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S5 E15: AAJ 2023 Takeaways


ICP Logo

S5 E15: AAJ 2023 Takeaways




In this week’s episode, Anna Dean Kamins, a big name at The Lake Law Firm and an expert in mass torts, is joining Grace and Liel to discuss key takeaways from this year’s American Association of Justice Convention. She also shares how she got started in mass torts and gives out practical advice on how other lawyers can embark on mass tort litigation.

But that’s not all. Want to know about the hottest mass torts that lawyers should have their eyes on? Anna, Grace, and Liel dive into it, making sense of all the legal complexities. From the big rulings to the emerging challenges, they cover it all. If mass torts have ever felt like a mystery to you, this episode is your key to understanding.

Whether you’re in law yourself or just fascinated by it, Anna’s insights will get you thinking, and our hosts, as always, will make sure it’s a fun ride. Buckle up!

Resources mentioned in our episode:

If you enjoy the show, subscribe and leave us a review! Don’t forget to send us your questions and comments at ask@incamerapodcast.com.


Liel: [00:00:00] From July 14th to the 18th. Lawyers and legal professionals from across the nation gathered in Philadelphia to attend the annual American Association for Justice Conference. I’m Liel Levy, co-founder of Nanato Media and author of Beyond Se Habla Español – How Lawyers Win the Hispanic Market. And this is in Camera podcast, where we help you stay up to date with what goes down at the AAJ. Welcome to our podcast, Private Legal Marketing Conversations. Grace. It’s so great to be here and I’m very, very excited because we are going to be joined today by a very special guest that I’d love for you to get started with this conversation. So first of all, Anna, welcome to In-camera podcast. It’s such a pleasure, such an honor to have you here.

Anna: [00:01:15] Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Grace: [00:01:16] Yes. Welcome. So as Lille just nicely stated, we have a fantastic guest today, and that is our director of Mass Torts for the Lake law Firm, Anna Kamins. So I’m going to give you just a little bit about her background so that you guys know who we’re talking to with a proven track record in mass Torts. Anna Dean Kamins is a highly skilled attorney who brings over two decades worth of experience to the Lake law firm. She joined the firm in 2023 as director of Mass Torts. Anna earned her her J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center, where she was also a recipient of the Dean Scholarship. Additionally, she holds a master of public health from the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, as well as a Bachelor of Science and Biological Sciences from Loyola University. Welcome, Anna, and thank you so much for joining us. We so appreciate having you here today. And we’re going to get started with a really cool conversation about the American Association of Justice conference that literally just happened while we’re recording this. As you guys know, we recorded kind of a week behind of when we post it. So this AAJ literally happened on July 14th through the 18th at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philly. So let’s go ahead and get started. Um, so what we like to do generally when we talk about the conferences that we go to is kind of speak about the people that were there and really give a sense of the atmosphere and what you experienced when you went to AAJ. We’ll see. You nodded. So is there something specific that you want to kind of attack first after that intro?

Liel: [00:02:55] No, I love I love I love the question. And I so much appreciate that because Yes, that’s true. We are all about so most of times people would just jump into kind of like talk about the main topics and such. We really get try to get a feel of, you know, what was the atmosphere and the vibe in the conference place, because we particularly know that AAJ has been trying really much to enhance their conference experience to get vendors and exhibitors a little bit more involved and also create more synergy between service providers and vendors and the programming and such. So yeah, you know, as the conversation goes, hopefully you’ll be sharing some, some insights with regards to that. But no, I’m just excited. I’m just excited to start hearing.

Grace: [00:03:41] So let’s start kind of at the beginning. Anna I know that, you know, you kind of flew in. Tell us a little bit about where you came from and what that first day was like for you when you got to AAJ and Philly?

Anna: [00:03:53] Well, I did fly in the night before, but you know, the first day at AAJ, it was there were just hundreds of attorneys there from all over the country as well as Canada. I met lots of attorneys from Toronto, as well as connected with attorneys who I haven’t seen in decades. So it was a great atmosphere, very casual atmosphere, which was nice, but it was filled with learning. Of course, we had classes for continuing legal education and there was a section set up for all of the vendors which was filled with fun activities, games to attract attorneys to that area. But it was it was a very nice atmosphere.

Liel: [00:04:49] Wonderful. That’s great to hear. And where are you based? Where are you actually work from?

Anna: [00:04:55] Oh, I’m actually in Houston, Texas.

Grace: [00:04:58] Oh.

