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Elizabeth J. Cabraser took an unlikely route to becoming a top litigator. As an undergraduate, she recalls, she kept changing majors, going from physics, to pre-med, then the classics. “I took the law school exam on a whim,” she says. Even in law school, although she was a good student, she seemed more focused on another career. “I put myself through law school as a musician.” Throughout law school and beyond, Cabraser worked in a series of “highly obscure” rock and roll bands in the San Francisco area, including Rosie and the Riveters and Truth About Radio. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law in June 1978, but her first job (and, as it turned out, her only job) in private practice did not seem destined to build a career that would ultimately receive national attention. She was the only associate at a one-partner law firm started by Robert Lieff, who had previously worked at Melvin Belli’s firm. But, she says, the training was first-rate. “I was in the courtroom from the very beginning. I did everything, from criminal defense work for the local motorcycle gang,” to wills and contracts and a lawsuit against Stanford University brought by a primatologist who had been bitten by a chimpanzee. And, when Cabraser joined the firm, Lieff had one class action pending. It was a small investor fraud lawsuit — nothing that would be noticed in today’s high-priced litigation market. But it set off a practice that has led Cabraser to a long-held position as one of the nation’s leading class action plaintiffs’ attorneys. Cabraser has been an integral part of many of the largest class actions ever launched and/or settled in the nation. She was one of plaintiffs’ class counsel in the state and federal Exxon Valdez litigation and class counsel in the polybutylene pipe class action, which resulted in a $950 million settlement. Cabraser was one of the plaintiffs’ class counsel in the Albuterol products liability litigation and settlement class counsel in the breast implant products litigation. She is also a member of the plaintiffs’ management committee for the $4 billion fen-phen diet drug products liability class settlement. She was part of the team that recently won class certification in litigation against Firestone. Overall, Cabraser has worked on more than 250 class actions. Most of Cabraser’s work is in negotiations and preparing cases against defendants, but she was a member of the plaintiffs’ trial team in the $456 million verdict won in 1999 (later increased to $1.2 billion) against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. over the substitution of generic parts in car repairs. She is also involved in several Holocaust lawsuits, representing plaintiffs suing Swiss banks and those suing various German companies for slave labor practices during the war. When Cabraser worked on her first class action, she says, “California was a hotbed of investment fraud.” The plaintiffs in that action, as well as the lawsuits to come, were the elderly and other local people who had been swindled out of their life savings. She and Lieff were convinced that they could compensate the victims only by using a class action. But at the time, she adds, few firms were doing class action litigation. “I just jumped in,” she says, not realizing how difficult class actions could be. At the beginning, she recalls, “I’d be sitting by the TV, hand-addressing envelopes to class members.” Their initial efforts were successful, and they began filing more class actions. “Over a relatively short period of time, that’s all we were doing.” Cabraser became a partner in 1981. Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein now has 65 attorneys and offices in New York, Boston and Nashville, as well as in its home base of San Francisco.

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