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LAWYER TAKES ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES TO SCHOOL What are the chances a salmon will survive migration to its spawning ground? Local middle school kids made the journey themselves as part of an interactive educational program launched by environmental lawyer David Lazerwitz. They found that less than 10 percent of salmon complete the perilous trip. An associate at Farella Braun & Martel, Lazerwitz wanted to teach kids about endangered species and the laws in place to protect them. So he contacted Susan Floore, a science content specialist for the San Francisco Unified School District, who put him in touch with James Aliberti, a program coordinator at the San Francisco Zoo. Together they created a curriculum of four classes. Last month they did a pilot test of the program, teaching sixth and seventh graders at Presidio Middle School, Gloria R. Davis College Preparatory Academic School, Horace Mann Middle School and Treasure Island School. “I loved it,” Lazerwitz said. “It’s a lot of fun. Young kids ask great questions.” Lazerwitz, who is a member of the American Bar Association’s endangered species committee, gave a class on the laws that protect endangered species and their habitat. He brought in a suitcase of products seized by inspectors of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service — including ivory, tortoise shell and Chinese medicine containing rhinoceros horn and bear gall bladders — and talked with kids about what they could do to protect endangered species. Floore said the kids at Treasure Island School were thrilled to meet a lawyer. “David has a very nice way with kids and tries to put information on their level without condescension,” Floore said. Lazerwitz got a $2,000 grant from the World Wildlife Fund to cover materials, transportation to the zoo and the cost of substitute teachers. He hopes to get additional grants to continue the program next year. “My goal is to create a curriculum to give to people in other cities,” he said. — Brenda Sandburg ATTORNEYS SOFT ON VIAGRA SUITS Nothing arouses the plaintiff bar like an independent report linking a popular drug to serious health problems. But even the most ardent drug litigators are toning down their excitement in the wake of an April study — and a follow-up FDA investigation — linking Viagra and other impotence drugs to a rare form of blindness. Since the study was announced, only a few firms — mainly from the East Coast — have registered Viagra Web sites. And Jennifer Stanich-Banmiller, president of the Danville plaintiff marketing firm Wingtip Communications, said she has so far seen only tepid interest from lawyers. “I don’t think it’s going to have a lot of steam unless there’re lots of people out there” suffering sex drug-related blindness, she said. One experienced drug litigator has a theory why. “People feel burned by Viagra because they went after it when it first came out with heart attacks,” said Mary Alexander, a San Francisco plaintiff lawyer who’s litigating claims over Vioxx, diet drugs and estrogen therapy. Since those initial suits were largely unsuccessful, Alexander said, many California plaintiff lawyers seem wary of the new charge. Indeed, one of the state’s most aggressive pharmaceutical lawyers said Viagra’s barely on his radar screen. “At least not yet,” said Ramon Lopez, of Lopez, Hodes, Restaino, Milman & Skikos in Newport Beach. “I’m just kind of looking at it.” But he nevertheless assumes it’ll look pretty good to a plaintiff attorney. “Anytime you get news of a post-market adverse event that is as serious as blindness, heart attack, stroke, the first thing you expect is that the company already knew about the problem,” he said. It seems that the only lawyer gung ho about California Viagra suits is Daniel Becnel Jr., a well-known Louisiana lawyer who last week filed what he believes to be the first Viagra blindness suit in Texas. Becnel says he has at least 92 Viagra clients, including several — he wasn’t sure how many — who plan to file suit in California. “I’m about the biggest game and the only game in the country right now,” he said. “Everybody seems to be overloaded by Vioxx.” That’s true for William Audet, a partner in Alexander, Hawes & Audet’s San Francisco office. “We’re extremely busy with Vioxx,” he said. But Audet and Alexander agree that because Viagra is linked to a very specific form of blindness — a “signature injury,” Audet said — the cases have potential. While California lawyers like Audet and Alexander wait to decide whether to pursue Viagra cases, Becnel says his caseload is increasing by the hour. “I’d say they’re coming in at a rate of eight to 10 a day,” he said, adding that people from all over the country seem concerned. Viagra has been insanely popular since it first hit the market. Any potential patient would want the drug’s benefits, Becnel said. “But not if it’s going to make me blind.” — Justin Scheck GROUP TACKLES RACE ISSUES It’s a tradition that morphed out of quarterly lunches held by African-American lawyers at Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts before it combined with San Francisco-based Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro. A second merger later, black lawyers at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman still hold quarterly conference calls, far more formal than the social gatherings that went on in the Winthrop days. The calls last about an hour and usually have a loose agenda, says New York-based partner David Crichlow. Talk revolves around career development, especially for associates, and attorney retention and development, but it also is a chance to speak candidly. “It’s not a science, but the reality is that the situation is different for African-Americans,” says San Francisco partner Patrick Thompson. Thompson says Pillsbury has more African-American partners than a lot of firms. (The firm was ranked sixth nationally by Recorder affiliate The Minority Law Journal last year based on the number of partners who are in an ethnic minority.) Still, there are only four African-American partners in the entire firm. There are 28 black lawyers who are associates and one who is of counsel. For now, the most concrete result to emerge from the quarterly teleconferences was the firm’s first African-American lawyers’ retreat, held last November at a soul food restaurant in New York City. The group plans on holding a similar event every two years. Featured speakers included black general counsel, such as Robert Gerrard Jr. of the Scripps Networks and Deirdre Stanley, of the Thomson Corp. Firmwide Chairwoman Mary Cranston also spoke. There were talks on business and career development, as well as time for “straight talk” sessions among the lawyers in the group. — Marie-Anne Hogarth

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