Downtown L.A.-based Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP’s defense of Dole Food Co. and Chevron Corp. in massive tort cases originating from Central America and Ecuador has boosted its reputation in that field. Now, with the formation of its transnational litigation and foreign judgments practice, the firm is seeking to make its name known as the go-to legal defense for corporations facing tort cases outside U.S. borders.

The leaders of the new group are partners Theodore Boutrous, Scott Edelman, Andrea Neuman and William Thomson. Boutrous and Thomson are based in the firm’s downtown L.A. office, Edelman in Century City and Neuman in Orange County. All four have been involved in the Dole and Chevron cases. The group is made up of about 30 attorneys from offices across the country.

“We’ve been operating informally for many years,” Thomson said. “By giving the group a more formal structure, we’re better able to organize internally and better able to communicate the capability externally to future clients.”

Gibson Dunn gained notice for its success defending Dole against claims that the company’s use of a pesticide left former plantation workers in Central America sterilized. Thomson and his colleagues got several cases dismissed after uncovering alleged recruitment of fraudulent plaintiffs who had never worked for the company. That led Chevron to hire Gibson Dunn earlier this year to fight multibillion-dollar pollution claims in Ecuador.

Thomson expects the number of these cases to continue to grow, citing a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study released in June that found that the number and aggressiveness of transnational tort cases had risen significantly over the past decade.

“The need for this kind of group is a reflection of some of the increasing and substantial threats that U.S. multinational corporations are facing,” he said.

Judging Juries

Large corporations and celebrities are often the only clients that can afford jury consultants, human behavior experts who help attorneys select jurors, and observe their reaction to testimony and evidence during trials. Torrance resident Richelle Lyon, who has worked as a consultant at Trial Behavior in San Francisco and Jury Insight in Culver City, thinks her new boutique firm, Los Angeles Legal Strategy, can attract more customers by lowering the price.

While most jury consultants work for companies defending themselves against civil suits, Lyon, 45, wants to offer her services to plaintiffs and criminal defendants.

Lyon, who started the company in June, said she generally charges at least one-third lower than most of her competitors. She keeps overhead low: Her four employees work from their homes.

Also, new technology has allowed her to lower some costs. For example, instead of conducting mock trials at expensive research facilities with closed-circuit videotaping, she sets up her own using store-bought cameras. A mock trial that might cost $25,000 before now costs her $15,000.

So far, only 40 percent of her business has been the traditional work of defending companies in civil litigation. Some of the less conventional smaller cases she’s working on include working for a criminal defendant as well as a woman suing her employer for sexual assault.

“It’s also sort of socially responsible and quite interesting to make these types of services available to individuals who in the past literally could not afford them,” she said.

Double Duty

Century City-based Valensi Rose PLC’s newest business litigation partner doesn’t just represent corporations in general company disputes. He’s also a medical malpractice lawyer. Donald Saltzman, who jumped to Valensi Rose after working as of counsel to Westwood-based Richardson & Patel LLP since 2005, derives between 35 percent to 40 percent of his business representing plaintiffs in medical malpractice suits on contingency.

The rewards can be huge. At Richardson & Patel, Saltzman co-tried a case against Verdugo Hills Hospital that resulted in a $96 million jury award for the family of an infant who developed brain damage from jaundice.

“It’s the rare case where the medical provider really does something wrong, but I like being able to help people if that is the case,” said Saltzman, 64. “And a lot of times it is financially rewarding. Another nice aspect of that is it’s always covered by insurance so you don’t have to worry about people being able to pay us.”

Saltzman also represents midsize companies in general business disputes, as well as securities cases and some real estate disputes.

Arlen Gunner, Valensi Rose managing partner, said he recruited Saltzman because of his broad experience.

“He brings more than just contingency work here, although that can potentially be a very lucrative practice,” he said. “He brings a maturity level where he has had a great deal of experience and can be able to mentor some of our younger lawyers.”

Staff reporter Alfred Lee can be reached at alee@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 221.

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