Sheila Birnbaum, a trailblazing partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, is moving to Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, where she will be co-head of the firm’s products liability and mass torts practice.
Birnbaum spent 33 years at Skadden, founding its product liability practice, and was coleader of Skadden’s mass torts and insurance litigation group. She is moving to Quinn with another partner in the group, Mark Cheffo, who will share leadership of the product liability group with Birnbaum.
"I had a wonderful run at Skadden and have many great friends there. However, the opportunity to join Quinn Emanuel was an offer I could not refuse. Its pure litigation model is a more natural fit with my practice. It represents a new and exciting challenge for me," Birnbaum said in a statement.
Dubbed the "Queen of Toxic Torts," Birnbaum is a former president of the New York Women’s Bar Association. She has played a ground-breaking role in products liability cases involving oral contraceptives, breast implants and other litigation.
Faith Gay, cochair of Quinn’s national trial practice, said Birnbaum and Cheffo had worked with Quinn lawyers as co-counsel on some matters.
"Our pitch to [Birnbaum] is, she developed a great practice at Skadden over the years and we are in a situation where she has a great opportunity and platform to continue to build her practice and we thought it would be fun and interesting and successful," Gay said.
Gay said Quinn’s litigation only model and its deep trial bench "seemed to fit well" with the mass tort cases Birnbaum was handling.
Quinn’s product liability practice has seen strong demand in the last few years, said Gay. The firm has 25 partners firmwide in the practice and about a dozen in New York, she said.
Gay said Birnbaum and Cheffo could start at Quinn by the end of this week. No recruiters were involved in the move, she added.
Skadden’s mandatory retirement age is 70. Quinn Emanuel does not have such requirements. Gay said age never came up in her conversations with Birnbaum, 73.
"From our perspective, the only thing we thought about—we saw marvelous talent," Gay added. She said she was not aware of age being a factor in Birnbaum’s decision to leave Skadden.
Before joining Skadden, Birnbaum was a professor at New York University School of Law and Fordham University School of Law. She also served as associate dean of the graduate division of New York University.
In a statement, Skadden said: "Sheila has been a trailblazer both in the legal profession in general and at Skadden. We thank her and Mark for their contributions, and we wish them well in their next chapter."
John Beisner, Birnbaum’s cochair of the mass torts and insurance litigation group at Skadden, will continue to lead the practice.
Birnbaum focuses on litigation and counseling involving products liability, mass torts and insurance coverage. She has been counsel for Dow Corning Corp. in the breast implant litigation, for Aventis Crop Science in several class actions and multidistrict litigation and for Thompson-Delaco in the over-the-counter drug "PPA" litigation, according to her Skadden profile. Her clients also have included Chrysler Corp., FMC Corp. and Pfizer.
Quinn yesterday promoted her work in the U.S. Supreme Court, including Campbell v. State Farm, which reversed a $145 million punitive damages award.
Birnbaum has been involved in the compensation of people who lost family members or were injured themselves in the terror attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. At the behest of Southern District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, she mediated more than 90 wrongful death cases to settlement between victims, the airline industry, airline security companies and the insurance industry.
Birnbaum has been working pro bono managing the reopened victim compensation fund set up by Congress in passing the Zadroga Act, where in excess of 14,000 responders, survivors and people who lived near Ground Zero have filed claims concerning damage from toxic dust in the air on and after 9/11. She will continue in that role at Quinn.
In a Q&A with the New York Law Journal in December, Birnbaum wrote that lawyers in products liability practices have to mix science, medicine, procedure, evidence and "you can actually get into a courtroom and argue cases."
"This is one area where cases actually get tried. It is an area of the law that is always growing and there are always challenging issues so I feel quite blessed. I can’t think of a day I was ever bored practicing in this area," Birnbaum said at the time.
Peter Calamari, managing partner of Quinn’s New York office, said in a statement that the hiring of Birnbaum and Cheffo "is a watershed event for our New York office."
Quinn has about 206 full-time attorneys in its New York office, not including contract attorneys.
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