni who helped pull me up.”

Aurora Abella-Austriaco
BUS ’87, LAW ’90
Of Counsel, Clark, Hill, PLC

During her College of Law tenure, Aurora Abella-Austriaco leaned toward practicing criminal law. However, she graduated into a miserable hiring market and gratefully signed on with a real estate litigator.

“I learned about the specialty, as well as a lot about credibility among peers and strong ethics, and I fell in love with it.”

The experience also reinforced lessons from school: work hard, don’t cut corners. “Law school was hard,” says Austriaco, who emigrated from the Philippines at 18. “But I decided that I was going to make it, especially as a woman and a minority.”

Now an authority in her field, she concentrates on real estate litigation and mortgage issues—including a great deal of mortgage foreclosure defense.

As president of the Chicago Bar Association, Austriaco’s agenda includes providing support to unemployed attorneys considering solo practices, renewing the profession’s commitment to diversity and representing area victims of human trafficking.

Frank Sommario
BUS ’97, LAW ’00
Attorney, Romanucci & Blandin

The son of a Chicago-area police officer, Frank Sommario learned about the law at an early age and always aspired to a career in the legal field.

A strong work ethic—instilled by both parents—proved critical for the driven young man, who worked throughout his DePaul undergrad and law school tenure. From a suburban public works job to clerking for the Illinois Attorney General’s office, the commuter student kept his goal in mind.

“I used every minute of every day: on the train, on the job when I could, just read, read, read,” Sommario recalls. “It helped that DePaul granted credits for my professional work, which gave me hands-on training in addition to work experiences shared by professors and colleagues.”

Sommario, who specializes in Illinois worker’s compensation cases at Romanucci & Blandin, says winning cases is rewarding but providing top-notch representation for clients creates its own satisfaction.

He was named one of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin’s 2012 Top 40 Under Forty attorneys. “That means the most to me because candidates are nominated and voted upon by their peers. That says everything.”

Guinevere Moore
LAS ’03, LAW ’08
Associate, Holland & Knight

The Latin phrase pro bono translates as for good. In the practice of law, it connotes providing free legal services to needy individuals, nonprofit groups or humanitarian or civic causes.

In Guinevere (Gwen) Moore’s experience, that definition hardly suffices for a service that can help impoverished individuals, provide hands-on experience for young attorneys and law students, fulfill corporate public service commitments, and sometimes translate into billable hours.

The associate at Chicago’s Holland & Knight concentrates on resolving tax controversies, and she has represented clients and negotiated resolutions in courts and before the Internal Revenue Service—including significant pro bono work.

“People can feel intimidated by the IRS and the courts, and they need support and representation,” says Moore, who helped launch a clinic to serve low-income individuals summoned to tax court.

She sees a connection between her practice and her DePaul education. “I was very fortunate to participate in the death penalty clinic with Professor Andrea Lyon,” she says. “I gained a lot of insight, and writing motions and doing extensive document research gave me practical experience that better prepared me for my career.”

For centennial events and information, visit alumni.depaul.edu/anniversaries.