When James Brogan, head of DLA Piper’s Philadelphia office, was brought aboard to defend three foreign subsidiaries of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in a wrongful death suit filed in North Carolina state court, he immediately began thinking about how his firm could accomplish what previous counsel had been unsuccessful at — removing the foreign subsidiaries from the litigation.
The suit, which had been brought by the parents of two 13-year-old North Carolina boys who were killed in a bus accident outside of Paris, alleged that the accident was the result of tire failure and filed claims against Ohio-based Goodyear USA and its subsidiaries in Luxembourg, Turkey and France.
Although the non-U.S. subsidiaries were not registered to do business in North Carolina, did not have any employees, locations or bank accounts in the state, did not design, manufacture or advertise any products in the state and had only a small number of their tires distributed by Goodyear USA affiliates in the state, the North Carolina Court of Appeals had refused to let them out of the litigation, finding that North Carolina courts had general jurisdiction over the foreign defendants since their tires had come to the U.S. through the “stream of commerce.”
Brogan and his team, however, weren’t ready to give up the fight.
“When we get a new matter, we don’t just do the usual thing and while, certainly, I could have probably made a handsome living off that case in North Carolina [state court], I looked at it and said, ‘There’s something wrong here. This case doesn’t belong in U.S. court,’” Brogan recalled.
Brogan convinced Goodyear to allow him to try to bring the case before the U.S. Supreme Court and, once the client agreed, set about preparing a case with the help of four DLA Piper associates as well as some of Goodyear’s past appellate counsel.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and eventually ruled that the North Carolina state courts had no jurisdiction over Goodyear’s foreign subsidiaries in the case.
It was a victory that came as a result of tenacity and resourcefulness, two attributes DLA Piper’s litigators pride themselves on possessing.
In many cases, that means truly counseling a client as to what move is best for it and asking it to put its trust in DLA Piper’s lawyers to get the job done.
“I would say all clients deserve lawyers who tell them what they think they should do in a given situation,” Brogan said. “There are too many lawyers who give ‘lay of the land’-type advice – ‘It could be this or it could be that.’ We train our lawyers to look for the issues that will put the client in the best possible position. Sometimes, you really do need to advocate in the context of working with the client to make sure the client understands what the risks are and what the rewards are. It does require deeper thinking and careful presentation to make sure the client is fully informed and makes the right decision.”
Carl Hittinger, chair of DLA Piper’s Philadelphia litigation department, agreed, saying the firm attempts to strike a balance between “bold” and “cautious.”
“Clients don’t pay a lot of money for lawyers not to give them any answers,” he said.
Hittinger said DLA Piper lawyers are trained to understand cases from both the plaintiff and defense side of the aisle and to be able to see litigation through to its completion.
With over 3,300 attorneys in 77 offices across 31 countries, DLA Piper is certainly not lacking in trial lawyers. But it’s the ability and willingness of all of those lawyers and offices to work together that allows DLA Piper to be successful in litigation, Brogan said.
“The firm isn’t as big as you’d think in context of top to bottom. We work through practice groups rather than office to office,” he said.
Meanwhile, technology has brought the firm’s attorneys and offices more within reach than ever before.
“We had a major document production for the government and I needed 50 paralegals and 25 [document review] lawyers and we did it seamlessly,” Hittinger said. “I reached out to our head of paralegals and had them by the end of that week. I reached out to my counterparts in the other offices and they assigned associates to me. That would never happen at a firm that doesn’t have the capability or the technology. You have to be willing to think outside of, ‘You can only work with the people down the hallway.’”
This philosophy is particularly important for litigators, whose cases routinely take them around the country and, often, around the world.
“When the location requires, we have the ability to reach out to over 500 litigators and trial lawyers throughout the U.S. , and another 300 or so spread across other offices,” Brogan said. “We have spent a lot of time – Carl, in particular – finding where the right people are located.”
Recently, coordination between lawyers in different locations has helped the firm win some of its biggest cases.
For example, when two civil lawsuits were filed against Pfizer Inc., in Philadelphia and Boston, following the drugmaker’s $2.3 billion settlement with the Department of Justice in 2009, DLA Piper attorneys in New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia took the lead.
Loren Brown, a partner in the firm’s New York office, worked closely with John Dougherty of the firm’s Baltimore office, Raymond Williams of the firm’s Philadelphia office and lawyers at New York-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom to get Zafarana v. Pfizer Inc. and Caltieri v. Pfizer Inc. dismissed.
Meanwhile, in Church & Dwight Company v. Mayer Laboratories Inc., Hittinger worked with attorneys in DLA Piper’s San Francisco office to get Mayer’s Sherman Antitrust Act claims against Church & Dwight over its Trojan brand condoms dismissed on summary judgment after what Hittinger said were three years of litigation and “massive” discovery.
Hittinger said he and his team had been ready and willing to go to trial in that case if necessary — a level of preparedness DLA Piper lawyers are taught to maintain in every matter they handle.
“We don’t call ourselves litigators,” Hittinger said. “We call ourselves trial lawyers.” •