Anna: [00:04:59] We’re neighbors. I’ve I’ve been in Houston for 20 years. I’m originally from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And then I went to school, my undergraduate and graduate degrees in New Orleans and then came to Houston for law school. And I’ve been here ever since.

Liel: [00:05:19] Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your career background. How did you got into Mass torts? Like, what was the journey that that led you there?

Anna: [00:05:28] It was actually an interesting journey. I was studying public health at Tulane and I took a health law course and just fell in love with law. Law was not my intended career, but when I took that health law course at Tulane, I then decided to apply to the University of Houston, which has an amazing health law program. And when I was a first year law student, I met an attorney who brought me over to join the John O’Quinn law firm, and John O’Quinn, he’s passed away, but he is was an amazing attorney, very well known in Texas and throughout the country. And so that’s how I got my start. I started in mass torts when I was a first year law student.

Liel: [00:06:18] Wow. So your whole career has been in the mass torts field.

Anna: [00:06:23] I’ve taken a few breaks from mass torts, but I’ve always I’ve always come back to mass torts. I’ve done I’ve handled other cases. I’ve handled medical malpractice, commercial litigation, all kinds of cases. But I always I’ve always done I’ve always gone back to the mass tort cases. That’s where my heart is.

Liel: [00:06:43] How amazing that you’ve actually found your passion in law so early in your career, Because one of the things that we’ve encountered a lot here by talking to attorneys is that oftentimes many just find out about mass torts well into their legal careers once they’ve already have practices and oftentimes very successful practices and they’ve just start exploring and seeing opportunities of how to diversify and then mass torts come into the picture for them. And why do you think why do you think that there is that siloed aspect, especially even when you’re talking about about personal injury lawyers and you think that the things that have to do with mastery is often time because there are consumer protection? And, you know, they’re kind of like linked to each other. But but yet, you know, it’s really not rare. Grace You’d agree, right? How many times we’ve talked with personal injury lawyers that they’ve not yet really had any exposure whatsoever into mass torts and asked this question as a non lawyer, because obviously I can understand the they might be complex complexities, but but why do you think these are such different paths?

Anna: [00:07:56] I think for many attorneys, the more they learn about the way drugs are approved in this country, the more they learn about the FDA process, the more they learn about the way medical devices are approved, the more they want they want to get into mass torts. For me, it was a little bit of a different path because I do have a health background and I was introduced to it so early. But for most lawyers, they don’t really know these things until later in their careers.

Liel: [00:08:25] Was there a particular aha moment in your career that that that made you? Was was it a particular event? Was it just the more you studied and the more you learned about, as you’re saying, the the legal processes that companies need to go through for approving drugs, treatments, devices, whatever that may be? How was it for you the realization that that’s what you wanted it to do?

Anna: [00:08:55] I think for me it was as a as a law student, I wasn’t even an attorney yet, but I was on the document duty where I was having to the person that’s having to sort through a lot of documents for review as part of big cases. And I was shocked at some of the documents I came across at some of the some of the actions taken by certain corporations and big pharma. And so for me, it was it was definitely a bit of an emotional reaction like I was appalled. And so that’s why I was I personally was attracted to mass torts.

Liel: [00:09:38] What do you think is the root cause of mass torts? You know, I think particularly mass torts, you would the way that they are presented to the public already as a mass tort always seems like it’s something that could have been preventable and it from the other side. Right. They don’t think that way. They still think that they’re doing due diligence and that they’re taking every single precaution to release safe products and to follow rules and regulations. And oftentimes they say they go as steps above and beyond what it’s called from them to do. So is it the system or is it just that companies have great PR that make them look less at fault than what they really are?

Anna: [00:10:29] I think it’s a combination. Of course, it’s there’s been an erosion of regulation over the years, over the past many decades, a constant erosion. There aren’t any there aren’t enough safeguards in place. That combined with just, you know, human nature, greed and, you know, companies, they do a cost benefit analysis of what are we going to make versus how many people are going to get hurt. And that’s how they determine whether to pursue, you know, to release certain drugs on the market or products on the market. Unfortunately.

Liel: [00:11:11] Right. So now let’s bring us to the present day. Right. And the American Association for Justice. What are the conversations that are being had in the rooms right now? Because obviously, there is litigation going. There’s a lot of concern about the future of of mass tort litigation. There is reforms happening like recently in Florida that are making people question themselves what’s the you know, how how laws are going to potentially stop protecting consumers in certain ways. So why don’t you take us a little bit through a journey of of where are we right now and what is being talked in these very, very important meetings and and gatherings?

