It’s all too rare to see women founding their own law firms. But when they run two simultaneously? That’s even more special. Luckily, Zoe Littlepage, a founder of both Littlepage Booth Leckman and, recently, of Athea Trial Lawyers, has never been one to let anything or anyone – from gender barriers to major corporate legal teams – stand in her way.
Littlepage takes great pride in going to bat against notable corporations on behalf of her injured clients. Born in the Caribbean and educated in the UK and U.S., Littlepage has litigated medical mass torts, products liability and human rights cases across the country for more than three decades. She is perhaps best known for her work as lead plaintiffs’ counsel in the Hormone Replacement Therapy MDL. After more than a decade of trying the cases across the country, she attained jury verdicts in excess of $260M for her clients, all women who were breast cancer survivors.
In other notable matters, she spearheaded the state court litigation against the company that produced diabetic medication Rezulin. That litigation alleged that the company’s lack of safety testing led to high levels of liver failure and deaths linked to the drug. After trying five of the nine state cases, Littlepage and her team achieved more than $36M in jury verdicts, along with a host of settlements for victims and their families.
Despite these achievements, Littlepage is humble to the core. These accolades aren’t about the money or the acclaim for her – the courtroom is just where she belongs. “I realized very early on that I had a superpower: I wasn’t afraid to talk in public,” she remembers. As a child, when she learned about the profession of not just being a lawyer, but a litigator, she was ecstatic. “I thought, ‘Wait, there's this thing called a lawyer where they pay you to stand up and talk? That's the best job,’” she says. “I wanted to be in a courtroom talking.”
The courtroom is also where Littlepage can fight for women – both her clients, and other women lawyers. Athea Trial Lawyers, founded by Littlepage and five other women who also run their own firms, aims to represent victims of catastrophic injury while providing a network to inspire women lawyers to keep fighting for more in their careers.
In celebration of Littlepage’s trial prowess, she was inducted into the prestigious Inner Circle of Advocates in 2011. The invitation-only organization is home to the 100 most acclaimed trial lawyers in the nation. She is also a member of the Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America, our flagship guide.
When not in the courtroom, Littlepage enjoys traveling with her family, including her life and legal partner, Rainey Booth. The pair have six children, three of whom are now lawyers. Together, the family has taken a once-in-a-lifetime scavenger hunt trip around the world – fourteen times. “We kind of got addicted to adventure travel,” she admits. They run a travel blog, “Where in the World are Rainey and Zoe?”, in their spare time, covering their journeys from Singapore to Rwanda and beyond.
Lawdragon: You grew up in the Caribbean and the UK. How was that experience for you?
Zoe Littlepage: So, when I was 12, my mom was called in for a parent-teacher meeting. The teacher said, "Zoe is being disruptive. She is talking and she is difficult to have in the classroom. I think it's because she's a little advanced for the class. I think you need to consider her going away."
So, my mom sent me away to boarding school in England. I went by myself – my family was still in the Caribbean.
Those were sad years. I felt very isolated. I came in with a very heavy Caribbean accent. My mom paid for me to have elocution classes to try and tone down the accent, because I was teased very badly. But, you know, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
I didn't like the idea of being a lawyer for masses of people that didn't know me. It was a very good career, but I enjoy the single-instant cases more now that I'm older and I get to choose what I do.
Then, when I was 15, I knew I wanted to leave England and come to America. I applied to 11th grade boarding school, 12th grade boarding school, and college. All three accepted me.
My mom said, "You're too young to go to college. I know you don't need to go to 11th grade; why don't you try 12th?" So, I went to one year of high school in America at Andover, a prep school outside of Boston, and then I went to college at 16.
LD: What did your parents do for work?
ZL: My dad was a pilot. My mom bought some land and built and ran a small hotel.
Most women in the Caribbean don't work. My mom was a real change. She had her own business, and she ran it herself. She made more money than my father. She was a powerhouse.
When I was growing up, if families had money to send someone away to be educated, they sent the boys, not the girls. My mom and dad had two girls, and my mom was very supportive of me getting educated, getting out and doing the best I could. She was pretty strict about it. “The only way off this island is you getting out,” she’d say. You get out; you stay out.
LD: You’ve since built this incredible career for yourself. How would you describe your practice now?
ZL: I did mass torts for a lot of my career, and then about eight years ago we decided to do more single-event matters. A pollution case, an environmental case, a parts liability case. And I liked it.
I didn't mind mass tort. I just felt like a lot of the times I didn't connect with my clients unless they were someone set for trial. I didn't like the idea of being a lawyer for masses of people that didn't know me. It was a very good career, but I enjoy the single-instant cases more now that I'm older and I get to choose what I do.
LD: Tell us about your hormone replacement therapy cases, where you had so much success for breast cancer survivors.
ZL: That matter was sent to an amazing judge in Little Rock, Ark. He was a fair, good jurist, and he was very progressive for Arkansas in 2002. He chose a woman to run the litigation because all the plaintiffs were women and appointed me lead counsel.
The litigation took 12 years, and it was basically all I did. I took probably 50 depositions and reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents. Then, my partner Rainey Booth and I tried 14 cases around the country. It was probably the best decade of my career as we represented such worthy clients.
LD: Are there any other cases that stand out as particularly memorable?
