Far-Flung Places: The Travails and Travels of a Product Liability Litigator
Sure, I can tell you good and bad jurisdictions for my clients, the best lawyers to team up with in the most out of the way places, the most formidable adversaries and the pros and cons of jurists across the country. Thankfully, 20 years of product liability lawyering has got me at least that.
But I can also keep you up late discoursing on Delta vs. United, show you a place to get a great bottle of wine at 10 p.m. on a Sunday in Pensacola, tell you what to see on the Oregon coast, five hours south of Portland, Oregon, and describe the odd feeling of staying in a plantation turned luxury hotel in the Mississippi Delta.
Product liability defense and travel go hand in hand. As defense lawyers, we don't choose where cases are filed. Litigation occurs nationwide and you have to be there to defend it. To be sure, I've had my share of trips to cities that most of us will purposefully journey to at some point in our lives — Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C. But even my first few years as a burgeoning product liability litigator took me not just to those destination spots but also to Sandusky, Ohio in the middle of winter; Sweetwater, Texas; Fayette, Mississippi; and Radnor, Pennsylvania.
With these trips came plenty of evenings in bars, complaining about delayed flights, dingy (or worse) hotels and long spells away from home. But the reality is this: if you can't at least tolerate travel, this is the wrong profession to be in. So I learned early on that you might as well make the most of it and revel in the ability to soak in communities and cultures that you otherwise may never encounter.
So it was that while spending many weeks in Mississippi I discovered the beauty of the Natchez Trace, the charms of the now sadly defunct Milsaps Buie House, casinos along the Mississippi River, and the battlefields of Vicksburg. I had my first Indian wine at a restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota — the Sula Chenin Blanc — a little sweet but not a bad summer sipper at all. While litigating vigorously in Bozeman, Montana, I stumbled upon an authentic Neapolitan place whose pizza rivaled what I can get delivered to my Manhattan apartment. The restaurant, Damasco, provided a warm inviting atmosphere that helped settle a case over a Sunday dinner on the eve of summary judgment arguments. On a 24-hour trip to Honolulu for a hearing, jet lagged and up at 3 a.m., I enjoyed spectacular views on a leisurely but strenuous sunrise jog around Diamond Head.
And of course there are the big, small and larger than life characters who have provided fodder for stories I will tell as long as I remember them. There was the plaintiff's lawyer who drove to court in a chauffeured Bentley in one of the most impoverished counties I have ever been. When I looked puzzled, my local counsel, nonplussed, advised me that you better show the jury that you are successful; plain clothes won't do; the flashier the better. That afternoon, I unashamedly replaced my wardrobe at the local men's store. Another afternoon found me in a local Hilton bar being regaled on strategy by a co-defendant's lawyer, the spitting image of Mark Twain. I watched in increasing awe as he pounded his way through five double jacks, a beer and about 10 cigarettes in the space of an hour yet somehow kept making sense.
But as I reflect back on 20 years of litigating in far-flung places among far-flung people, I know I have become a better lawyer and more complete person. In the school of hard knocks I have learned that one size definitely doesn't fit all when it comes to different jurisdictions in even the same state. I can't tell you how many times that truism has come in handy. And when the inevitable "ISO" comes around the firm looking for a conference room here, a local lawyer there, I am surprised at how often I have a response, both what to do and what not to do.
But there are the invaluable personal relationships that have developed, too. Lawyers who by day litigate passionately against each other can find common ground at an airport bar sharing pictures of kids and talking family, schools and vacations while waiting for thunderstorms to pass. I dare say that the guests at my 2005 wedding included more lawyers from Mississippi than my own hometown of New York. I cannot imagine any other practice area allowing for such a varied and wide-ranging career.
Oh, and just in case the suspense has been killing you, I'll take Delta over United, the Pensacola restaurant is McGuire's, Face Rock is the place to see on the Oregon coast, and it felt weird as an Indian-American staying in a Deep South plantation.
Anand Agneshwar is partner and co-chair of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer's Product Liability Litigation practice group.
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