Lawyer Limelight: Anthony Shapiro

Even in the elite air of Lawdragon 500 members, Anthony Shapiro’s unusual practice blend makes him something of a rarity among the nation’s most prominent litigators. He helps handle the types of massive class actions that are his firm’s calling card while also maintaining a focus on representing plaintiffs in personal injury claims. The name partner of Seattle-based Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro thrives in this practice mix, which enables him to litigate huge cases for broader societal impact and to help individual people during their most difficult times. Shapiro, a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, met fellow name partner Steve Berman when they were both representing plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez oil spill litigation and joined the firm in 2000.

Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers the mix of work you do within your practice?

Anthony Shapiro: My work is comprised primarily of personal injury work, representing victims in cases including wrongful death, brain injury, and catastrophic personal injury matters resulting from construction site, workplace, automobile accidents, product liability and nursing home negligence. I also support the firm’s complex plaintiffs class actions in the areas of antitrust and consumer-rights law.

LD: That’s an interesting mix. How did you develop it?

AS: When I had my own firm over 20 years ago, I focused on personal injury and consumer cases, and when I first joined Hagens Berman, I expanded my work to include class action plaintiffs antitrust work and have been doing it ever since. When I joined the firm, Hagens Berman had a need, and I was interested. I like a varied practice. Lots of folks wonder why I have such an eclectic mix of work, but I enjoy the sophistication of antitrust matters with the complexities of those cases, but at the same time, I enjoy working with individuals. I achieve that satisfaction in my personal injury work, and the way I see it, I get to enjoy the best of both worlds.

LD: What do you like about this type of work?

AS: In the simplest terms, I enjoy helping people, and in personal injury representation, you really see the effect of your efforts. In personal injury work, when you get a result for someone who has been badly injured, you are helping make your clients’ life easier and better. I find it to be incredibly gratifying work.

LD: Can you talk about some of your most interesting cases?

AS: It wasn’t necessarily successful, but one of the most interesting matters I’ve been involved in was representing victims of the Hanford nuclear disaster. Washington state residents who lived downwind from the Hanford site, or who used the Columbia River downstream were exposed to elevated doses of radiation that placed them at increased risk for various cancers and other diseases from the plant’s activity in 1940s and ‘50s. People suffered from thyroid disease and thyroid cancer especially. The case we brought was against the government contractors. It ultimately was not successful, but remains one of the more interesting I’ve been involved in.

Also, the Exxon Valdez oil spill case was an interesting matter that I was heavily involved in. It’s the case where Steve Berman, who co-founded Hagens Berman, and I met. It was a fascinating case in regards to the facts and environmental aspects. It was also my first experience working with a large group of probably 50 attorneys in a cooperative, seamless way. Working together as a team in that way was new to me and proved a very enriching experience.

LD: Are there any trends you are seeing in your practice in terms of the types of cases keeping you busy these days?

AS: Antitrust cases are becoming harder for plaintiffs to bring. The Supreme Court and politicians are attempting to cut off access to the courthouse in many ways, making those cases more difficult to fight. However, in the state of Washington, in terms of personal injury work, those cases are still alive and well. There are no caps on damages or limits on how one can get justice at the courthouse.

LD: Can you describe a recent case that you’ve handled?

AS: I recently represented a gentleman who had served four Army tours in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger. After his years of service that had left him completely uninjured, Nick Davey suffered a horrific car crash that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Nick had been on his motorcycle when he was struck by a Saudi Arabian driver who was operating a vehicle rented from Avis. He was cited by police as failing to yield to Nick. Shortly after, the driver left the country. Meanwhile, after the crash, Nick was flown to Harborview for surgery and spent weeks recovering and rehabilitating; he is never going to walk again.

We then sought to argue that under Washington law, Avis had failed to do its due diligence. It had not only failed to keep a copy of the driver’s passport, but also could not read his Saudi Arabian license. He never should have been allowed to rent that vehicle.

LD: What were some of the challenges of the case?

AS: The damages in Nick Davey’s case were significant, but liability was extremely slim. We could not sue the driver in that case because he had left the country and was in Saudi Arabia. So, we had to claim that the car rental company violated Washington state statute because they couldn’t read his license, due to it being in Arabic. Under state law, it’s illegal to rent a vehicle until the renter’s driver’s license and verified signatures have been inspected. Avis failed to do that. That case was almost dismissed three times on summary judgment and proved quite challenging, but we were able to keep it alive and settled for a significant amount.

LD: Is there a specific lesson from this work or is there anything from it you will find especially memorable?

AS: A specific lesson from all of these catastrophic personal injury cases I handle is that it helps to care. It’s not just a case; these are people with real problems, and they come to you with their life in their hands. You are really the only person who can change the track of their lives. In one sense, when you are not successful on their behalf, that loss can feel devastating and quite heavy, but when you are successful, it is incredibly gratifying.

LD: Why did you pursue a career in the law in the first place?

AS: I was going to be a history teacher, but really did not know if that was what I wanted to do. Applying to law school was essentially a way to delay a decision of what to do with my life for a few years. I was a British history major and had even studied in London. I had planned to go to Duke for a joint degree in law and a master’s in history, but I instead went to Georgetown because a family arose.

LD: Is this the type of practice you imagined yourself practicing while in law school?

AS: I never imagined I’d do antitrust law, even though my father, David I. Shapiro, was a pioneering plaintiffs antitrust lawyer. He was at the time – and may still be – the youngest lawyer of all time to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court, at the young age of 24. [David I. Shapiro, who passed away in 2009, was also the founding partner of Dickstein Shapiro.]

I always imagined myself doing personal injury work because it suited my personality and it’s what I felt called to do. Being able to work with individuals on that level, and go in front of a jury on a regular basis always appealed to me.

LD: Was there an early experience or mentor who really helped shape the course of your professional life?

AS: There were several, my father being one. Several attorneys I worked with as a young lawyer were a major inspiration, one being Dexter Washburn, who is still in Seattle. I worked with him when I was just starting out and always admired his attention to detail, his perseverance and his creativity. He had a real steel backbone in terms of how he approached problems, and he really gave me an example of how to be, how to follow through, how to be committed to the client and the case.