The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Sabrina Strong, Partner/Co-Chair—Consumer Class Actions
As co-chair of O’Melveny’s Consumer Class Actions practice, Sabrina Strong handles complex business litigation, focusing on class actions and mass torts involving medical devices, pharmaceutical products, consumer goods, and financial services products. She has successfully tried multiple high-profile cases to verdict, twice earning a spot on the Daily Journal’s annual “Top Defense Verdicts” list. Capitalizing on her unique combination of hands-on trial experience and sophisticated appellate work, Sabrina regularly litigates cases as appellate counsel—both preserving and creating a trial record for appeal—for high-exposure matters (including personal injury and wrongful death) across a wide variety of industries. For more than a decade, Sabrina has lectured on class actions and California’s Unfair Competition Law, including serving on the faculty of the ABA’s National Class Action Institute. In 2008, she co-founded the Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic at the UCLA School of Law. She is the President of the Los Angeles chapter of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers and is on the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles chapter of the I Have a Dream Foundation. Sabrina was named a “Rising Star” in the products liability field by Law360. She has also been recognized as a Southern California “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
While I represent clients across a wide range of industries and handle a broad set of matters, I focus on product liability and consumer claims in mass tort proceedings, class actions, and government enforcement actions. My role has run the litigation gamut, from developing and coordinating overall defense strategy to serving as trial counsel to leading appellate teams.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent a truly diverse set of clients—insurers, health care providers, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, banks, utilities, and packaged-goods manufacturers—many of them household names and leaders in their fields. When they face litigation, the ramifications often go beyond legal issues, touching on significant economic, political, and regulatory questions.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I currently co-lead a team defending a pharmaceutical company that has been drawn into nationwide litigation over the marketing of opioid painkillers—a series of cases set to shape the future of U.S. tort law. I am defending a health care company in a hospital reimbursement matter. I am also defending electric scooter pioneer Bird in a consumer class action. I have multiple appeals pending in wrongful death and personal injury cases in California, many involving claims against local governmental agencies. For most of my appellate matters, I am retained by insurers to develop and implement appellate strategies for trial teams composed of litigators from other firms. In that role, I work hand-in-hand with trial counsel not merely to preserve the record for appeal, but to create it.
How did you choose this practice area?
Products liability law is dynamic. Consumer products and preferences are always changing, as are related enforcement and regulatory regimes, which means products liability lawyers regularly confront and navigate novel factual and legal issues. I consider myself a lifelong student, and the unending variety of our products liability work has afforded me the opportunity to immerse myself in radically different and fascinating fields.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
One of the best things about my job: there is no typical day. In any given week, you might find me conducting witness interviews, defending depositions, writing briefs, vetting and preparing experts, or appearing in court to defend my clients.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Communication—the ability to think, write, and speak clearly—is the most important skill for a products liability lawyer. You have to have a comprehensive grasp of the legal issues in any given case, of course, but products liability lawyers often delve deeply into non-legal areas, learning about developments in technology, science, engineering, and medicine. While it is not necessary to have a background in any of those specialized fields, products liability lawyers must have the communication skills to translate complicated concepts into concise and simple ideas for the judge or jury.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
The most challenging aspect of products liability law is the high-stakes nature of the work. O’Melveny regularly handles bet-the-company cases that pose real danger to a client’s reputation, brand identity, and hard-earned consumer trust. I thrive on understanding my clients’ businesses—on making their concerns my own—which can add to the demands of the job. At the same time, it’s rewarding to work on significant matters for companies filled with dedicated, caring employees and to see them through difficult waters.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
There is a misconception that products liability lawyers are called on only when a company has been accused of wrongdoing. Part of providing excellent client service is anticipating future issues and taking proactive measures to help clients reduce their exposure. That means staying on the cutting edge of regulatory developments, recommending best practices, and issue spotting for potential risk.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
O’Melveny is committed to efficiently staffing our cases, so junior products liability lawyers can expect to work closely with senior counsel and partners from day one. We involve our junior lawyers at every stage of products liability litigation, which might entail drafting research memoranda, conducting electronic discovery, assisting with and attending witness interviews and client meetings, and drafting discovery documents, pleadings, and motions.
What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?
Products liability lawyers who become O’Melveny partners tend to work with blue-chip companies across industries, defending high-profile litigation that often involves iconic products. When attorneys do make a career move, it is often for an in-house opportunity at a client. Our products liability alums have moved into legal and business roles at companies, many of them global leaders in the automotive, consumer and retail product, entertainment, pharmaceutical, and technology sectors. Other products liability alums have pursued careers in the government sector, particularly at the Department of Justice.