Lawyer Limelight: Hector Torres

Hector Torres, co-founding partner of national litigation firm Kasowitz Benson Torres, seeks out the most challenging cases – those which require deep knowledge of the law, an ability to understand and explain complex business issues and groundbreaking creativity. His experience and remarkably successful results with these types of cases have made him one of the nation’s most respected and sought-after lawyers in the areas of antitrust, finance, product liability and other complex commercial disputes.

A native of the South Bronx, Torres makes community and diversity a top priority. He has established and participated in outreach programs with local schools to create more opportunities for a diverse future generation of lawyers. Torres also co-chairs the Diversity & Inclusion Committee at Kasowitz, which promotes the hiring and career development of diverse lawyers at the firm.

And his efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Torres’s firm has been recognized nationally for its commitment to diversity, and Torres himself is frequently celebrated both for his legal work and his leadership in the Hispanic community. Torres is a member of the Lawdragon 500 Leading Plaintiff Financial Lawyers.

Lawdragon: Can you describe what sort of work you do as the name and co-founding partner of Kasowitz Benson Torres?

Hector Torres: My practice has involved both suing and defending major U.S., South American, European and Asian corporations in high-profile antitrust and complex commercial litigation and arbitrations, both nationwide and internationally.

LD: How did this practice develop for you?

HT: When we started our firm over 25 years ago, we were representing a large multinational chemical company facing billions of dollars in potential exposure from product liability lawsuits arising from allegedly defective plastic plumbing systems. This case became the paradigm for the types of factually and legally challenging bet-the-company cases that I especially enjoy handling and that have become the cornerstone of my practice, which has expanded to include antitrust and other commercial disputes. 

In that case, plaintiffs, mostly owners of houses, RVs and mobile homes, alleged that failures in these plumbing systems resulted from the alleged unsuitability of certain synthetic engineering resins, including our client’s, for use in plumbing systems. Our client and other companies (including other multinational companies) involved in producing the plumbing systems or the raw materials for the plumbing systems, were faced with tens of thousands of individual lawsuits, as well as statewide and nationwide class actions across the United States and in Canada, numerous jury trials in various state courts and several large international arbitrations among the companies to allocate settlement liability and insurance coverage. 

In the plumbing product liability cases, we developed extensive expert and other evidence showing that our client’s resin was suitable for use in the plumbing systems and was not responsible for their failures. One of our key pieces of evidence resulted from a comprehensive investigation I conducted of the use of our client’s engineering resin in countries around the world in water distribution systems and under conditions similar to those at issue in the litigation. 

In particular, we discovered, investigated and adduced compelling, persuasive evidence of the long record of very successful use of the resin in a plumbing system in New Zealand. Working with one of the world’s foremost polymer chemists, we developed an effective defense demonstrating that the failures of the systems in the U.S. were attributable, not to our client’s resin, but instead to other causes, including the design and installation of the systems. Thus, we were able to cabin our client’s exposure at reasonable levels and much below what it was facing when we had first taken over the client’s defense from another law firm.  

LD: What are some aspects of those large “bet-the-company” cases that you find professionally satisfying and personally enjoyable?

HT: I enjoy working collaboratively with my clients in developing an in-depth understanding of their broad range of businesses and then devising and implementing strategies to achieve my clients’ objectives – whether that’s recovering damages my client has suffered or avoiding or limiting large damages exposure. On the plaintiffs’ side, I have been able to secure recoveries of more than $2B for my clients, and on the defense side, I have successfully avoided billions of dollars in damages exposure. 

I also enjoy the variety and challenge presented by working on cross-border matters. Most of my cases involve multinational disputes, which require representing clients and conducting investigations in Europe, Asia and South America. It also provides me with the opportunity to work and develop relationships with business leaders and lawyers around the world.  

LD: Out of all the work you’ve done in your career, what would you say is the most interesting matter you’ve handled?

HT: I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on many interesting cases throughout my legal career, so it’s not easy to just select one case. However, one case I found especially interesting, as it required an innovative strategy anticipating and preparing for what our adversary would do. This was a case in which I represented a large South America-based insurance broker that had been targeted by predatory and anticompetitive conduct by a major Delaware-based insurance conglomerate. While there were many challenges in this case, we faced two notably serious and unusual ones.

First, our client, before retaining us, had signed a very broad general release of all claims arising from the allegedly wrongful conduct in exchange for a relatively small payment from the Delaware insurer. Obviously, not a good fact given the way releases are enforced by the courts. Second, our client had an important interest in resolving the matter expeditiously through a private arbitration.

We initiated the arbitration under the Inter-American Commercial Arbitration Rules, as the U.S. and Argentina were both signatories to the 1975 Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, known as the “Panama Convention.” In response, the insurer, as we expected, initiated an action in federal district court in Delaware – our adversary’s “home court” – seeking to enjoin the arbitration, relying on the release’s forum selection clause purporting to require any disputes concerning the release to be adjudicated in the Delaware courts. 

After the court temporarily enjoined the arbitration pending the outcome of the trial on the insurer’s claim, we asserted, as a defense, that the release was invalid because our client had signed it under duress after being driven into financial distress as a result of the very predatory and anticompetitive conduct by the insurer that we were challenging in the arbitration.

After discovery and a bitterly fought two-week jury trial, we secured a unanimous verdict in favor of our client declaring the release null and void. We then defeated the insurer’s post-trial motions asking the court to overturn the jury’s verdict. Having invalidated the release and its forum selection clause, we were able to get the temporary injunction lifted and resume the prosecution of our claims in the Panama Convention arbitration.  

