Editor: Each of your firms is a DuPont Primary Law Firm. Larry, tell
us how the firms combine their efforts to produce the best results for DuPont.
Cotten: The firms' participation is defined by the type of
work that each of the firms does on the asbestos docket. To a greater or lesser
degree, depending on the matter, it is not unusual for two or three of the firms
to be involved in different aspects of a particular case. This depends on what
the issues are and what resources the respective firms have available to apply
to the problem. It has never really been a separate representation of DuPont's
interest by any one firm.
National counsel, Crowell and Moring, provides coordination of all asbestos
matters. Texas Primary Law Firms, like ours, handle the respective cases at the
trial court level and if there is an appeal. Sandra's and my firm have been
working together on asbestos cases since 1996 and Andrew's firm joined us last
My firm, Cotten Schmidt, was involved in the same cases as the other firms to
a greater or lesser extent. My firm is based in Fort Worth. Sandra's firm, based
in Houston and Beaumont, is more likely to be involved in cases in east Texas
and brings that expertise to bear in its cases. Representation in the rest of
Texas generally involves my law firm, Cotten Schmidt. Andrew's law firm
complements both firms by weighing in on significant issues and in the
development of specific factual issues.
The best illustration of cooperation among the firms would be a case we tried
for DuPont last summer in state court in Dallas County before Judge Murphy. It
was a mesothelioma death case alleging gross negligence. Our law firm had the
responsibility as trial counsel in that case. When we dedicated the resources in
our firm to that case, then Sandra's firm and Andrew's firm jumped in and kept a
close eye on the balance of the docket. The trial itself took about a month, but
it was several months in preparation.
Sandra is all over the medical aspects of these cases. She is an expert on
the medical issues, asbestos disease and on causation. One of the key expert
witnesses for the plaintiff in that case was a witness that she was very
familiar with. Leading up to the time that he was going to take the stand, I
would have phone conversations with Sandra every evening after trial. She would
pass along to me what she knew about this witness and suggest things that might
be successful in the examination of the witness. As a result of her help, the
examination of the witness was quite successful at trial. The trial victory
stands as a testimonial to the collaboration envisioned by the DuPont Legal
Clark: Each of our firms handles other types of cases for
DuPont as well as asbestos cases. We work together on some of these cases as
well as work with other Primary Law Firms. Collaboration has been a central
feature of the DuPont Legal Model from its inception and we have all worked well
within that framework. The Texas model for asbestos litigation that Ramona
Romero was talking about in her piece on the front cover of your February issue
is unique in several features. At the beginning of the process, Larry, Andrew
and I along with national counsel and in-house counsel decided that there were
specific goals that we wanted to accomplish for DuPont that would apply to all
Texas cases. There are some big picture issues that will be taken up at the
asbestos multidistrict litigation panel in Houston.
In addition, we wanted to be more efficient in our case preparation and not
duplicate efforts. We wanted to take best practices from our three firms and put
them together for the benefit of DuPont. And, we felt it would be more effective
for us to work on them together as opposed to having each firm work separately
on similar issues.
Although we are assigned specific cases, we have worked together to develop a
rational allocation of cases. Cases are allocated not only by geography, but by
numbers of cases as well so that the responsibilities are shared more equally.
We also worked on an innovative fee structure. We came up with an alternative
fee structure that would be beneficial to DuPont as well as provide incentives
to us. We worked on efficiencies that could be achieved and strengths that could
be reinforced if the three firms worked more closely together.
Schirrmeister: DuPont has had an asbestos docket across the
state of Texas; our three firms handled individual cases. Early last year,
Silvio DeCarli of DuPont Legal issued a challenge to our three firms to pool
together our best resources within the firms and create a (Nearly) Virtual Law
Firm. Among many innovative aspects, the model includes an alternative fee
arrangement. We are now approaching a year of working together as a (Nearly)
Virtual Law Firm.
Editor: The DuPont Primary Law Firms use legal service providers that
are part of the DuPont Network. Were any of those service providers noteworthy
in terms of the implementation of the (Nearly) Virtual Law Firm concept?
Clark: FTI has been very involved in trial preparation and
other projects. They were involved in providing court room logistics and
technology in a case that Larry Cotten's firm tried in the last year and a half
and at which we assisted. FTI has worked with us any time we have trial
preparation with exhibits, demonstratives and depositions. We have had a good
experience with them.
