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Class-action plaintiffs lawyers labor under a harsh light, routinely slammed for seeking enormous awards while caring too little about the plight of their clients. Colleagues on both sides of the bar say Michael Hausfeld belies that stereotype. “He really cares about his clients,” says Kenneth Feinberg, the negotiations guru who administered the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, before which Hausfeld represented several claimants. And that can’t be easy, adds Feinberg: “It’s one thing if a lawyer cares about a client and it’s one client. Michael has thousands of clients.” Hausfeld, a name partner in D.C.’s Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, is best known for his pro bono work on behalf of Holocaust victims against Swiss banks and others over the past nine years and his representation of consumers in the European Union’s case against Microsoft Corp. in 2003. In fact, his practice mainly focuses on those two kinds of class actions: pro bono public-interest cases and big-ticket antitrust disputes. He’s also looking beyond U.S. borders — and battling the plaintiffs bar’s reputation for being “frighteners” — as he opens his firm’s office in London. Hausfeld, 61, says he got into plaintiffs work because the class-action field “was balanced in favor of the defendants. The defendants had access to legal representation that was of the highest caliber, and I believed there were persons who had legitimate interests and injuries who did not have similar access.” In the courtroom, he is the antithesis of the fist-pounding plaintiffs lawyer demanding justice and millions of dollars. Rarely raising his voice, he’s low-key but dogged. “Many times you hear the two sides of a case described as ships passing in the night,” Hausfeld says. To prevail, “you have to understand where they’re passing and what weaknesses that passing creates in your position.” For example, in the trial stemming from In re Vitamins Antitrust Litigation, a massive price-fixing class action brought by purchasers against vitamin manufacturers (which also produced a settlement of more than a billion dollars), Hausfeld says presentation made all the difference in winning a higher-than-requested jury award in 2005. “We did a better job of understanding their position and integrating their story within our position, so by the time the defense stood up, the judge and jury had already heard their story and why it didn’t make sense.” Defense lawyers describe Hausfeld’s filings as several magnitudes better than the usual class-action fare. “Once a DOJ investigation into potential antitrust violations is announced, there’s always an avalanche of suits,” says Steven Reiss, a partner at New York’s Weil, Gotshal & Manges. “Michael’s are invariably among the best.” What makes them stand out is Hausfeld’s creativity in developing innovative legal theories, backed by his prodigious research. After graduating from George Washington University Law School in 1969, Hausfeld went to work at Arent Fox. He joined his current firm in 1971 and got his name on the door in 1976. Among his active cases is a class action, now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, filed on behalf of apartheid victims against such companies as General Motors Corp. and Citigroup Inc. for aiding and abetting South Africa’s former regime. The plaintiffs are seeking compensation under the Alien Tort Claims Act, an obscure 1789 law designed for prosecuting pirates. Occasionally, Hausfeld takes on smaller matters. Sheri Orlowitz, principal owner of D.C.-based Shan Industries, hired him in 2005 to take over her company’s lawsuit against Tyco International. She was “in the middle of scorched-earth litigation against a $40 billion conglomerate,” she says, when a friend recommended Hausfeld. Orlowitz called him at home one Sunday night. “He was just wonderful. He said, �You know what, you’ve already been dragged through this for two years, and you’re going to be dragged through it for another two. What I think I can do is reduce my fee.’ “ Last summer, the parties settled. Says Orlowitz, “He was my white knight.”

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