By Christina Grube
“Why would you go to any other conferences?”
– Anne Andrews, Partner at Andrews & Thornton
The George Washington University Law School (GW Law) boasted a major success in mounting their first bi-annual Complex Litigation conference last week in Washington D.C.. The event remained unique from other litigation conferences by featuring dozens of judges and litigators from both the plaintiffs and the defense.
Luff Law Founder Patrick Luff and MTN Editor-in-Chief Mark York served as event co-chairs, with conference partners including Postlethwaite & Netterville, Western Alliance Bank and DiCello Levitt LLC.
“We were honored to be joined by so many true leaders in mass torts and the quality of the discussions ranks among the best I’ve ever been a part of,” said co-chair Patrick Luff. “We look forward to expanding on our successes at our spring conference.”
Proceeds from sponsors serve to benefit the James F. Humphreys Complex Litigation Center, a litigation research center under GW Law. Attendance proceeds will also support GWU scholarship funds and other student programs. GW Law marketed the event as having a major impact on “filed cases, unfiled cases, other MDLs engaged in settlement negotiations, and firms’ case screening procedures,” and attendees say the school lived up to the promise.
Bankruptcy litigator Anne Andrews told MTN that GW’s conference marked the “First time ever in the history of mass tort bankruptcy…where the issues are now completely, fully discussed with all sides in the court in a new way.”
“It was about time,” continued Andrews “It was needed…I hope we can continue the dialogue because so much was accomplished in just learning and understanding how to manage mass tort in the bankruptcy world.”
Watts Guerra partner Mikal Watts agrees, describing the event to MTN as “the finest compilation of bankruptcy experts ever assembled in a single legal conference. Wonderful.”
“Why would you go to any other conferences?” asked Andrews. “We sit there on our side and say ‘these are all the problems’ and there’s no one there. But here, there were people here to listen to the problems and going home to think about solutions. First time ever, right?”
Beasley Allen Partner Navan Ward echoed Watts’ and Andrews’ sentiments, highlighting the conference as unique from others in how “you’re able to be in a room and hear the insight of not only the judges that you’re before, but also sincere insight from counsel on the other side of the view.”
“It certainly gives the judges a better opportunity to have insights from both parties,” Ward continued, “and also gives both parties insight into what’s going on in the other side…There’s opportunities there to work better with each other, efficiently with the judge, and at the end of the day that’s all you can hope for.”
Navan Ward told MTN he’s looking forward to the conference’s effects in the courtroom, saying “I think that’s going to help…with a better resolution in our actual practices.”
The first conference day included open panel discussions on challenges in mass torts, recent rule changes, navigating liens, claims, and resolutions, trial prep on both plaintiff and defense sides, and judicial opinions on litigation. The conference also chaired a special judicial panel discussion featuring Hon. Michael Baylson of Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Hon. Karen Caldwell of Eastern District of Kentucky, and Hon. John Tunheim, District of Minnesota, moderated by NYU Law Professor Sam Issacharoff.
Billion dollar mediator Ken Feinberg spoke during lunch, sparking vibrant discussion between plaintiff and defense litigators on bankruptcy in mass torts. The second and last conference day boasted panel discussions on resolving torts with chapter 11, predicting future mass tort roadblocks, and how to continue effective communication between plaintiff lawyers, defense lawyers and judges.
Panelists from both days included, Jennifer Hoekstra of Aylstock Witkin, Erin Copeland of Fibich Leebron, Mikal Watts of Watts Guerra, Cliff Merrell of Greenberg Traurig, Kaspar Stoffelmayr of Bartlit Beck, Anne Andrews of Andrews & Thornton, Navan Ward of Beasley Allen, Fidelma Fitzpatrick of Motley Rice, and Amy Keller, Adam Levitt and Mark DiCello of DiCello Levitt, to name a few.
Conference leadership told MTN they have not chosen a location for the next conference, but expect it to take place around mid-March of 2023.