Anna: [00:12:01] Well, there are definitely concerns. There’s you know, there’s current proposed legislation for limiting attorneys fees on certain cases. And there are definitely concerns, but there have been concerns for a long time. It has been a gradual erosion of, you know, the the right to trial by jury, essentially. But AAJ is the one that is pushing back and is advocating on behalf of protecting those rights.

Liel: [00:12:39] We’re big supporters of that cause. I’ve been to several AAJ conferences and, you know, it’s it’s a great feeling, right, that you are a part in supporting an organization that stands up for for all of these great initiatives. So if we were to try to start going particularly into some of the current mass torts that are being worked on now, what would you say is the topic of the hour right now? Because I think we are about Grace and you please jump here and correct me if I’m wrong, but we’re about to be kind of like be on that one year anniversary from when really Camp Lejeune exploded. Um, and that kind of like was in everyone’s mind and it was really, really, really getting a lot of attention. And I saw that there was some sessions focused on that, but there were many other things. So what would you say was the talk of the hour this year at the annual conference?

Anna: [00:13:43] I would say, other than some up and coming mass torts, that Camp Lejeune was definitely a huge meeting. It was packed, the Camp Lejeune meeting. And one of the issues is that was that some of the attorneys, some attorneys have filed class actions. And, of course, class actions being filed pose a concern for mass, the mass torts that have been filed. And so it’s it is a concern. But the consensus was that it’s unlikely that those classes will be certified.

Liel: [00:14:23] Thanks so much for the insights on Camp Lejeune. What would you say were other important highlights, either from mass torts or just from legislation or other or other talks that were had?

Anna: [00:14:38] There was a lot of talk about Roundup and just discussing the status of Roundup, how Monsanto has been settling cases that are set for trial, that are good cases, and then proceeding with the cases that are not so good. And because of that strategy, it would seem like Monsanto is winning, but they’re not, because what they’ve been doing is they’ve been just before trial settling the good ones. That way they can say they have these these wins. So that was discussed as well.

Liel: [00:15:17] Yeah.

Liel: [00:15:17] And because Grace has been doing here a tremendous job at keeping me up to date with everything that’s been going on with Roundup this past six months. So what you’re saying kind of has been mentioned by Grace here before and every single time Roundup comes here. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. It’s a great reminder to me of how long the journey of Mass torts is, because remember just a moment ago that I was sharing with you that Grace and I have been recording this podcast for four years and very early on, probably amongst the first recordings conversations we’ve had, we were actually talking about Roundup, and to know that we’ve been four years since then and that there are still developments and that there is still case settling and that there is still cases that are in the pipeline, It’s pretty remarkable and really gives me at least a very good illustration of how thorough and and tedious this process can be. And so do you anticipate that roundup is going to keep on going for several more years, or are we now really coming close to an end?

Anna: [00:16:33] I think we’re coming up we’re starting to wind down. I mean, it’s it’s closer to an end. It’s not going to be something I don’t think that will drag out for decades. But, you know, who knows.

Liel: [00:16:51] Right. You’ve mentioned that there were a few up and coming and I would really love to to hear if there is one in particular that that call to your attention for for one reason or another.

Anna: [00:17:04] Um, for me, I was really excited about IPC litigation, which is it’s a plural catheter that is used in cancer patients and it is coated with radioactive material. And it there was just a lot of buzz about it, about this.

Liel: [00:17:30] And it’s.

Liel: [00:17:30] Brand new. It’s emerging. Or has there already been some.

Anna: [00:17:35] There have been a few cases filed. And so it is it is brand new.

Liel: [00:17:41] Wow. Did you did you know about that Grace? Nope.

Grace: [00:17:45] Other than her updates? Nope. I definitely did not know about the litigation, which is. That’s awfully cool to hear because you know how we are about being one of the first to kind of break stuff out there.

Liel: [00:17:57] And one of the mass torts that kind of likes been very, very hot. Got her a lot of attention since the end of last year. Beginning of this year is hair relaxer. And I would love to know where we’re standing with that one because there’s been a lot of hype. Then a few months ago, some some initial ruling, if I’m using the right terms here, even further, boosted the credibility and hopes for it. So what were some of the developments that were discussed on Hair Relaxer, if you have any to share?

Anna: [00:18:32] Well, at AAJ, we discussed the status of the litigation and it’s still emerging. Of course, an MDL was formed, but the procedures are not in place yet for the MDL. We don’t have a short form complaints that have been approved yet. So we’re still we’re still in the initial stages, but it’s an emerging litigation and I do think it’s going to be a very big, big one.

