Photo by Gregg Delman.
Few lawyers in Lawdragon’s 15-year history have built a track record like Chris Seeger’s in the area of complex multidistrict litigation and other class actions. The Seeger Weiss founder has earned many billions of dollars for plaintiffs across a wide range of personal injury, product liability, toxic tort and pharmaceutical cases. Among his high-profile work from recent years, Seeger served as co-lead counsel of the plaintiff class in its settlement with the NFL in the concussion litigation. Four years ago, Seeger became part of just the second class of “Lawdragon Legends” for having made the Lawdragon 500 guide at least ten times. It’s no wonder Seeger says he has “the best job in the world.”
The onetime corporate defense lawyer draws strength from his family – he has six children – and his dedication to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. While the pandemic has put a hold on sparring with opponents and most in-person trial practice, Seeger will be poised to display his black belt skills in both environments when the time comes.
Lawdragon: The NFL concussion litigation was among the more famous civil cases of the past decade or so. With a little bit of distance now, do you have any thoughts or big-picture takeaways about the challenges, outcomes or impact of that litigation and settlement?
Chris Seeger: The NFL concussion litigation got everyone thinking about the implications of contact sports, and not just football. It sparked debate about the dangers associated with concussive and sub-concussive head blows at every level: Parents are now aware when making the decision to let their kids play contact sports; rules have changed to not only protect NFL players but younger athletes as well; and we were able to secure a massive 65-year fund worth well over $1B to compensate retired players for head injuries they sustained playing in the NFL while the league hid these dangers. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to lead a case that helped change the game for the better.
LD: How about some of your other recent matters? What has been taking up your time recently?
CS: My time is being spent on a few matters: I’m currently co-lead counsel in the 3M Combat Arms Ear Plug case, representing military veterans and active duty servicemembers who suffered hearing loss and damage as a result of 3M’s defective ear plugs, which they sold to the U.S. government. I’m also co-lead counsel in the PPI Product Liability Litigation representing clients who’ve suffered chronic and acute kidney damage from marketed Proton Pump Inhibitors like Prilosec, Prevacid, Nexium and Protonix, among others. And I just completed negotiating, along with my co-counsel, a settlement with Mercedes and Bosch, which provides more than $700M for car owners who purchased Mercedes diesel vehicles that we alleged had “cheat devices” that allowed them to skirt state and federal emissions regulations. I’m also co-counsel in a case against Intel for making defective CPUs that fail to protect private information from being stolen by malicious actors and hackers. I love getting to learn about so many different issues, each of which has had a huge impact on the people we represent.
LD: Can you share any information about how the pandemic is affecting your practice or the firm? If this is going to be a “years not months” situation, are there ways in which you think the pandemic will have a lasting impact on how massively complex cases are managed?
CS: There’s no doubt that the pandemic is having a dramatic and probably lasting impact on how cases are managed. Courts are doing a great job keeping things moving, but there really is only so much you can do remotely. When lawyers aren’t appearing face to face in court, they lose the opportunities that can only occur with those face-to-face interactions. Settlement negotiations in particular are slow. Some of that has to do with not being able to get in a room together, but I also think the pandemic has provided big companies the opportunity to put the brakes on these talks and to hold on to their money a little bit longer. I’m a big believer that trials drive settlements. Right now there are very few civil trials being set, and those set before the pandemic have been dramatically delayed.
LD: I remember from a prior interview that you have five kids. How have you managed as a family during the past several months?
CS: Ha! That was an old interview. I’m now up to six kids. There’s a lot bad about this pandemic. People are out of work. Businesses have suffered or closed. People have died and those that have recovered are experiencing long-term harm. It’s hard to put a good spin on any of that. But, to be completely honest, I’ve really enjoyed being home with my family and doing simple things like eating meals together and being home when they wake up. My oldest kids who no longer live at home I’ve been getting to see more often, too. On that level, it’s been awesome for me.
LD: Is there a case from the past – maybe one that hasn’t be talked about recently – that stands out as particularly memorable for one reason or another?
CS: Vioxx will always stand out for me no matter how many years pass. It was one of the largest and most important cases I’ve ever handled, and it was hand-to-hand combat for years. We tried several cases and ultimately achieved a $4.85B settlement. But the case was important for many more reasons. It had a huge impact on how clinical trial data gets reported, and it shined a light on the practice of concealing negative clinical trial information – or any negative information – about a drug being marketed. It was very common for Big Pharma companies to do, and it ended up hurting a lot of people. For me it’s a meaningful victory.
LD: When your cases do get to trial, what’s your favorite part of that process?
CS: High-stakes trials like the ones my firm is often involved in are difficult in every respect. Marshalling the record, knowing the law, preparing for evidentiary battles, getting ready to direct and cross-examine witnesses – it’s hard to say any of that is enjoyable. But if I were to compare the process to a boxing or Jiu Jitsu match, I’d say that you put in all of that hard work so the actual fight is easy. Coming through that period of preparation is very satisfying, and there are big advantages. You know the case as well as humanly possible at that point! There is no better feeling than winning and there is no worse feeling than losing.
LD: Are you still active with Jiu Jitsu, even if competitions aren’t happening?
CS: It’s been hard to stay active during the pandemic. I can still train my body and work on technique, but a big part of Jiu Jitsu, like boxing, is sparring. That is how you really learn to implement your technique, being there live and giving it 100 percent. Without it, you’re in limbo. So while I can’t spar right now, when this is over, I’ll pick up right where I left off. Hey, I’m only 60! I plan on sparring 25- and 30-year olds well into my 70s and 80s. It keeps you young. Everyone should try it.
LD: I also recall your background in being a carpenter. Do you still dabble in that type of work or hobby? What else might be getting your through these unusual times?
CS: Anyone who knows me knows that I am very proud of my working-class background and the fact that I put myself through college and law school from money I made working as a carpenter. But, to be completely honest, the day I graduated law school, I retired my hammer and never looked back! It’s very frustrating to my wife that I act like I know how to do everything in construction but that I refuse to actually do it.
LD: What advice do you have for law students who want a career similar to yours?
CS: I think that I have the best job in the world. Every case is very different so you’re always learning. I always encourage law students to consider doing the same kind of work where you can really affect – and improve – people’s lives and love what you’re doing while doing it. If you’re interested in doing the most exciting legal work there is, apply to a firm that does this kind of work, clerk for a judge handling an MDL, or just jump in and try to get work in an active MDL. Once you’re in, then it’s on you. Impress folks with your work ethic and smarts. Make the best of whatever opportunities you get.
LD: Is there an extra-practice pro bono, public interest, or community commitment that you wish to highlight?
CS: I’m really proud of how committed our firm is to doing work like this. We’ve sent our attorneys to the border to help reunite families. Our partners support community organizations such as Oasis, which provides educational and social service programs to women and children, as well as public interest initiatives to upload election law and voter rights with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, among many other commitments. And we’re always looking for more pro bono opportunities.