Beasley Allen is a business predicated on serving – “helping those who need it most” – not just providing services. For the hundreds of employees that make the firm what it is today, it is not just “business as usual,” but a rather a calling to help clients who are at the heart of all we do. In the coming weeks, firm employees will share a glimpse into the work they do behind the scenes at Beasley Allen that is vital to its mission. They may also reveal instances when their work has had an impact on them, personally. Today’s story focuses on the many aspects of preparing a case for trial, from the perspective of our Mass Torts department.
In 1998, Tom Methvin reorganized Beasley Allen just after becoming the firm’s managing attorney. He realized that if attorneys could focus on certain areas of law, the firm could more effectively carry out its mission of “helping those who need it most.” This move placed Beasley Allen at the forefront of a practice that is common today – organizing a firm in sections based on case type. At the same time, the firm opened its doors to cases from across the nation. Its first case on the national stage also positioned the firm to become a pioneer in another practice that is common today – Mass Torts. This area of law involves cases involving defective or dangerous drugs and medical devices. In 2000, the firm officially established its Mass Torts Section, laying the foundation for helping hundreds of thousands of consumers harmed by the pharmaceutical industry. It was a different direction and a new chapter for the firm, but one that has helped keep its client-centered approach intact.
Mass Torts cases are complex and require the work of intake specialists, clerical and staff assistants, and medical professionals, all working behind the scenes. They capture a client’s story by collecting and compiling all the client’s information necessary to begin their case. Additionally, paralegals, legal secretaries and attorneys work with the client as the case winds its way through different motions, pleadings and other formalities of the civil justice system. Complex Mass Tort litigations typically involve many claims, such as those involving testosterone replacement therapies and talcum powder, requiring legal teams to be in tune with clients and demonstrate efficiency at home and on the road. Katie Tucker is one Mass Torts staff member who has experienced many different aspects of a client’s case as a member of several litigation teams.
Relationships with clients
Katie, paralegal to Ted Meadows, has been with the Mass Torts Section since its infancy. Joining Beasley Allen in 2001, Katie was hired as a clerical assistant. She would never have dreamed the firm’s Mass Torts Section, or her role in the section, would have transformed so much. She discovered that the practice of law is much more than the day-to-day tasks. While these tasks are vital to the efforts of obtaining justice for the client, it is equally important to help address clients’ needs for compassion and hope.
Katie frequently helps clients with claims that impact and highlight important women’s health issues. Tragically, this often involves working with people who have life-threatening illnesses, like cancer. For example, she worked with a hormone replacement therapy (HRT) client whose journey took a devastating turn before her case was ready for trial. The client called Katie one day and told her that the cancer had metastasized again and she didn’t have any more fight.
“It was hard to realize our client was coming to the end of her battle, but I knew we still had work to do to keep her fight for justice alive,” Katie said. “There’s a time and a place to grieve the loss, but our duty to the client and their case has to come first.”
The Mass Torts staff often must work quickly to collect and process all the client’s medical information that pertains to a case, preserve the client’s testimony for trial, which may include scheduling the client’s deposition with Beasley Allen attorneys and counsel for the defendants, as well as other duties necessary to prepare for trial. At the same time, they must be sensitive to the client’s emotional as well as physical suffering in the face of a devastating diagnosis.
Katie is currently working with Ted on cases involving talc-based products, such as Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) Baby Powder, and its link to ovarian cancer. The firm is privileged to represent thousands of women who developed ovarian cancer after using talcum powder in the genital area.
In early 2014, Beasley Allen teamed with others to file complaints in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri. The lawsuits included hundreds of women and their families with courage to take a stand against the corporate giant J&J. Among those women was Deborah Giannecchini, another client who found a special place in Tucker’s heart.
In 2012, Ms. Giannecchini was diagnosed at age 59 with Stage IV ovarian cancer. She had used J&J’s Baby Powder for feminine hygiene for more than 40 years at the time of her diagnosis. During trial in Missouri, Ms. Giannecchini, who is from California, stayed in Missouri for the trial’s duration along with Katie and the trial team. This gave Katie the opportunity to get to know Ms. Giannecchini – now affectionately called “Ms. G” by most of the trial team who worked with her – better, and Katie was even able to meet Ms. Giannecchini’s two daughters when they visited, briefly, during the trial. Katie remains in close contact with the Giannecchinis and provides support while they await a final outcome of the case. A St. Louis jury awarded Ms. Giannecchini a $70.075-million verdict at the end of the trial, but the verdict is currently on appeal.
Need for efficiency in complex litigation
As the number of claims grows in complex mass torts litigation, there is a real need for an effective and efficient process. The legal team and staff use processes revolving around a powerful database with the capacity to handle document-intensive litigation. The process also incorporates working with outside attorneys, both co-counsel and opposing counsel. As a result, the Mass Torts Section is able to efficiently process clients’ claims and quickly address their questions and concerns as they arise.
“Efficiency is generally important in the practice of law, but especially during litigation that involves many clients who are sick and potentially nearing the end of their life. Every minute counts and it is crucial that we are as efficient as possible in every aspect of their case,” said Katie.
The talc team directly benefitted from this efficient process when a client found a bottle of talcum powder that included a warning about the link between talcum powder and an increased risk of ovarian cancer and sent it to the staff. The bottle was from a different manufacturer, not J&J. Staff who received the bottle followed the processes, sent the new evidence to the trial team, which was in trial, and the team was able to introduce the critical evidence at trial.
On the road
Preparing for trial involves countless hours of investigation, research, filing motions and even more behind-the-scenes work at the office. But when it is time for trial, the team must frequently hit the road, requiring resources and the same level of efficiency away from the home base. Staff handle logistics and travel, including reserving hotel rooms and offsite work space, along with assembling supplies and other needs for trial. Some staff also travel with a trial team, serving as a liaison between the team and the office and coordinating schedules to ensure lawyers, staff, clients, their belongings and all the material necessary for a trial, arrive on time. They may also be charged with other roles, such as creating and maintaining presentations and exhibits for court.
For example, last June, the talc team had just wrapped up the second week of a six-week long trial in St. Louis, Missouri, on behalf of the families of three women who died because of ovarian cancer linked to decades-long use of J&J’s talc-based products, when a U.S. Supreme Court decision changed the law with respect to how and when out-of-state claimants can sue. It led the trial judge to declare a mistrial. While the claims that were part of the case would eventually be reset for trial in the future, the team pushed forward. It packed a 26-foot Penske truck after that mistrial and drove from St. Louis to Los Angeles to assist a California talc trial team on behalf of a California woman, Eva Echeverria. When they arrived, the team members were able to hit the ground running.
“It’s definitely not a one-person show and we all have to be on the same page,” said Katie.
The team left St. Louis on June 21, after it had already been on the road for two weeks, and didn’t return to Montgomery until August 23.
Katie attributes the family-like culture that is fostered within the firm for encouraging every team member to do what it takes to see the client gets the justice they deserve. She says at one point during the California trial, the attorneys were helping her pack, load and unload boxes because they had limited staff and so much prep work to finish.
The dedicated staff and attorneys in the Mass Torts Section agree that there is a lot to tackle and there are times when it is emotionally challenging, yet motivating.
Read the other stories in the Inside Beasley Allen series:
June 21 – Beasley Allen investigators: Uncovering the truth
June 28 – Inside Beasley Allen: Working with referring attorneys to bridge clients’ needs
July 5 – Inside Beasley Allen: Bringing a client’s story to life
July 12 – Inside Beasley Allen: Offering an opportunity for justice
July 19 – Inside Beasley Allen: Helping clients navigate the intersection of medical and legal needs