Legal and Expert Witness Staffing for Opioid Litigation

 
 
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Litigation has always been something of a game of chicken, the opioid litigation is taking it to a whole new level

The 2019 news cycle has been dominated by a few things: the 2020 presidential election, the Mueller report, and the opioid epidemic and its corresponding litigation. But in case you’re behind on the opioid litigation story, let’s get you caught up.

On May 16, 2019, Purdue Pharma, a major producer of the opioid medication OxyContin, was hit with five more lawsuits by the attorneys general of Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. These lawsuits are a drop in the bucket—according to Governing.com, the company is already facing “more than 1,000 similar lawsuits for allegedly fueling the opioid crisis with deceptive marketing of its pain drugs.”

And more than 30 states and “nearly 1,500 cities and counties have filed suit against pharmaceutical companies, wholesalers, and pharmacies for their role in the opioid crisis.” Much of this litigation has been most condensed into the In re: National Prescription Opiate Litigation (a multi-district litigation or MDL). The scope of litigation is so daunting that attorneys representing local governments announced last week a plan to unite the plaintiffs under one global settlement.

However this plays out, opioid litigation is going to require large, flexible teams. MDL’s will certainly require more staff than the local cases. While litigation has always been something of a game of chicken, the opioid litigation is taking it to a whole new level. We have evidence from both Hire an Esquire and Experts.com that firms are preparing for the onslaught. Our friend Nick Rishwain from Experts.com, has some sound advice on staffing up for the litigation surge.

Firms Active in the Opioid Litigation Battle:

We’ve noticed a lot of visitor activity on Experts.com with notable (and the biggest names) representing both plaintiffs and defendants as firms prepare for different phases of litigation. The results below come from our own visitor data on Experts.com.

The firm designated as “co-lead counsel in the National Prescription Opiate Litigation,” a leading mass tort law firm is a regular visitor to  Experts.com. Others visiting a wide variety of areas of expertise include those filing amicus briefs in the case. All are visiting expert profiles in an array of addiction-related categories, including pharmacy, pharmacology, toxicology, and addiction medicine. It’s clear that the opioid crisis is being attacked from a number of different channels by various government entities.

Interestingly, while we normally see a pretty even split between plaintiff and defense firms for most areas of expertise, we’re experiencing significantly more visits from defense counsel.

How does this all relate to legal professionals and expert witnesses?

You may know some of the major players. You may also know these players are actively looking at expert witnesses and consultants for a variety of litigation surrounding the opioid crisis not only the national MDL but the individual suits against Big Pharma. Additionally, there are a dizzying variety of local lawsuits and prosecutions against others in the opioid supply chain (i.e. doctors, clinics, hospitals, pharmacists, and pharmacies). The practice area is ripe with opportunities for experts and legal professionals with relevant backgrounds—particularly in a flex capacity.

Anneke Kurt Godlewski of MarketInk, works with many law firms who handle MDL cases (not exclusively). Ms. Godlewski provided me some great insights with regards to ramping up staffing for matters similar to the National Prescription Opiate Litigation. Here is her insight regarding preparing for staffing (and working) on this unprecedented litigation:

  • Ensure you have MDL Experts: MDL’s are a whole other animal. They are often hard for paralegals and attorneys who are used to your typical local cases. Don’t re-invent the wheel trying to train your existing staff on how to handle MDLs, let them continue working where they are best suited. Hire the appropriate legal staff with experience in  MDL’s.

  • Secure and optimize your case management processes: Often, law firms collect cases before knowing which direction the litigation is headed. Staff will put  a ton of time and energy into conducting intakes, gathering medical records, and filling out lengthy questionnaires addressing medical history. You must have a capable staff and a sufficient system to handle this larger than usual and more varied volume of information and potential claims.  Your standard case management system will likely not be sufficient to handle the complexity and uncertainty of the nature of this litigation.

  • Staff up ahead of time: Your office could find itself at a standstill if calls come flooding in and you try to handle everything in-house. Phones may be ringing off the hook. Everyone may have to stop what they’re doing to handle the influx of calls, which inevitably impacts day-to-day work. Align with a good intake and staffing service to handle the influx. Hire (and train) the necessary lawyers and support staff to assist before it’s too late.

  • Prepare and train your staff on intake: Law firms are going to need staff to handle intake and that staff is going to have to be trained on an intake script. It can be hard to train in-house staff on how to keep a caller engaged with the right information, without running the risk of an intake person speaking out of turn.

  • Set Expectations and Ensure Systems for Strong Client Communication: Clients will go months without news. So, you need to have staff capable of setting expectations and a system in place to keep them up-to-date, even if there is no news (i.e. “no news is good news” emails).Setting expectations is particularly important because massive verdicts and settlement amounts will be reported in the news, but that doesn’t mean clients will receive similar amounts.

If you’re reading this blog post on Hire An Esquire, you’re at a good starting point. Hire An Esquire’s psychometrics and FitScores  will identify those staff members most capable of succeeding at your firm and helping you ramp up for this unprecedented litigation.

Bio:

Nick Rishwain, JD, is vice president of client relations and business development for Experts.com, an online marketing platform for expert witnesses and consultants. He is the primary author of the company blog. He is fully immersed in legal technology professionally and personally. In his own time, Nick is the co-creator and co-host of a live video legal technology show called LegalTechLIVE. The show has been online for more than three years and presently focuses on legal technology startups under one year of age. The show promotes the legal technology startup journey.