Liel: [00:19:04] And how like if you had.

Liel: [00:19:06] To, because one of the things that we always try to emphasize a lot is that mass torts are not kind of like a sprint. They’re a marathon. They’re going to take very long time to really reach their their full potential or to yield results if they will yield any results. And if you had to put a timeline to hair relaxer, you know, what would be your range estimate? Like how many years or how far are we from starting to see this getting to the point where we can see case settling here.

Anna: [00:19:44] For.

Anna: [00:19:44] This case? It’s because it’s in the initial stages. There may be a few years before this is resolved, but like most mass torts, they can’t the the tort can’t last forever just because as soon as there’s a lot of news about the case, then the clock starts to tick on the statute of limitations. And so for that reason, any people who have already been diagnosed, their clock is ticking. So they should probably contact an attorney and get their case filed.

Liel: [00:20:24] Right.

Liel: [00:20:26] And another another mass tort that’s been around for a while. So we’ve just talked about hair relaxer, very, very new skill. Still, it feels up and coming. But another mass tort that’s been making a lot of noise over the past few months is talcum powder. And I’d love to hear what’s been the the talk about talcum powder throughout the conference or around the circles of legal experts that are dealing with this particular tort?

Anna: [00:21:04] Well, as you probably know, Johnson and Johnson has done everything they can to delay this, creating a separate entity, filing for bankruptcy when that bankruptcy was dismissed, filing for bankruptcy again. And so we’ve just unfortunately, it’s just been this whole pattern for talc litigation. And no, no complaints can be filed until April 22nd. No new complaints. And so I’m sorry, August 22nd. And so once that date comes by, we’ll start filing complaints again. But, you know, Johnson and Johnson is now suing the researchers involved who discovered the problems. And so I’m not sure how long they’ll try to keep delaying the inevitable. But at some point, they’re going to have to be held accountable. So.

Liel: [00:22:03] Yeah, I think it’s really going back to the beginning of our conversation when we’ve talked about how big corporations just really orchestrate and play tremendous strategies, tremendous financial strategies in order to position themselves as not the wrongdoers. When it comes down to these things. And, you know, Johnson and Johnson had a new product this year and they really orchestrated that with the settlement announcement. The week before and kind of like trying to showcase a lot of good will to the media. But it’s really interesting when you see the other side of the card and you and you realize that a lot of people that have filed these claims, they have not seen seen anything. So are there any other things with regards to not necessarily mass torts, but the Florida recent tort reform? What does that mean? Like, is that a very local thing for the state of Florida, like other states, don’t care about it or they do care about it? But but are we preparing for it? Right. Is there a strategy already, whether it is to come? Because it seems like what just happened there, it’s going to continue to it’s third. It’s not the first state. Right. That has created or imposed tougher regulations for for consumers or injured people.

Anna: [00:23:24] Well, I.

Anna: [00:23:25] Will say that when when Florida starts to impose these types of legislation that Texas soon follows, if you and there is a domino effect. So, of course, every state is looking at what other states are doing, because as these states impose litigation, that essentially takes away the rights of its own citizens, other states are watching because it could soon happen to them.

Liel: [00:23:55] Is there a.

Liel: [00:23:55] Sense of of of bigger concern? Because as you’ve said, this is not something that just emerged all from the south. And there’s always been that awareness. And you’re right, I remember because I, I was raised in a in a family that’s been involved in marketing for workers compensation and personal injury back since the 80s. And I recall, you know, all of the opportunities that there were for worker compensation lawyers to help injured workers in California back in the 90s that no longer exist. Now it’s much tougher to be able to to to to get compensation and to get medical treatment for all of these people. And so it’s been deteriorating. But where are where are we standing? What’s the outlook? Are we are we thinking that it’s just going to continue to get tougher and tougher, or do we feel that some of some things can even backtrack and that more rights can be protected?

Anna: [00:24:54] Well, unfortunately, I think that given our current Supreme Court, I think we’re in for a long stretch where things are going to continue to get worse. And it’s hopefully this is cyclical and hopefully that we come out of this and we it may who knows, It may take the people to get, you know, to become concerned enough that their individual rights are being taken away, that, you know, there’s a there’s a change. There has to be a change. But how long that’s going to take, I’m not sure.

Liel: [00:25:34] Well, we cannot end with a with such a doom and gloom statement because it’s really depressing.

Anna: [00:25:42] Right.

