Mark Lanier
Founder
The Lanier Law Firm
Houston
49

Mark Lanier has won some huge verdicts in asbestos and products liability suits, capitalizing on a sharp mind and a boyish charm that wins over jurors. The Houston trial lawyer’s success means he’s a player in important national litigation.

He has won verdicts of $417 million, $253.5 million and $118 million, to name a few, over 26 years as an attorney. And he’s proud of his role in changing how lawyers use PowerPoint and other technology in the courtroom.

He says he began to use cutting-edge PowerPoint — actually Hollywood-style storyboarding — in Carol Ernst, et al. v. Merck & Co., the Vioxx products liability suit in which he won a $253.5 million verdict, and he has refined his techniques since that 2005 trial.

“It’s pictures with a slogan as opposed to bullet points, recognizing that the latest communication research indicates that pictures and a slogan are more memorable and persuasive and educational than bullet points alone,” says Lanier, owner of The Lanier Law Firm.

The 49-year-old lawyer treats jury trials as a science. “What moves things into long-term memory?” Lanier asks. The goal, he says, is not only to “teach jurors what they need to know, but do it in a way that’s memorable, that gets into long-term memory.”

In addition to PowerPoint, Lanier says he uses demonstrative displays to make a point with jurors. “I’ve popped water balloons in court, I’ve brought in grinding wheels and sharpened lawnmower blades with sparks flying, brought in loaves of bread, brought in a hand saw and accidentally cut into the juror hand rail. . . . We’ll do anything we can think of, in the realm of the ethical, to make sure the message is understandable and memorable,” says Lanier, a 1984 graduate of Texas Tech University School of Law.

His solid track record in the courtroom began long before he started creating two or three PowerPoints a week, beginning with a $417 million verdict in Rubicon v. Amoco in 1993 that Lanier says “really put us on the map.” Lanier represented Rubicon Petroleum Inc. alongside Houston attorney John O’Quinn.

In 1998, Lanier won a $118 million verdict in Aaron v. Carborundum. At the time, it was the largest asbestos victory in the country, Lanier says.

But it was the $253.5 million verdict in Ernst, which was the first suit to go to trial against Merck involving the painkiller Vioxx, that propelled Lanier into the national spotlight. He went on to win the next two Vioxx cases, both in New Jersey and highly watched by lawyers and the press. In 2008, Houston’s 14th Court of Appeals reversed the Ernst verdict. While an appeal of Ernst is pending before the Texas Supreme Court, Merck agreed in 2007 to settle most of its Vioxx docket for a total of $4.85 billion.

Lanier may have a big role in litigation against Toyota related to alleged sudden-acceleration problems with some vehicles and in litigation against various companies stemming from the recent explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico. He says he has about 1,000 Toyota clients and about 450 Gulf explosion clients.

In 2003, Lanier founded the Christian Trial Lawyers Association. “We wanted the world to recognize that the practice of trial law can go hand in hand with a faith commitment and living lives of a higher calling,” he says. The group has more than 700 members in eight states. Lanier also teaches Sunday school at Champion Forest Baptist Church.

See “The 25 Greatest.”