Maura Kolb came to The Lanier Law Firm in 2003 after previously working with the firm on complex business and personal injury litigation matters. That work included helping to reach a sizeable settlement for syringe manufacturer Retractable Technologies in an antitrust lawsuit against Becton Dickinson and other defendants, serving as part of the trial team that secured a $258M verdict in the nation’s first trial over the painkiller Vioxx, as well as in two additional Vioxx trials that led to a significant MDL settlement. She subsequently coordinated BP Gulf Oil Spill settlements, pro bono, for hundreds of firm clients.

In 2011, Kolb was promoted to the management of the bankruptcy claims department for the asbestos section of the firm, later expanding that role to include management of the historical asbestos docket. Collecting millions of dollars for clients every year, Kolb serves on numerous national asbestos trust advisory committees and is currently counsel for client representatives on various asbestos creditor committees.

Kolb has called Houston home for more than 30 years after earning her law degree from The University of Houston Law Center, and her undergraduate degree cum laude from Northeast Missouri State University.

Kolb has previously been recognized on The Lawdragon 500 Leading Plaintiff Consumer Lawyers guide. 

Lawdragon: So give us an overview of your responsibilities at the firm.

Maura Kolb: I am the Managing Attorney for the Asbestos Resolution Team. We work on the firm’s post-trial book of asbestos cases. That work includes, among many other things, poring over exposure information with an eye toward maximizing client compensation. Much of that work involves bankruptcy trust claims. Companies that made, distributed and/or used asbestos products historically at times get to a point where their liabilities outweigh assets. The result is often a trust created through the Federal Bankruptcy Code Section 524(g). I represent the firm in an advisory role to a number of these trusts.

Additionally, my duties involve representation of clients who serve on asbestos creditor committees in various bankruptcy courts. A relatively recent development within my world is companies’ attempts to use the bankruptcy system to shed asbestos liabilities while still solvent. This maneuver was dubbed the “Texas Two-Step,” originating with the very wealthy company, Georgia-Pacific. More recently the maneuver has gained worldwide attention when attempted by Johnson & Johnson.

LD: But as a litigator, wouldn’t you prefer to resolve these claims in court in front of a jury?

MK: Of course. Protection of the constitutional right to a jury trial is incredibly important and that right is under attack. Companies that injure people perhaps fear a courtroom more than anything. When companies injure large numbers of people, the cases are most often consolidated into state or federal multi-district litigations. This MDL process has a solid record of efficiently resolving large numbers of cases. At the heart of the Two-Step maneuver is the desire to force a settlement of all the liability at once, the idea being driving down the liability and of course receiving a release from any asbestos liability in the present and future. This maneuver has been argued to bankruptcy courts as one that is in the best interests of clients. That argument is outrageous, especially when coming for attorneys who represent the companies trying to shed their liability.

LD: So how did you come to join the Lanier firm?

MK: I met Mark Lanier not long after I was licensed, as he became trial counsel on a few cases at the firm where I worked. In 1997 my work involved an antitrust case for Retractable Technologies, Inc., a safety needle manufacturer. That case eventually became my sole focus in a joint venture with the Lanier firm. As an aside, the movie “Puncture,” with Chris Evans, was based on this case. I was hired by the Lanier firm when that case concluded.

LD: And at that point did you jump into another big case?

Protection of the constitutional right to a jury trial is incredibly important and that right is under attack.

MK: Not long afterward I became involved in the Vioxx litigation. The firm had individual cases and was involved in individually filed state cases, as well as the N.J. state and the federal MDLs created to handle the large numbers of cases. Merck failed to warn about the risks of the painkiller, Vioxx, which substantially increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes for patients. I was involved in the first Vioxx trial in Texas in 2005 and then again in 2006 and 2007 bellwether Vioxx trials, in Atlantic City, N.J. Those plaintiff verdicts led the way to a $4.85B nationwide settlement with Merck. I then moved to coordination of settlement packages for our firm.

LD: What did that involve?

MK: The settlements in this MDL were based on a matrix created to determine the value for each claim. It was a points-based system that looked not only at medical records that included the injuries, but also the totality of a person's health. I spearheaded this process, and put to use a different skillset than I had previously used in my career. Shortly after this ended, I took on the management for resolving asbestos bankruptcy claims. That remains a key focus for not only my team, but also for the firm.

LD: You mention skillset. What is that skillset, what makes you good at what you do and what do you try to instill in the younger attorneys who work on your team?

MK: The main skillset necessary here at Lanier is, in one sense, very simple and it is something that I talk about more than you might think. If you work hard and have the drive and the smarts to do the work, you will do well. That's the big picture.

As a young lawyer, I spent more than a decade with my head in the details of big cases or litigations. The responsibilities I have taken on since that time helped me develop a much greater ability to look at the big picture and gave me the opportunity to develop and manage a team of people. For me it is a skillset that I have worked to develop and continue to develop. I see that as the big part of the reason for the success my team has had here. It can be a challenge to see the big picture when you are working in the weeds, but that skillset would serve any lawyer very well. The work we do is incredibly rewarding. I would hope that I lead by example.

