Network Firm News

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Snell & Wilmer's Warren Platt Interviewed

Portfolio Media, New York (September 18, 2007)--Warren Platt, head of the product liability practice at Snell & Wilmer, has been finding it tough to get experienced trial lawyers. With product liability suits increasingly tied up in huge class actions that never go to trial, many young lawyers don't get much courtroom experience, he said.

“It's getting harder and harder to find real trial lawyers,” Platt said. Snell & Wilmer's solution? Make sure its own promising new attorneys get a chance to hone their skills in the courtroom, as soon as possible.

“Whenever we go to trial we make sure we have a young person with us, and we give them real responsibility,” he said. Partly, it's a way of testing their mettle—not everyone is cut out for the fast-paced, high-stress environment of the trial court, according to Platt. “We try to identify personalities that are going to survive in the courtroom,” Platt said.

This commitment to bringing young lawyers to trial and developing their talents is one of the things that sets Snell & Wilmer apart from its competition, Platt said. Another is the sheer volume of its legal resources. The firm, founded in 1938 in Phoenix, Ariz., now has 55 attorneys who do only product liability work. And the group is growing. “We're growing at the rate of about four or five attorneys per year,” Platt said, adding that he expects that growth to continue.

Beyond just its core group of product liability lawyers, though, the practice is able to draw on attorneys in its other groups, and on an array of technical experts. Its legal firepower has allowed Snell & Wilmer to do product liability litigation on a large scale. The firm sometimes finds itself litigating as many as eight separate cases for a single client, according to Platt. “There aren't many firms that can do that,” he said.

Snell & Wilmer, which has six offices in the western United States, has secured a role for itself as a national firm, representing its clients in many different jurisdictions, according to Platt. Snell & Wilmer's depth and breadth of legal experience has won it several important, high-profile victories over the last two years, most of them traditional, single-plaintiff, high-stakes lawsuits.

In 2006, it won five individual lawsuits against Ford Motor Company, one of its biggest clients, brought by plaintiffs who alleged they had suffered injuries because the company's Explorer SUV was unsafe. The awards demanded ranged from $15 million to $50 million. The group defended a similar case brought against Land Rover, in which the plaintiff claimed that the company's Discovery model was unsafe.

The firm also successfully defended the town of Lake Havasu City against a claim by the family of someone who had died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by pollution the town failed to control.

For Platt, part of leading his practice is looking to the future, and staying keenly aware of changes in the product liability field. Like many other product liability lawyers, he sees the rise of consumer fraud claims as an important trend in the field, and said that Snell & Wilmer is up to the challenge these suits pose.

“Tort reform in a lot of states has made it unprofitable to do product litigation,” he said. Instead, plaintiffs have been introducing consumer fraud claims into what would once have been strict mass torts cases. Those tort reforms, Platt said, are also the reason that class actions are replacing smaller suits, as product litigation has gotten more and more expensive. Hence, the difficulty of getting young lawyers to trial. “The litigation is beginning to change a lot,” he said. “We're starting to see more class action litigation.”

Unlike many of his fellow product litigators, however, Platt does not think that globalization will necessarily transform the entire field. While many experts have said that foreign countries will soon have mass tort laws like those in the United States, Platt sees a slightly different picture. “I think the rest of the world thinks we're crazy,” he said. Instead, he said, foreign companies will likely continue to file cases in American courts, looking to reap the rewards possible under American tort law. But the American system, he said, will probably become less appealing as tort reform continues.

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