The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Amy Laurendeau, Managing Partner, Newport Beach—Litigation
Amy Laurendeau, managing partner of O’Melveny’s Newport Beach office, has extensive experience defending class and mass tort actions. She routinely defends pharmaceutical and medical device companies in multi-district litigation and other coordinated proceedings and in high-stakes trials and appeals. Amy has defended class actions involving prescription and over-the-counter medicines, cosmetics, electronics, automobiles, pet food, and insurance, to name a few. In addition to her mass tort and class action work, Amy has represented clients across varied industries in complex business litigation matters, ranging from contract disputes to trade secret violations to insurance coverage and bad faith claims. Amy also dedicates significant time to pro bono work, including political asylum and civil rights matters.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
I represent clients in class and mass torts actions, multi-district litigation and other coordinated proceedings, and complex trials and appeals. What all of these types of litigation have in common is that they tend to come under the microscope, and the stakes are extremely high for the client and their business.
What types of clients do you represent?
While a significant number of my clients are pharmaceutical and medical device companies, I work with clients in an array of industries, including insurance and consumer products.
What types of cases do you work on?
To share a few illustrative examples, I am representing a pharmaceutical manufacturer in nationwide litigation brought by states, municipalities, and other entities involving opioid medicines; advising an insurance company in putative nationwide class action litigation involving business interruption claims from COVID-19; and representing a pet food maker in more than 20 putative class actions.
How did you choose this practice area?
I always had an interest in product liability litigation—torts was one of my favorite classes in law school—but I didn’t do much work in the space until I was a senior associate, working as part of a large team at O’Melveny representing Merck as one of its national coordinating counsel in the Vioxx litigation. It was a career highlight for me at the time. We had a great client and team, the legal issues were interesting, and I knew after the litigation resolved that I wanted to do more work in the space. I now have had the good fortune of representing a number of different pharmaceutical and medical device companies in product liability litigation for the past 17 or so years.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
One of the great things about my practice is that there is no “typical” day. I get to do so many different things for different clients. Some days, my calendar is filled with calls. Other days, I try to catch up on emails (a never-ending battle). I spend a good deal of time revising briefs, advising clients on strategy, working with experts, preparing witnesses to testify, taking depositions, and going to court (although primarily virtually these days). I handle trials and appeals. I negotiate settlements. My day can be very different depending on my case load and client needs.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Torts, civil procedure, evidence, jurisdiction, complex litigation, trial advocacy, and writing classes are fundamental to a product liability practice. Understanding principles, thinking critically about issues, and developing experience in these subjects will provide the building blocks to become a successful product liability litigator.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
The most challenging aspect of this practice area is that no two proceedings are the same. No matter how much experience you have, or how many times you have handled similar cases for similar clients against the same opposing counsel in the same courts, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Lawyers in this space have to think creatively about how to approach each case if they want to achieve the best outcome for their clients. But this is also what makes the practice exciting, challenging, and rewarding.
What do you like best about your practice area?
I like the diversity that my practice provides. I get involved in a fair number of MDLs and state court coordinated proceedings, and there are a lot of interesting strategy issues—ranging from jurisdictional to case management to trial selection and process issues—that go into managing those types of proceedings. Because coordinated proceedings often involve hundreds or thousands of plaintiffs, cases that might settle if they were one-off can be more likely to go to trial. Pharmaceutical product liability cases typically involve interesting medical and regulatory issues and tend to be expert intensive. Appeals are common and legal principles, including federal preemption and expert admissibility, continue to evolve. And, in part because of the number of plaintiffs and law firms involved, settlements often need to be innovative and tend to be complex.
What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?
I’m not sure there is a typical career path for a product liability lawyer. On the plaintiff side, we often see successful lawyers start their own firms. On the defense side, most are at established, large firms, but some have formed or joined boutiques and others have started their own firms. There also are in-house opportunities, typically for more experienced attorneys, but sometimes for more junior lawyers as well.
In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice? How have you adjusted to lawyering in the wake of COVID-19?
The pandemic’s suspension of civil jury trials in most jurisdictions has had a big impact on my practice. Most product liability litigation involves bellwether trials, and trials, not surprisingly, greatly influence the progress and direction of the litigation. I have several cases that had trial dates in 2020, and all of them were pushed back to 2021. Other aspects of the cases have continued to progress, however. It has actually been pretty remarkable to see how quickly lawyers have adjusted to video depositions, something we almost never saw previously but is now routine, and how quickly courts all over the country have implemented virtual hearings.