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If anyone thought the era of toxic tort litigation was coming to an end, they were wrong. The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced its priority list of 10 chemicals, including asbestos, that it is considering banning under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. Although it remains an open question how aggressive the Trump administration will be with safety regulations, the reality is that regulatory lists like this, and the inevitable studies that follow, often become a treasure trove of “support” for a plaintiffs’ bar eager to add scientific credibility to their legal claims. This presents challenges for defense lawyers – especially given the continued currency of quasi-scientific principles or principles that are fine for regulators to rely on, but have no place in today’s courtroom, such as the “precautionary principle.” This is most evident with the mantra of “no safe dose” that asbestos lawyers and some environmental groups trumpet as justifying liability for even the most meager and infrequent of chemical exposures. Of course, toxicology, epidemiology and other scientific disciplines have exposed the fallacy of principles like “no safe dose” (after all, Paracelsus teaches us that “dose makes the poison – more about this later). But the appeal of the seemingly aphoristic “no safe dose” is tough to counter in court when an effective advocate plays to a jury’s fears and is buttressed by governmental pronouncements that, albeit for different reasons, embrace the notion that there is some theoretical, modeled risk from exposure to virtually any chemical. So the task for the defense bar is how to convince juries to reject these and other fallacious concepts that serve as easy, digestible substitutes for the more complex elements of true causation.

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7 Habits of Great Trial Teams

Ken Lopez, the CEO of A2L Consulting, and I were talking the other day about some good books to read for the holiday season.  I suggested a current best-seller, Thomas Friedman's Thank You for Being Late - strongly recommended to me by my dear friend and mentor, Jim Hostetler. But Ken guided me to another book, a best-seller written 15 years ago by Jim Collins, called Good to Great.  It was a great read. Although the book is principally a heavily researched analysis on what differentiates a great company from just a good company, I believe that many of the same lessons that apply to the Fortune 500 apply with equal force to law firms, litigation consulting companies, and even trial teams.  Borrowing heavily from Collins' conclusions, I offer the following New Year’s thoughts on how good trial teams can be great trial teams: Great trial teams have leaders who have the confidence to make important decisions but also the humility to call attention to the team, not themselves. Great trial teams are composed of the best and the brightest who, like their leader, put the team first.  They are not necessarily subject matter experts (though subject matter expertise certainly doesn’t hurt), but they are innovative thinkers who roll up their sleeves and get to work.

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At first glance, antitrust cases seem like unlikely venues for the successful use of litigation graphics. Antitrust law has the reputation for being arcane, abstract and statistical, and to some extent the reputation is justified. After all, this area of law deals with the workings of supply and demand and other economic questions, and the issue is often whether competition (or potential competition) in a market has been suppressed in some way. These matters aren’t remotely within the daily experience of jurors. How can a litigator use graphics in antitrust cases to make them make sense? It can be done. Earlier this year, a well-written article in Law360 (paywall) noted that “explaining the details of an antitrust case to a jury can be a daunting task, but lawyers who build a compelling narrative and communicate with a straightforward style stand a good chance of bringing the jury around to their client’s point of view, experts say.” The article suggested that “many jurors are visual learners, so economic evidence is most likely to stick when the spoken testimony is supplemented with visual aids.” We agree.

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We recently had the opportunity to interview three top trial lawyers. We asked them for their views about the practice of law and about what really works at trial.

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