ZL: When I had just started my own law firm, I represented a woman in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Tiny town. I was not flush for cash. In fact, I borrowed money from my parents to finance the trial. I packed up all my boxes, brought one young lawyer and one legal assistant and drove all the way to Iowa to take on one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world.
ZL: I showed up at this courtroom; I'm sitting by myself at the counsel table. Across from me are six men in black suits representing the drug company.
Only in America can an immigrant woman, the first college graduate in her family, show up in a courtroom and take on the largest drug company on behalf of someone who has very little resources... that's an incredible judicial system.
I just felt it was such an honor that this woman had chosen me. She could have chosen any lawyer and she chose me. She had such faith that I could tell her story and that I would represent her passionately. I was awed.
The case settled about five days into trial for a very good amount and my client was well taken care of for the rest of her life. But I remember sitting there, right before I stood to start jury selection, thinking: “Wow, only in America can an immigrant woman, the first college graduate in her family, show up in a courtroom and take on the largest drug company on behalf of someone who has very little resources.” I mean, that's an incredible judicial system.
That settlement really catapulted my firm forward and gave me the financial backing to move onto bigger cases. Trying cases is really an incredible feeling. The courtroom's quiet, and you stand up and everybody's looking at you, and you think, “I can do this.”
LD: You’re known for your visual exhibits and your demonstrative aids at trial. Why is that so important?
ZL: I am a visual learner, and I don't understand how people can learn without seeing. If I hear a story, if I'm reading a book, I must see visually what's happening in the book. So, when I'm getting ready for trial, it is incomprehensible to me to not visually present my client's case.
I love teaching lawyers how important it is to use visuals to impact the visual jurors. Since 60 percent of the world are visual learners, if you're not visual in your presentation, you are not persuading more than half of your jury.
LD: What did it mean for you when you were asked to join the Inner Circle of Advocates?
ZL: I couldn't believe it. I showed up for the first meeting and all of my heroes were in the room. It was exciting and humbling.
The Inner Circle is special because these are incredible lawyers who believe litigating is a vocation. It's a craft. It's not a way of making money or stroking their ego. So, the Inner Circle meetings are unique in that it is not just a bunch of lawyers sitting around swapping war stories, they are about how you can be a better lawyer. It’s been special to be a part of that group because it's a unique association of trial lawyers who have put their ego down and admit every day that they just want to be better at what they do.
LD: That’s amazing. Were any of the other Athea women in the Inner Circle when you joined?
ZL: Yes, at the time I was inducted into the Inner Circle, which is 100 lawyers, there were only five other female lawyers. Charla Aldous and Randi McGinn are both Inner Circle members.
Of course, when you first show up and there's only a handful of women, you bond with them quickly. Randi and Charla are very special, and they really welcomed me.
LD: How did you meet the other Athea women?
ZL: I knew Lisa Blue and Deb Chang from the speaking circuit. They are both incredibly impressive. I think it's important that lawyers give back through speaking. As difficult as it is to get away from your practice, you owe it to go and teach and talk about what you've done.
When women come together there's something really powerful about that chemistry.
So, I will admit that I was a little bit starstruck when Deb called and said, "Do you want to be part of Athea?" These women are some of my real idols. They’re the top of the female plaintiffs’ bar and are powerful, smart, pragmatic and practical. I was incredibly flattered. I was like, “You want me?”
LD: That's so funny, because, of course, you completely belong there.
ZL: It's not that I don't think I've been successful or that I don't think I've tried hard, but I look up to these women. I listen to their advice. It was so flattering.
Each one of us runs our own firm. It’s pretty rare to have six women who founded their own firms work together. When women come together there's something really powerful about that chemistry.
LD: There must be because, of course, the legal industry has been a boys’ club for the longest time.
ZL: Yes. I mean, there were many hormone therapy litigation meetings where I was the only woman in the room, and I was the lead counsel. So, I couldn't really show vulnerability. But with Athea I can say, "Look, this is what I'm thinking of doing, but I'm not sure if it's right. What do you all think?" Whereas in a room full of men I might just say, "This is how it's going to be."
LD: What message do you and your firm hope to convey about women in courtrooms?
ZL: We’re showing women that you can walk away from a larger practice and start your own firm. I'm not pretending it's easy, but don't let anybody tell you can't.
In the past, many women have quit the law. If something bad happened in their family, they were the ones who walked away from the courtroom and went home. We saw that in the pandemic, where so many more women quit their jobs than men, because they had kids to take care of and homeschooling, etc.
So, we try to be frank and open and tell women who are going through something hard in their personal life: Look, don't quit. Find yourself a tribe of sisters in whatever town you're from, and if you have to step back from your practice for a month, have some people who have your back and can step in and do your hearings and depositions. But don't walk away from an incredible career just because you hit a hard patch. This too will pass.
People see the Athea women on the stage, and think, “Oh, their lives are perfect. They've got Instagram lives.” We don't. I mean, we've all had terrible tragedies in our lives. But you've got to pick yourself up, lean on your support system and reach out for help. Just don't quit. We've lost so much female talent in the courtroom when things got hard. We want women to understand that there is support out there. There are lots of other solo practitioner women who will have your back and then you'll have their back later on.
Female litigators were isolated for so long, and when times got tough, many women scattered, left flourishing careers. That's got to stop. Athea is here to give women more guidance and support to stop that.