Litigation Departments of the Year: Podhurst Orseck is a National Class Action Heavyweight

Posted on June 01, 2021

Podhurst Office Lobby Photo

Podhurst Orseck’s office in Miami. Photo: J. Albert Diaz.

Firm: Podhurst Orseck

We don’t think of ourselves as a business or law firm, but part of the Podhurst family and that extends to our employees’ families and our clients,” the firm’s managing partners said.

By Raychel Lean | June 01, 2021

Responses by managing partners Steven Marks and Peter Prieto:

What are some of the department’s most satisfying successes of 2020, and why?

In 2020, success took on many definitions. To us, the most rewarding success was the ability to keep our employees safe, maintain full employment and continue efficient communication with our clients. We established a disciplined process where we could still service our clients, many of which reside throughout the country and overseas, while our team remained safe at home. Each litigation group scheduled regular Zoom calls with their team, keeping everyone in touch. And cases were discussed regularly so we could prioritize work for those kinds of cases we could move and conclude, as opposed to cases that needed a trial date in order to reach a resolution. All things considered, our firm was quick to adapt and had a solid year under the circumstances.

With respect to our casework, due to the pandemic we were able to apply an additional level of pressure on Boeing’s insurers to settle cases stemming from the tragic Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. The lawsuits look to uncover the truth of what happened, hold the corporation liable and prevent future tragedies. Our team also survived several attempts by the U.S. government to dismiss the lawsuit on behalf of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting victim Jaime Guttenberg’s parents, Fred and Jennifer Guttenberg, seeking all wrongful death damages for their significant losses. The court’s denial of the FBI’s motion to dismiss opened the door to full discovery and a trial date has now been set for January 2022.

On appeal, we were able to reverse the grant of summary judgment entered against a mother and her children who were severely injured in an automobile accident and who had sued Progressive Insurance for its bad faith in failing to settle a claim against one of its insured. Finally, we were also able to finalize a settlement valued at $57 million in a class action with Volkswagen on behalf of 120,000 vehicle owners who alleged that the suspension system caused the tires in their vehicles to wear out prematurely, posing a safety risk.

In 2020, COVID-19 has brought big changes to law practice. What have been some of your department’s adaptations? 

Technology is allowing law firms the ability to service clients and conduct motions, discovery, meetings, hearings, etc. through virtual platforms. Additionally, it is cutting down the need to travel for work and spend more time on client matters — which saves on costs and creates more efficiency. Our firm was quick to adopt a successful work-from-home model, able to conduct virtual hearings and meetings which have made the firm more productive. We hope that the courts and clients continue to be amenable to virtual hearings and meetings rather than fully returning to the kind of travel that we used to have to endure.

The market for legal services has been changing since well before 2020. What does success require in this climate? 

In the litigation context, success requires identifying which cases you can successfully resolve in a COVID environment. It requires discipline, working full days in a remote location and keeping in regular communication with your colleagues and clients. In today’s still relatively uncertain environment, it is critical that you prepare each of the cases to be trial ready so that as soon as the courts are available to conduct jury trials, the cases will be fully discovered and ready to go.

Litigators are extraordinarily busy people. What does the firm do to ensure that they remain engaged with pro bono work, their communities and their families?

Community involvement is something that we have always put a strong emphasis on over the years and have had a rich history in encouraging pro bono work. Admittedly, it has been far more difficult to do so in a COVID environment, as everyone wants to minimize risk and partaking in any unnecessary events. That being said, there are many initiatives and activities that have adapted to the current environment and each of us continues to focus on what we can do under these circumstances, rather than what we can’t.

On a personal level, I’m very involved with the National YoungArts Foundation where the majority of initiatives and experiences require interpersonal communication and actions. Nevertheless, we have continued to do as many activities as possible in a virtual setting, including having choreographers instruct and give performances over video. We have also used this time to prepare for a post-COVID world and focused on improving our infrastructure, making capital improvements so that once we are back up and running for live performances with an audience, we’re ready to pull back the curtain.

We are a family at our firm in large part because of our family-like structure — that comes from our small size and culture. We don’t think of ourselves as a business or law firm, but part of the Podhurst family and that extends to our employees’ families and our clients. Part of that includes acting as a family in professional or social events. Whether it’s Thanksgiving lunch, the annual holiday party or private gatherings at home, we look forward to the opportunity to resume these events as we continue the gradual return back to normalcy.

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