Forthright, diligent and competitive, Slade McLaughlin is one of Pennsylvania's premier trial lawyers, who has built one of the region's most successful personal-injury and negligence practices. Now in his mid 50s, McLaughlin - with his partner, Paul Lauricella -- is finally earning wider recognition - some might say overdue recognition. Both were top trial lawyers at the 30-lawyer Beasley Firm for almost two decades; they launched McLaughlin & Lauricella in 2011. Thanks in part to a cascade of cases - including sexual abuse claims stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal - the new firm today is "plenty busy," as McLaughlin says, with cases ranging from classic accident claims to medical malpractice suits to institutional claims related to sex offenses. All of his work today - involving clients for whom the stakes are always high; their futures depending on positive outcomes - is a kind of quiet, yet determined, crusade for McLaughlin, a one-time altar boy who grew up in nearby Cherry Hill, N.J. In that respect he represents the abiding virtue of plaintiffs' trial law, a modern legal field routinely maligned by powerful interests, yet ever just and morally necessary in any society that believes in fairness and the rule of law. "I've always been proud of being a trial lawyer," says McLaughlin. "We come into work every day with a chance to make a better world." At Cherry Hill East High School the young and popular McLaughlin was a competitor out of the blocks: He ran a 4:25 mile. He and his family "never missed Mass on Sundays," and he took an interest in all people. "It didn't matter if they were CEOs or homeless people, I enjoyed talking to everyone." At Ursinus College he contemplated medicine ("my uncle was a physician - he talked me out of becoming a doctor") and later majored in political science, heading straight to law school. He spent his first decade with a 60-lawyer malpractice defense firm, representing insurance firms, doctors, and hospitals. It was "an excellent education - you learned where the bodies were buried, if you will, how experts were utilized, and even how large organizations thought." Naturally that all prepared him well for representing plaintiffs - when he was recruited by James Beasley, Sr., in the early 90s, McLaughlin was already a talented courtroom lawyer. With the senior Beasley and a peer group that included his old law school classmate Lauricella, McLaughlin became a force: "I had great mentors: Jim Beasley was a true legend. He shared his knowledge, and he opened my eyes to the best and most effective ways to practice law." When the senior Beasley passed away in 2004, the firm, somewhat predictably, changed direction, and some of the firm's lawyers and partners began looking elsewhere to practice law. Lauricella and McLaughlin, with plenty of cases keeping them busy (a 2007 verdict remains the largest punitive-damage award in a medical malpractice case in state history), held out until 2011, when they finally launched their own firm.
In recent years of course the explosion in sexual abuse cases, sometimes linked to Catholic Dioceses and priests, deeply troubled McLaughlin, a lifelong Catholic. "I mean, the money put in the plate every Sunday was being used to defend some bad people. I had a real problem with it." Today he and his partner represent victims of such notorious abuse, involving offenses "too horrendous to make up." Their expertise in high-profile cases appears to be only growing: They've taken a controversial hazing case at a small Pennsylvania college, among others. "Our phone is always ringing," says McLaughlin, but of 40 or 50 new inquiries a week the firm may take only a handful. "We put our heart and soul into every case. We have to believe in our clients - and our clients in us." For all their success, McLaughlin and Lauricella remain fairly grounded, focused on family. In the fall, both of McLaughlin's sons will be attending Harvard; both are national champion, highly competitive squash players. McLaughlin met his wife Caroline, a former model, while in law school. "People may joke about having a better half - for me there's no question about it." McLaughlin, who works six and often seven days a week, feels blessed serving his many clients but "I don't have much time for my friends anymore. That's a trade-off I've had to live with."