Liel: [00:25:42] But Anna, why don’t you tell us about what did you like the most about the conference, going back to just the experience, Was there something in particular, whether it was a session, whether it was an event, whether it was a seminar and activity, What did you enjoy? I know AJ does an amazing, amazing parties. They usually take a local landmark and do an event there or something. What was the highlight of the conference this year?

Anna: [00:26:07] You know, I really enjoyed there were lots of party after parties. I really enjoyed seeing everyone. But for me the highlight was just connecting with people that, you know, some people, some attorneys I connect with periodically but not, you know, seeing all of my some of my peers, some of whom I’ve haven’t seen in years in one place, getting together, that was very nice as well as, you know, when you get all of these attorneys in one place, you’re able to it’s like this. You’re able to discuss updates on litigation, other people’s strategies, other people’s thoughts. Um, that was my favorite aspect of the conference.

Liel: [00:26:55] That sounds great. Well, thank you so much and great. Should we move to takeaways?

Grace: [00:26:59] Yes, we can move to takeaways from all yours.

Grace: [00:27:02] All right.

Grace: [00:27:02] Well, thank you again, Anna, for all the insights you provided, because I think that that’s going to obviously help me with my takeaways. And I think the first takeaway is going to be one from your last statement, and that is. Don’t forget that, you know, we are post-COVID at this point. And so you can still go out and you don’t have to go to these shows. Let’s say you’re a marketing person. You don’t have to go there necessarily as a vendor. You can go as an attendee. But I say go because it’s worth connecting. As Anna said, you know, Anna is fairly new to our firm, but she’s not new to mass torts. And so her being able to go out to something like this and connect with all of her peers, you know, discuss things, particularly on what’s going on with the litigations and updates and strategies, that’s a huge component to running your business. So I cannot express enough how important it is to do these things, go out to these trade shows, connect with your peers, and if you haven’t, you don’t have any at that time because you’re a new lawyer or something. That’s okay. There are people like Anna who are more than happy to meet you, get to know you and meet you at these networking sessions that they put on at RJ. It’s a place for you and it’s a place for all of us to connect and get to know each other and really support the pack, right? The AAJ mission and their vision for what they’re trying to achieve. It is the American Associated Association of Justice. So let’s continue supporting them. Let’s continue supporting these initiatives and go to the trade shows so that you can connect with other people like you or that know more than you that you can learn from.

Liel: [00:28:42] And I would.

Liel: [00:28:43] Love to know as one of our takeaways as well, if someone who would be listening to this podcast has not yet really delved into mass torts but is a lawyer and is interested in, you know, getting getting their foot in the door, what what would be a good starting point? What could be a good first step to take into exploring options of either getting involved or investing?

Anna: [00:29:11] I would say I have to do a plug for mass Torts made perfect. There, you know, the mass torts made Perfect Conference is twice a year and it’s a great conference for newcomers because it really breaks down the various mass torts and explains explains them. And there’s also a business track to discuss how to get involved with mass torts.

Liel: [00:29:40] That’s true. Absolutely. We’re big fans. That’s also conference. We go, Grace, you’re going to be there in the fall.

Grace: [00:29:47] Yes, I will most definitely be there. Yeah. You know, it’s one of the.

Liel: [00:29:50] Probably I’ll.

Liel: [00:29:50] Be there. And so hopefully we’ll see you there, Anna. And I’d like just to finish up here, you know, thinking a little bit more from the consumers, because obviously it’s great to know that there’s a lot of bright lawyers just like you gathering up twice a year or more and talking about how to make sure that civilians have rights and can be protected when things go wrong. But if there was any particular action, any particular organization that you would recommend people that care and are concerned about what you’ve just mentioned. Right. The pattern which we are set about where where are we heading in terms of legislation changes and such, What are the things that we can do outside, outside of obviously voting for representatives that actually align with our values and interests? Is there any particular organization or any association that we should consider supporting in any way we can?

Anna: [00:30:52] There are grassroots organizations such as Public Citizen that focus on consumer rights and from a citizen’s perspective.

Liel: [00:31:07] Excellent.

Liel: [00:31:07] Obviously, that’s a great choice and we’ll make sure that we have information of them here in our episode notes so that people can go and learn a little bit more and find ways that they can get involved. And thank you so much for a wonderful conversation, for so many insights, for news, and also for sharing how your experience was at this year’s. We hope to have you again sometime soon.

Anna: [00:31:29] Thank you. Thank you for having me. Thank you, Anna.

Liel: [00:31:37] If you like our show.

Liel: [00:31:38] Make sure you subscribe. Tell your co-workers. Leave us a review and send us your questions that ask at: ask@incamerapodcast.com We’ll see you next week.

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