Lady Justice

Women’s Day: Female Lawyers Are Breaking the Mold In and Outside the Courtroom

On International Women’s Day, as we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, Beasley Allen recognizes the unique backgrounds, experiences and personal achievements of the female lawyers among its ranks. Their multifaceted backgrounds are empowering women. Through leadership roles, some are helping reshape long-held traditions within the profession. Others are using the skills and training they acquired through previous professions to enhance the firm’s client-centered mission.

Reshaping the profession’s leadership paradigm.

The American Bar Association has challenged the profession on its lack of women trial lawyers serving in leadership positions. Approximately two-thirds of attorneys “appearing in civil cases” are men. Among those appearing as lead counsel in civil cases, 76 percent were men and only 24 percent were women. Clearly, it is long past time for better representation of females within the profession – especially in leadership positions. While change is slow, Beasley Allen Principals Leigh O’Dell and Danielle Ward Mason are just two examples of the firm’s attorneys who are working to increase the profession’s diversity.

O’Dell is the co-lead counsel for consolidated multidistrict litigation (MDL) in New Jersey federal court concerning talcum powder’s link to ovarian cancer in women. She is also a member of the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (PSC) for consolidated MDLs against seven manufacturers of transvaginal mesh, which is used to repair conditions such as pelvic organ prolapse and stress urinary incontinence. O’Dell’s earlier trial leadership includes her work on the law and briefing, trial package and settlement liaison committees as part of the Vioxx MDL litigation. She was a member of the trial team for five of the 17 bellwether trials that took place throughout the country.

Minority women often experience a dual challenge to their career advancement, but Mason is among minority female lawyers defying conventions of average large law firms, especially firms in the South. She was the first African-American female principal at Beasley Allen and the first for any large Montgomery, Alabama, law firm. Like O’Dell, Mason’s leadership is present on the national stage, too. She is the firm’s lead attorney handling Invokana litigation and serves on the PSC for the Invokana MDL pending in New Jersey federal court concerning the drug’s link to kidney damage and diabetic ketoacidosis. Among her other areas of practice, Mason is part of the firm’s national talc trial team and has helped secure $307 million in verdicts against Johnson & Johnson (J&J) for its failure to warn about the scientific link between frequent use of its talc-containing products and the increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Empowering clients at the intersection of medicine, law and public policy.

A significant number of Beasley Allen clients have suffered pain, economic loss and, at times, they have even been handed a death sentence – the result of a defective medical drug or device. The American Association for Justice reports that women are often disproportionately among consumers adversely affected by the defective products haphazardly pushed on to the U.S. drug market. Resolving this phenomenon within the health care and pharmaceutical industries requires holding bad corporate actors accountable, along with addressing broader public policies. Beasley Allen’s Dr. Margaret Thompson, MD, JD, MPAFF, Dr. Cristina Rodriguez, MPH, PhD, JD; and Dr. Jennifer K. Emmel, PhD., JD, have a unique skill set that allows them to be part of such fundamental change where medicine and the law intersect with public policy. The training and knowledge these women bring with them from previous careers provide understanding for the firm’s clients facing special medical challenges.

Dr. Margaret Thompson is a member of Beasley Allen’s Mass Torts Section. The award-winning doctor-lawyer lends her unique perspective as an OB-GYN with more than 25 years of experience to the national talc litigation team. Dr. Thompson has dedicated herself to working on behalf of women who have been harmed by the use of talc – harms which she describes as senseless and modifiable. She also previously consulted for Beasley Allen lawyers handling transvaginal mesh litigation. With her clinical experience, Dr. Thompson works with clients, attorneys and other medical experts, often helping improve communication among the various groups. Her knowledge and passion for public policy drives her desire to raise awareness about the risk of ovarian cancer associated with persistent hygiene use of talcum powder and that the product offers no medicinal benefit. As a member of the Board of Directors for National Physicians Alliance, a health policy organization that “places the best interests of…patients above all others…” she believes that when doctors and patients have a partnership they can overcome many of the pitfalls that occur in the public health sector. She says it is important that doctors earn patients’ trust by providing the information that allows their patients to make informed health care decisions.

Likewise, Dr. Rodriguez brings clinical experience and a public health perspective to her work in Beasley Allen’s Mass Torts Section, where her practice focuses on claims involving transvaginal mesh and the talc litigation. Her background as a PhD research scientist concentrating on cancer prevention studies has been invaluable to her law practice. Dr. Rodriguez was heavily involved in research that focused on testing the ability of drugs and substances – both natural and lab-created – to prevent the development of cancer. Her research work included assisting with the management of clinical trials. Now, working alongside clients who have suffered at the hands of big pharmaceutical companies, Dr. Rodriguez has insight on the medical and corporate issues clients face during complex litigation. Additionally, as a Latina, Dr. Rodriguez communicates directly with Spanish-speaking clients who otherwise would not have a voice in their own litigation. Spanish-speaking clients have been able to ask questions and express themselves to their lawyers without the limitations of a language barrier.

And, with a PhD in biomedical science focusing on molecular oncology, combined with experience in and outside of the courtroom as a criminal and family law attorney, Dr. Jennifer K. Emmel also brings a rare and extraordinary perspective to Beasley Allen’s Mass Torts Section. Currently, Dr. Emmel focuses on cases consolidated in the MDL in a New Jersey federal court involving the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Previously, she assisted on cases involving injuries that resulted from defective transvaginal mesh. Dr. Emmel’s experience as a college-level educator teaching biology, chemistry, medical terminology and anatomy has been valuable in communicating with clients, medical experts, jurors and others about the medical complexities often present in the firm’s mass torts claims.

Beasley Allen is fortunate to have many female lawyers striving daily to obtain justice for clients. The firm remains committed to providing a workplace where all of our attorneys and staff can grow and reach their full potential.

American Bar Association
American Association for Justice
National Physicians Alliance

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