W. Mark Lanier, the plaintiffs attorney who won a $253 million judgment against pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. over the fatal effects of its painkiller Vioxx, spoke to Professor Jon Hanson’s Torts class on November 19 at the law school.
Lanier is the founder of the Lanier Law Firm and serves as the Houston firm’s lead litigation counsel. He has won multi-million dollar awards for plaintiffs against such powerful corporations as Merck, Amoco and Becton Dickinson. The New York Times has called him “one of the top civil trial lawyers in America.”
Professor Hanson’s Torts 6 class studies the various aspects of tort law, including the psychological, which was the focus of Lanier’s talk. Recounting his trial “war stories” for Hanson’s students, Lanier displayed the “theatrical flair” noted by The Wall Street Journal, which is key to his success in communicating with juries. He changed voices, accents and postures for different characters, and even removed his glasses to reenact the deposition of a witness by another lawyer.
Describing the theory behind his approach, Lanier told the class that plaintiffs litigation is “a bit like professional wrestling meets ballet. The corporations pay for wonderful ballerinas who execute kicks with great precision. We tend to go in as professional wrestlers executing the Texas Tombstone Piledriver. And wrestling beats ballet.” In the Angleton, Texas, trial against Merck, Lanier’s “wrestling” included exhorting jurors to find against Merck with the biblical story of the young David defeating Goliath the giant.
After the class, Professor Hanson commented, “It’s easy to see why Mark is one of the most successful and feared trial attorneys of his generation. His war stories were both eye-opening and spellbinding.”
Lanier is a 1984 graduate of Texas Tech University School of Law and a part-time preacher. In 2006, he was named a Top 10 Trial Attorney as well as one of the 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America by The National Law Journal.