When Philadelphia law firm Saul Ewing combined with Chicago’s century-old Arnstein & Lehr to create a 375-strong legal powerhouse, there were endless numbers, cases and logistics to worry about, but the biggest concern for Jeffrey B. Shapiro was something many disregarded — clashing personalities.
“The numbers don’t matter if the people don’t get along,” said Shapiro, managing partner at Saul, Ewing, Arnstein & Lehr’s Miami office,
Shapiro was a key architect in what turned out to be one of 2017′s biggest domestic mergers, predominantly driven by Saul Ewing’s desire to crack the South Florida market.
The way Shapiro sees it, mergers don’t have to be messy and business doesn’t have to be cut throat. As former chair of Arnstein & Lehr’s executive committee, he focused on “getting the culture right,” adopting best practices in a field prone to ego bumps and personality conflicts.
“You can have endless meetings and not get anything done. But if you have meetings where people communicate and have topics and issues to resolve, that makes a big difference,” he said.
Shapiro and his team were careful about it, spending more than a year going back-and-forth between partners, having lawyers who shared practice areas across the country get together and swap notes, making sure there were no client conflicts.
Throughout that process, according to Shapiro, his firm stuck to a few simple but rigid rules: “Follow best practices, no yelling, no screaming, no throwing paper clips.”
“You’ve only got one chance to do it right,” he said. ”We really take to heart treating our lawyers fairly.”
The way Shapiro sees it, lawyers are bound to disagree, but if they can have the space to be heard by their higher-ups, that can do wonders to tackle bad blood.
Civility is a priority at Saul, Ewing, Arnstein & Lehr because Shapiro has had it with “scorched-earth” lawyering.
“There’s this kind of ‘Rambo’ mentality among some lawyers,” Shapiro said. “When you see lawyer advertisements that say, ‘Hire the aggressive lawyer,’ what does that even mean?”
It wasn’t always that way, according to Shapiro, who’s noticed less professionalism and more yelling, screaming and bad behavior in South Florida courtrooms recently.
“Most lawyers are very good and are very civil, but we have an increasing number that are not, and it demeans the system,” Shapiro said. ”How does the public respect us if we don’t respect ourselves?”
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When construction businesses, car manufacturers and medical companies face claims that products have malfunctioned or don’t work as they should, Shapiro’s phone rings.
From allegedly cancerous molds to potentially addictive medications, Shapiro’s defended it all. And in 40 years, he’s rarely been short of work.
“Even if 99.9 percent of the devices and drugs are successful and there’s no problems, it doesn’t take much to have a litany of lawsuits and claims just based upon the sheer numbers,” he said.
“People buy products now, and they’re so plastered with warnings that what happens is a desensitization. We’re not reading anything,” the attorney continued.
Because of that, Shapiro’s clients have to be careful about how much they warn.
“Obviously, warnings have to be adequate, and in the case of drugs and medical devices that’s prescribed by the Food and Drug Administration,” he said. “But there’s also an overkill piece, where it’s like saying, ‘Be careful with that knife. It’s sharp.’”
The trick to defending a products liability case is explaining the concept of individual responsibility, according to Shapiro, who stresses that a company can’t always responsible for what people choose to do with its products.
“If you’re dealing with a plaintiff who’s not taken responsibility for their own conduct, they in a sense contributed to their own injury,” Shapiro said. “They abused a device, they took too much medication, they drove too fast, they ignored the warnings that were on the box.”
Shapiro’s career has centered on encouraging juries to lend a sympathetic ear to large corporations — often branded “the bad guys” in litigation, rightly or wrongly.
“There are some who just won’t accept that a corporation could be wearing a white hat,” he said. “So there may be one strike against at least some corporations. But most juries are willing to give corporations a fair chance to explain themselves.”
Shapiro once defended a drug company from a $2 million verdict after a consumer, a teenage girl with Down syndrome, died of an overdose. It was a heartbreaking case, and according to Shapiro, there was nothing wrong with the medication.
The teenager also had bronchopneumonia, a strain of pneumonia that constricts airways and causes inflammation of the lungs. That condition, Shapiro argued, was what caused her death, not the medicine.
Shapiro’s medical expert agreed, testifying that the chance of an event like that happening was one in 15 million — too minuscule a risk to expect the drug company to issue a consumer alert.
“You wouldn’t warn about something like that because it was nothing to warn about,” Shapiro said. ”So I was proud of the fact that that jury was able to evaluate the evidence and render a fair verdict, even though it was obviously a tragic case.”
The key to success, according to Shapiro, is emphasizing a client’s larger goals and virtues to a jury.
“What people need to know is that corporations are made up of people,” Shapiro said. “People who are trying to do the right thing, who are trying to make good products. And in the case of medical device and drug clients, making life saving or life altering products.”
Jeffrey B. Shapiro
Born: 1951, New York City
Spouse: Helennan Shapiro
Children: Jolie, Phillip
Education: New York University, L.L.M., 1979; St. John’s University, J.D., 1976; Queens College of the City of New York, B.A., 1973
Experience: Vice chair of litigation, chair of products liability group and Miami office managing partner, Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, 2017-present; Partner, Arnstein & Lehr, 2000-2017; Chairman, Arnstein & Lehr, 2014-2017; Executive committee member and Miami office managing partner, Arnstein & Lehr, 2002-2017; Partner, Herzfeld & Rubin,1988-2000; Prosecutor, Kings and Queens Counties, 1976-1979; Law Clerk to the Judge Rose L. Rubin, New York State Supreme Court, 1980-1982
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