The Experts of Burch & Cracchiolo: On Top of Their Game

Written by Susan Cushing
Photography by Andrew Paul

One of Arizona’s premier law firms, Burch & Cracchiolo has been an essential part of the Phoenix landscape for nearly 50 years. Throughout those decades, beyond providing exemplary legal services for their clients, the people of Burch & Cracchiolo have been intrinsically immersed in their community, dedicating time and money to local organizations and charities. Burch & Cracchiolo often spearhead these programs even initiating several that are unique to their firm such as the Star Teacher Program.

As tightly woven into the fabric of our local society as they are, the attorneys of Burch & Cracchiolo are equally committed to a philosophy of on-going education and ever-expanding knowledge in their respective fields. Not surprising, they are one of the most celebrated and award-winning firms not only in Arizona but nationally. Their lawyers are among the most highly regarded and recognized leaders in virtually every area of the law.

A member of Primerus, an international alliance of 170 law firms from 120 cities around the world, Burch & Cracchiolo also boasts an impressive number of lawyers who are board certified by the State Bar of Arizona. It seems apropos that this stellar group should grace the cover of this special issue honoring board certified lawyers. We had the opportunity to meet with three distinguished members of the Burch & Cracchiolo team, Wendi Sorensen, Clark Derrick and Brennan Ray.

Wendi Sorensen

One of the things that we’re working on is trying to assure that the standards for certification are appropriate to the realities of practice...

A certified specialist in personal injury and wrongful death law, Sorensen is a shareholder at Burch & Cracchiolo with a busy mediation and arbitration practice. With more than 35 years of litigation experience in both state and federal court, her practice focuses both on providing mediation and arbitration services and handling aggravated liability and damages matters that include federal motor carrier (trucking accident) cases, vehicular products liability matters, construction site injury and death matters as well as premise liability cases.

For Sorensen, the decision to become certified by the state seemed like a natural progression in her already prolific career.

“In the late 1990s, I was part of a very talented group of attorneys trying — and winning — cases on a regular basis. There was a two-year period in which I tried 14 cases to juries,” she says. “Although I certainly knew I had much more experience than the average attorney in my area of practice, it was both satisfying and a tremendous honor to receive bar-sanctioned recognition of that hard work.”

And it has become a tangible way — for Sorensen and other specialists — to demonstrate to legal consumers that they have all the skills and experience necessary to handle a potential new client’s case.

But for Sorensen achieving certification wasn’t enough, she wanted to become more involved in the process and work with other professionals like herself who recognize the value of certification. Over the last decade Sorensen has held a series of important and influential positions within the State Bar from serving as a member, and then as chair, of the Personal Injury Advisory Commission to the Board of Legal Specialization. After “graduating” to the Board of Legal Specialization, she served as a member of the BLS and eventually was named by the Supreme Court to serve as chair of that board.

“One of the things that we’re working on is trying to assure that the standards for certification are appropriate to the realities of practice,” she says. “For example, when I was first certified as a specialist, the requirements for personal injury and wrongful death certification were different – primarily focused on the number of cases tried because we tried more cases then. As trials decreased, the certification standards changed, now requiring a show of proficiency in a variety of aspects of the practice, including trial work. Currently, the board is examining the certification requirements for certified specialists in criminal law to assure they are in step with the realities of the current criminal practice.

“We want to make sure that to become a certified specialist is a rigorous process, to be certain that those who are certified are indeed specialists in their area,” she adds. “On the other hand, we don’t want to make it impossible by making the criteria something that is unattainable based on the modern realities of any given area of practice. Ultimately, the board’s job is to safeguard the public, and to identify lawyers with special skills and certify that proficiency to the public.”

Sorensen always encourages younger lawyers to begin thinking about board certification as they are building their practice.

“I tell them to learn what their area of specialization requires as proof of skills, and track examples of those accomplishments,” she says. “It’s difficult to go back later and reconstruct years of work. I tell them the process, while arduous, is worth doing because it sets them apart as an attorney in their area. It lets consumers know that they have the chops to take on hard cases and do a good job.”

As an award-winning attorney, Sorensen is a highly focused and driven legal professional, but she’s also been described as something of a renaissance woman with varied interests and talents.

“I really enjoy art,” she says, “and spend a lot of my spare time exploring artistic pursuits such as glasswork, ceramcs, drawing and painting. I enjoy expressing myself creatively and find it very relaxing.”

She also enjoys time with her golden retriever dogs, Sully and Seamus, as well as hiking and spending time in nature.

Brennan Ray

I was fortunate enough to come back to Arizona and start my career at Burch & Cracchiolo. I guess I haven’t given them any reason to get rid of me yet.

A shareholder at Burch & Cracchiolo, attorney Brennan Ray is a certified specialist in real estate law and has just started his 17th year with the firm. A fourth-generation Arizonian, it seemed natural that Ray would return to his roots after law school in Texas. Ray credits “divine providence” with being hired on by this firm where he’s built an impressive and growing real estate practice.

