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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Product Liability Defense – Some Numbers on the Revenues and Lawyers at Shook Hardy – th

It’s interesting to look at the changes in the litigation industry as to defense of product liability cases. When I was a law clerk in 1983 for the Illinois Supreme Court, the purported "liability crisis" was burgeoning. My first job law firm job was in 1984 at a commercial law firm – Chicago’s Katten Muchin. The firm had not done any product liability work until some asbestos defense opportunities arrived in 1982. Most partners and associates wanted nothing to do with the cases. A few liked the idea of getting to court often, and so became involved. I joined their ranks when I arrived. For years, the work remained subject to some disdain, but it produced money, so it was tolerated. Two other large commercial firms also did a significant amount of defense – Schiff Hardin and Seyfarth Shaw. A couple of others dabbled occasionally. That was about it.

Today, in contrast, many major law firms love product liability work, and most have some cases. Some have many, many cases. The vast scale of the work at Shook Hardy is illustrated by an AmLaw Daily article naming Shook as the 2011 litigation department of the year for product liability defense work.

Shook Hardy’s tobacco background is immense. David Hardy is widely viewed as a primary architect of the tobacco defense strategy of creating doubt, and trying cases tied to that theme. That work has been roundly criticized for many years in books and articles too numerous to collect, and some shave suggested that some of the firm’s past lawyers should have been sued for fraud (some examples here, here, here, here and here). Some of the accusations also are laid out in court papers and related tobacco industry memos (e.g. here and here.) Today, however, the work goes on, even as some Shook Hardy lawyers changed firms to Hughes, Hubbard in order to accomodate tobacco defense needs as the tobacco makers seek to assert separateness from each other.

How big is the product liability defense business for Shook Hardy ? Consider these numbers from the AmLaw article:

"The firm has been able to deliver in part because of the sheer size of its product liability practice, which comprises the bulk of its attorneys. Shook counts 303 product liability attorneys, who make up 71 percent of the firm’s total head count. In 2010, 78 percent of Shook’s $337 million revenue came from product liability work."

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