How Terry O’Reilly Found His Way to Law Through Rugby

Sports, says O'Reilly, have taught him to never give up

Published in 2009 Northern California Super Lawyers magazine

By Nyssa Gesch on July 13, 2009


After graduating from Loyola University with honors and a dual major in history and communication arts, Terry O’Reilly didn’t know what to do—but he did know that UC Berkeley had the best rugby team in the country. “I went to one of the best law schools in the country, Boalt. The reason I went to Boalt was because I wanted to play rugby for Cal,” says O’Reilly, who grew up in England playing the sport before moving to California with his parents at age 16.

But how did that lead to law?

“Serendipity,” he says.

O’Reilly’s interest in law was piqued after meeting San Francisco trial lawyer Bruce Walkup. A founding partner of San Mateo’s O’Reilly || Collins, O’Reilly has numerous multimillion-dollar verdicts, and settled four major airline disaster cases—for over $300 million—this past year alone.

Though O’Reilly no longer plays rugby, he keeps tabs on the sport as a trustee of the U.S. Rugby Football Foundation. He also participates in events like Mexico’s La Carrera Panamericana—his favorite classic car race—as part of Two Boars Racing, a two-man team with his friend Pat McDowell.

“Most sports and the practice of law share one key element and that is that you never give up. And that’s useful in trial work because a lot of people who claim to be trial lawyers are really afraid to go to trial,” O’Reilly says. “You don’t surrender. You keep moving. No matter what the score is, you keep running the ball. Whether the engine broke down and you’re on the side of the road to fix it, you want to get back into the race. You just don’t give up.”

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