Large Plaintiffs Firms Say They're Becoming Choosier
Gibbons said that he believes he is offered so many referrals in those types of cases because many attorneys find them difficult to litigate.
Donald Ladd, a defense lawyer and chairman of White and Williams' health care practice group, said complaints are better drafted and more focused and that the overall quality of plaintiffs' representation has significantly improved.
"We see much fewer 'fishing expeditions' where lawsuits would be brought in the hope that a theory of liability would surface during discovery," Ladd said. "Since the filtering process and expert review is more demanding and costly, the number of law firms bringing plaintiff cases has reduced dramatically. We tend to see the same higher-quality plaintiffs firms over and over."
Gary M. Samms, chair of the professional liability practice group at Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel, said he also noticed that representation from larger firms has become more prevalent in cases with potential high-dollar yields.
"It's fair to say we see more established plaintiffs firms in cases that deal with high damages, even if there is a question of liability just because of the large upside," Samms said. "Some of the cases with questionable liability and with modest returns are not being pursued as much and you're more likely to see someone who typically does not do a whole lot of medical malpractice."
T. Kevin FitzPatrick, director of the health care department at the defense firm Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin in King of Prussia, Pa., said, "There are more referrals now from smaller shops to bigger shops because of the fact that it is so expensive to litigate and take on these cases."
That trend is now affecting defense practices as well, he noted.
"Not only has the volume of cases decreased, but the number of named defendants in lawsuits has decreased as well," FitzPatrick said. "That impacts our end of things. There's more competition on the defense side because there are fewer filings."
But the same caution that smaller firms exhibit in approaching big cases needs to be applied to large firms in pursuing mass tort litigation, said Thomas R. Kline of Kline & Specter.
"There are financial considerations to every decision that's made by a firm. The decisions of a less mature firm are different than the ones of a mature firm that can absorb a mistake." However, Kline said, "The issue with the big firms is not to make a big mistake in overcommitting to a mass tort which is not likely to be successful."