His decision to make law his career came about almost on a whim he says, when in the MBA program at Utah State University he was trying to decide his next move.

“My mom suggested law school,” says Ray. “She said, ‘You like to argue, don’t you?’ The idea appealed to me so I applied to St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. I still wasn’t even certain that I wanted to become a lawyer after I was accepted; it just seemed like the next step. While in law school, I clerked with a firm that focused on pretty much what I’m doing now. That firm lobbied for developers in front of governmental agencies and was not litigation or transactional. It was something I really enjoyed and seemed like a great fit.

“I was fortunate enough to come back to Arizona and start my career at Burch & Cracchiolo. I guess I haven’t given them any reason to get rid of me yet,” he adds with a smile.

For Ray, becoming board certified holds special significance and a choice he made feeling that he owes it to his clients and his firm. In an on-going effort to be the best he can be, Ray says that the investment of time is well worth the acknowledgement and affirmation.

“I know a lot of people could feel that it’s a process that’s too time-consuming,” he says, “but personally, I compare it to becoming an Eagle Scout. I realize the BSA has come under a lot of heat recently, but when you get down to the heart of it the things they teach while earning the ranks and merit badges and about being a responsible citizen are invaluable.

“In both, you need to demonstrate you have the necessary experience, resources and recommendations to set you apart,” he adds. “You need to prove your abilities. It’s good to be recognized by your peers as being an expert in your field. I think when people see that specialist certification next to your name there’s a recognition that you worked hard to achieve something that not everyone else has.”

Ray, who began his career with Burch & Cracchiolo clerking while he waited for the next bar exam, cannot say enough good things about the firm and the people he works with. Recognized for their diversity and inclusiveness, Ray says that what goes hand-in-hand with these policies is overall acceptance and mutual respect.

“I’m not saying that we never have disagreements, but at the end of the day we are a family. That might sound a little trite, but it’s the truth,” he says. “I feel that’s unique particularly in today’s political climate; everyone gets along and supports one another. It’s a great place to come to work every day.”

Clark Derrick

Clark Derrick

You have to really care about the people you’re representing.

A certified criminal law specialist, Clark Derrick serves as a of counsel at the firm bringing with him 50 years of experience and expertise. Derrick describes the launch of his career as serendipitous.

“I was between my second and third year of law school and was in Phoenix interviewing for jobs,” he says. “I just happened to run into a lawyer I knew from Tucson, Tom Galbraith. I told him what I was doing, and he said, ‘Look no further.’ It turned out he and John Flynn, the attorney who argued the landmark Miranda case, were just starting a firm with offices on the 19th floor of the First National Bank building. He invited me to meet with John right then and there.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Flynn and Derrick got along famously and before leaving the offices that day Derrick had already been shown a set of blueprints indicating where his new office would be. Within a year, Derrick was a partner in the thriving firm.

“John was not just a marvelous lawyer but an exceptional man,” says Derrick. “He was a not only a mentor and but also a father figure to me. I learned at the foot of the best. He showed a lot of confidence in me too, rather than bringing me along slowly he threw me right into the fire with some of the biggest cases in town.”

Just like his mentor, Derrick is a seasoned criminal law attorney whose name has become synonymous with some of the biggest, most high-profile cases in the country.

Derrick was appointed to the State Bar of Arizona Board of Legal Specialization Criminal Law Advisory Commission and is a fellow and past president of the American Board of Criminal Lawyers, an invitation only national organization of the preeminent criminal defense lawyers in the country.

Derrick agrees with Sorensen in the need for modifications to the qualifying process for board certification particularly in view of the mandatory sentencing guidelines.

“The initial certification requirements for criminal law requires 10 felony trials,” he says. “With the advent of mandatory sentencing it became and still is quite difficult to get trials. Mandatory sentencing has resulted in a chilling effect on your right to trial in light of the heavy consequences if convicted. When I first began practicing as a lawyer, that was not the case and consequently you went to trial a lot more frequently.”

Even after more than half a century, Derrick is still as passionate about his calling as he was those many years ago when he encountered his friend on the streets of Phoenix.

“You have to really care about the people you’re representing,” he says. “That’s not something that can be feigned. If you don’t sincerely care about a client and their well being you’re not going to be able to do your best job. I continue to care a great deal; oftentimes too much.”

Speaking with these three outstanding legal professionals offers a glimpse into a firm that prides itself on continuing education, involvement in their community and a culture that embraces diversity and inclusion.

Burch & Cracchiolo, P.A.

1850 N. Central Avenue, Suite 1700
Phoenix, AZ 85004
602-274-7611
BCattorneys.com

WENDI A. SORENSEN

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M. BRENNAN RAY

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CLARK L. DERRICK

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