Cotten: Just to echo what Sandra said, FTI brings the best
that technology offers to assist in the presentation to the jury. FTI's
contribution to the trial she mentioned was invaluable.
Editor: What about the use of technology to track the experience of
each firm with the individual cases?
Schirrmeister: Working together we routinely access the work
product, legal research, and knowledge regarding fact and expert witnesses that
we have accumulated over the years. One of the things that DuPont has done is to
preserve that institutional knowledge so that outside counsel does not have to
reinvent the wheel each time a new case is filed.
Cotten: The firms' use of technology to track, evaluate and
coordinate the work on thousands of cases at once allows us to cohesively
administer the docket with the greatest efficiency with the fewest people
possible. Leading edge technology is one of the core principles of DuPont's
Clark: We have access to the EDGE that was mentioned in
Ramona's article, which is an innovative web-based collaboration tool introduced
recently by DuPont that will assist us in improving communication among the
Editor: How would you sum up the ongoing relationship?
Clark: Organization and cooperation have been key. Since we
have been doing this, we have had regular conference calls and meetings. We sit
down and divide tasks so that our talents are being used most effectively. We
talk about what we want to accomplish and then lay out a plan of action. We have
regular meetings to move the process forward - and we stay very focused on our
Schirrmeister: This has been a good year for DuPont. Larry
won a mesothelioma trial in Dallas County. Shortly after that victory, another
case was tried in the same court and the jury awarded a 28 million-dollar
verdict. These cases are difficult and dangerous to try and Larry's success is
testament to his skill as a lawyer as well as to DuPont's good judgment in
encouraging our firms to share our expertise and resources. The bottom line has
been good for DuPont and for the law firms as well.
Editor: Sandra tell us about your involvement in DuPont's diversity
Clark: About seven years ago, DuPont sponsored Minority Job
Fairs on the West Coast, Chicago and Wilmington. It didn't seem to make much
sense for Texas firms to travel so far to interview minority candidates from
Texas. That realization and the success of the other job fairs led to the "Third
Coast" Minority Job Fair in Houston, Texas. Primary Law Firms from Alabama,
Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, among other places, participate. It is an
effort led by DuPont, and it has been very successful. We have had hundreds of
law students attend. In the past Kelly Law Registry has provided a seminar for
the students on resume writing and interviewing skills. Some of the law students
receive offers of summer employment as well as offers for regular employment.
The job fair is something that we enjoy sponsoring. Cotten Schmidt and
Schirrmeister Diaz-Arrastia Brem have also participated in the Houston job fair
since the beginning.
We have participated in the DuPont sponsored Women and Minority Conferences
that have taken place since the beginning of our relationship with DuPont. The
younger lawyers at both Conferences have the benefit of networking and
developing leadership skills. They hear great speakers and they come back
inspired by the company's commitment to diversity. We have worked with these
efforts since 1993 when we were selected as a PLF.
Editor: Does the commitment to diversity, which is characteristic of
the DuPont Primary Law Firms, make your firms more attractive to other clients?
Clark: Absolutely. We frequently have requests from other
clients to provide them with a statement of our law firm's commitment to
diversity. In those statements, we enumerate the things I mentioned that we have
done with DuPont and our commitment to the DuPont Legal Model.
Cotten: Three of Cotten Schmidt's four minority partners are
a part of DuPont's premises litigation team serving in critical and leadership
roles. Each of our associate attorneys on this team is a woman.
Schirrmeister: We have been a Primary Law Firm for eight
years. Fifty percent of our partners are attorneys of color or women. We have
always participated in the Minority Conference with my partner George
Diaz-Arrastia assuming a leadership role in those efforts. I have sat across the
table from Tom Sager who on many occasions reiterated the importance of
diversity to DuPont Legal. It is one of the company's core values and DuPont
demands its outside counsel adopt and promote those same values.
Across corporate America there is an appreciation for our country's
diversity. Houston has a large Hispanic and African American population. When I
pick juries in Houston, half the panels are people of color. It is essential to
have attorneys of the same background as appear in the jury panel to effectively
represent your client. That observation is true throughout Texas. DuPont Legal
has long been aware of this - and they are right.