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October 3, 2008 4:08 PM

Once Paralyzed, Montgomery McCracken Associate Walks Legal Path

Posted by Brian Baxter

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During a rainy football game in Columbus on September 23, 2000, 18-year-old Penn State University cornerback Adam Taliaferro tackled Ohio State University tailback Jerry Westbrooks.

That Taliaferro was playing at all was surprising, given legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno's reluctance to use true freshmen. It was a testament to Taliaferro's talent, but also to his determination and work ethic--traits about to be put to the ultimate test.

When the tailback's knee hit Taliaferro's head and burst his fifth cervical vertebra, he was paralyzed from the neck down. Doctors told his parents there was a 3 percent chance he'd ever walk again.

Three months after the injury, Taliaferro left a Philadelphia hospital on crutches. After eight months of rehab, he regained enough motor control to walk. And less than a year after the game in Ohio, Taliaferro led Penn State's football team out onto the field in front of over 100,000 screaming fans for the team's first game of the 2001 season.

Taliaferro, now 26, graduated from Penn State in 2005 with a B.A. in labor and industrial relations and a minor in dispute management and resolution. He enrolled in Rutgers School of Law-Camden and graduated this past spring. On September 4, Taliaferro started as a first-year litigation associate with Philadelphia's Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads.

The Am Law Daily caught up with Taliaferro to discuss his new career path.

Did you always want to be a lawyer, or was it football first?
My dream was always to play in the NFL, but when I sustained my injury and realized that football was no longer a possibility, my focus quickly changed to wanting to be a sports agent....When I started working here at the firm as a summer associate two years ago, I really fell in love with it. So I changed my plans.

What do they have you working on right now?
I'm in the litigation department working on several research assignments. So I'm getting a little bit of everything....The Pennsylvania bar results are getting released next Friday, so hopefully I pass and can really get into the nitty-gritty of these cases.

You started the Adam Taliaferro Foundation and now give motivational speeches. How does that keep you busy?
Our main focus with the foundation, which was created back in 2001, is to help people who've sustained spinal cord injuries or head injuries....Most of my talks are to people who have recently been injured.

After you sustained the injury, were you able to think ahead at all, to what your life would be like beyond that point?
I wasn't sure what direction I wanted to take my life. Before it was always football, football, football. But with my injury, it was like starting over as a baby. Learning how to walk again, learning how to just become independent again, it was definitely a day-by-day process. My therapist said it best, "This is a marathon, not a sprint."

And the initial diagnosis was that you had a 3 percent chance of walking again?
They told my parents it was a 3 percent chance. And my parents chose not to tell me, because I guess they didn't want me hearing that news. So everyone else knew except for me how bad it was, but thankfully things turned out well.

Now that you're a lawyer, what are some of your goals?
I've gained a lot from people in general, especially from the prayers and support from so many people I've never even met before. So I think my role as a lawyer here is to develop my skills as an attorney and hopefully do some good, helping others in need.

And do you ever get back to Penn State?
I usually get to about four or five home games. And usually when Penn State plays out at Ohio State--where I got injured--I go out there. [Penn State is] playing out there this year so I'll be headed out there and it will be good to see my nurses and everybody who took care of me. And I still keep in pretty close contact with Coach Paterno. Mrs. Paterno actually called me in the office here yesterday.

Was she asking for legal advice?
(Laughing) Hopefully one day! If I can get Penn State as a client, that would be just outstanding.

I guess when you've been through all this, billing the hours isn't such a daunting task.
That's the great thing about the injury. Everything that has come out of it has been positive. Its prepared me for life's obstacles and when I embark on this journey it doesn't look as tough as it probably would have if I'd never been hurt.

Well best of luck to you Adam. Thanks for taking the time.
Thanks man. Things are going well and I'm just happy to be starting the next chapter of my life.

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Adam, best wishes for a bright future in the legal arena. PSU Alums are very proud of your successful fight back from a tough injury!

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