LD: On that topic, how many attorneys are a part of your team?

MK: There are three lawyers here at the firm that are a part of the team. As I mentioned, we work on large numbers of asbestos cases, post-litigation. The attorneys on my team have distinct roles within, but of course there is always some overlap. As a team, the attorneys also interact with the asbestos litigation teams at the firm. My hope is that these roles give our team the opportunity to lead within those roles. The work is challenging, but we work hard to do all we can for our clients, mostly through work with asbestos bankruptcy trusts.

LD: Talk a bit more about these Asbestos Bankruptcy Trusts?

MK: Part of the challenge we face is keeping up with asbestos bankruptcy trusts, both old and new, of which there are many. Although we all continue to work with clients to help them get as much compensation as possible, it has been historically and remains unfortunate that it can take so long for people to get compensation, particularly once a bankruptcy becomes part of the process. In the bankruptcy trust payment context, payments are made mostly in small percentages of the total liability.

If you work hard and have the drive and the smarts to do the work, you will do well. That's the big picture.

Sometimes years after a trust opens, there may be a decision that there is money enough to send a supplemental payment to claimants. In that way, the final resolution is often a long time coming. It is an ongoing challenge keeping contact with families over long periods of time. Clients as well as close family members of clients often pass. For the clients and their families, of course we want to maximize recovery, but we also want to give those families final resolution.

LD: So in helping these families, who may be the children or grandchildren of the original client, you still find that fulfilling?

MK: I do. I talk with my team regularly about how very important our work is so that we keep our focus. Every single phone call, every single dollar we provide to a client is so important. We must be able to take the satisfaction that comes from helping people in order to continue to do what we do.

I like the managing role very much. That's an important part of what I do because as a team we must make every effort to work in the most efficient way that we can. It takes a particular type of person to do this work, and I do my best to see that folks stay motivated.

LD: And do you interact with attorneys from other firms in handling these cases?

MK: Yes, of course. Over the years as we have become more involved in the bankruptcy court aspect of things, engaging with my counterparts at other firms has helped me grow as a lawyer, as a manager, and even as a person. Working with other firms across the country opens new opportunities for us and is an important aspect of our goals. My counterparts and I have served our clients who sit on various asbestos bankruptcy committees, as well as our firms sitting on Trust Advisory Committees. That work provides an even broader view of the asbestos bankruptcy world. It helps inform certain choices for sure and as a plus, I enjoy working more closely with clients and with lawyers from other firms.

LD: You’re also very involved in supporting the Houston Food Bank. How did that become a passion project for you?

MK: It started about a month after I moved to asbestos bankruptcy work, in the summer of 2011. As a firm, we were in the middle of the firm’s “Year of Gifts” theme competition. The asbestos bankruptcy team theme was “Year of Gifts," the idea being to share gifts of time and talent.

LD: And that was the Food Bank?

MK: As a group we brainstormed and decided one of the volunteer projects would be the HFB. We worked at the Houston Food Bank’s Keegan’s Kitchen, and it was, for me, a truly fantastic experience. Not only does HFB make the experience easy to implement with groups, but it is also a way for the team to spend time together. For me, it was and still is a place where I can connect on a more personal level with folks in the group, where we can connect with each other in a different setting.

In 2017, we started participation in the HFB “Food from the Bar” month-long competition for Houston’s legal community. With firm leadership support, we took this challenge to heart and reached out to involve others. The support has been amazing. We donate our time as well as fundraise and of course take donations through a firm webpage for the HFB. The firm’s entire leadership is incredibly important to our efforts. Mark matches every dollar we can collect for this important cause. This year we begin our eighth year in this competition, where we consistently finish at or near the top of the pack, even as we now compete as a small firm within the large firm category.

Engaging with my counterparts at other firms has helped me grow as a lawyer, as a manager, and even as a person.

LD: So what do you do for fun, any hobbies?

MK: Although I am not sure I would call it a hobby, the first thing that pops into my mind is exercise. That is something it seems I am either doing or planning to do. I very much like to tinker with things, particularly tech-related things. During Covid, I spent time converting my house to be “smarter” by replacing all the light and fan switches both indoors and outdoors. I also like movies and can be a binge TV watcher sometimes, lots of British TV and true crime. I don’t know if you would call being a “foodie” a hobby but if so, then that also describes me. My wife is quite a chef, and the Houston restaurant scene is fantastic, so I get to experience that often.

LD: Anything you’d like to add?

MK: Be kind to each other. Kindness has a permanent place here at LLF and that is not a small thing. It is a part of our foundation that is rarely discussed in articles like this, but it is one of the things that make this place what it is. I am fortunate to do the work I do, where I do it. I wake up grateful and proceed to help people who have been wronged, receive some justice. I like to think my work makes the world a better place, in big and in small ways. With that as a daily motivator and challenge in my life, I count myself blessed.