The Plaintiffs' Lawyer: Institutional Constraints and Ethical Challenges
Plaintiffs' lawyers are the interpreters and gatekeepers of the civil justice system. They alone sift through possible claims and decide which will, or will not, be filed, and they alone shepherd personal injury clients through the baffling maze that is contemporary civil litigation. Because of their pivotal role, to study "the plaintiffs lawyer" is to study many of the most controversial and important issues at the intersection of tort law, civil procedure, and legal ethics. In this course, we will study who personal injury lawyers are, how they find clients, how they fund litigation, and how they usher complex cases to conclusion. In so doing, we will address: the role and regulation of lawyers, the use and abuse of the contingency fee, the legality and normative consequences of solicitation and attorney advertising, the propriety of secret settlements, the rise and impact of "alternative litigation finance," and the difficult ethical and practical issues posed by class actions, aggregate actions, and multidistrict litigations (MDLs). The final segment of the course will involve a series of case studies, where students will have the opportunity to see the course's themes echoed and expressed in recent real-world controversies. Specifically, we will study litigation involving the diet drug fen-phen, the pain reliever Vioxx, and Chevron's operations in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Elements used in grading: Class participation, reflection papers, final paper, and group presentation. The final paper will be due shortly after the course's conclusion.