After a four-week arbitration hearing, we secured a substantial monetary damages award in favor of our client and against the insurer. We then defeated the insurer’s post-arbitration efforts to have the arbitration award reversed in the Delaware federal district court and on appeal before the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

LD: That’s impressive. Have you handled any cases recently that are similar to that one in terms of scope and rigor?

HT: One recent challenging and groundbreaking matter involves the representation of Ford Motor Company and its foreign affiliates, which may have been the victim of a large number of separate price-fixing, bid-rigging and market-allocation cartels formed by auto parts suppliers and others, involving more than 80 separate component parts and commodities. Our clients’ challenge was to determine the nature and scope of the impact on the businesses of each of these cartels, which operated on a global basis impacting our clients’ businesses domestically and around the world. Then, we had to develop and implement strategies to recover damages for the harm caused by the cartels, while making sure to not undermine or disrupt our clients’ relationship with their suppliers, many of which remained essential to their manufacturing operations. 

To address this challenge, we collaborated with our clients to develop an innovative strategy based on a bespoke confidential dispute resolution framework consisting of various phases, including independent investigation, business negotiations, mediation and arbitration. One of the benefits of this unique approach, which was heavily negotiated and contained different permutations, was that it provided a confidential and cooperative framework to resolve fundamental liability and damages while preserving cooperative business relationships. 

Through this process, we succeeded, during the investigation phases, in obtaining early and relatively broad discovery, including documents and information located abroad that would have been difficult to obtain through litigation in a U.S. court. In some cases, that evidence also would have been virtually impossible to obtain through litigation in foreign courts. We combined this with an in-depth investigation within the company, working closely with the company’s in-house R&D, engineering, procurement, marketing and finance experts to develop a comprehensive understanding of the particular part or commodity at issue, the suppliers, competitive drivers and competitors in the relevant market, and a full history of the procurement, bidding and contract-negotiation processes. From the outset of our engagement, and in conjunction with our factual investigations, we also retained and worked closely with antitrust damages experts to develop the theories, empirical data and evidence crucial for preparing persuasive econometric damages models. 

LD: Wow. How did that strategy affect the outcome of the case?

HT: This approach enabled our clients to secure evidence that we used to develop compelling fact-based cases on the issues of antitrust liability, impact and damages. During the early phases of our engagement with the target suppliers, we would present these cases directly to their senior business executives and attorneys, along with a well-grounded settlement demand informed by our comprehensive factual investigation and econometric analyses. The focused and early development of our affirmative case placed our clients in an optimal position to initiate and engage in negotiations in an attempt to resolve this dispute on a global basis. Through this approach, we succeeded in achieving an expeditious resolution of a large number of cases. 

For matters not resolved during these initial phases, we engaged in mandatory mediations, through which we were successful in resolving a significant number of additional cases. The balance of the matters, with one exception, were then resolved through confidential international arbitrations. We sued the single supplier that refused to engage in our bespoke process in federal district court, and even that supplier quickly agreed to settle after we defeated its motion to dismiss our complaint.

LD: Is there a specific lesson from this case that speaks to your approach to this work more broadly?

HT: One of the principal lessons from this work is to think creatively when contemplating how to resolve your clients’ legal and business issues rather than automatically doing something just because that’s the way it has always been done. Through our bespoke strategy, we were able to obtain very significant recoveries for the harm caused to our clients, with minimal, if any, disruption of the important relationships between our clients and their suppliers. We were able to achieve this without engaging in multi-forum, costly, protracted and disruptive litigations. 

LD: That’s an incredible victory. Now, we would like to hear about you and your firm’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, both within the firm and in the broader legal community. Why is diversity important to you and to Kasowitz Benson Torres?

HT: As one of the few Hispanic attorneys who is a name and co-founding partner of a major national law firm, I have always been deeply committed to diversifying the legal profession and to ensuring that my firm hires and promotes diverse attorneys and professional staff.  

Diversity is a key component of any firm, company or organization. People from diverse backgrounds offer fresh ideas, perspectives and experiences that promote creativity and innovation. That commitment has helped enable our firm to provide our clients with the highest-quality legal services and to achieve successful resolutions of the complex and often bet-the-company legal and business issues they regularly bring us.

We have implemented various firm-wide initiatives aimed at recruiting, supporting, promoting and retaining diverse attorneys. We have also been creating new pathways for diverse groups to become involved in the profession by serving, pro bono, as a mentor law firm for John Dewey High School students through a program run by the Justice Resource Center, which pairs law firms with diverse New York City public high schools. As part of the program, we coach students in the MENTOR Moot Court Competition, make presentations to classes, bring students on court visits and host students at the firm to discuss career opportunities in the legal field.

On a personal note, as a leader of the firm and co-chair of the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee, I have put together countless teams comprised of diverse attorneys, creating opportunities for them to hone their legal and leadership skills, providing them with the necessary tools and resources they need to flourish, and promoting them at Kasowitz and in the broader legal profession. I have mentored numerous diverse attorneys at Kasowitz, as well as diverse attorneys and students outside of Kasowitz. I also established a mentor program at my former elementary school in the South Bronx.

Our firm’s efforts have been recognized by "The American Lawyer," which named us as one of the 20 most diverse law firms in the country in its 2020 Diversity Scorecard listing and ranked us fifth on its list of firms with the highest percentage of African American lawyers. In addition, we were recently shortlisted for a "Chambers USA" Diversity and Inclusion Award for Corporate Social Responsibility Program of the Year.