Latest Legal News: The Sure Winner in Toyota Lawsuits?

A daily look at legal news and the business of law:

Which Lucky Law Firm Will Defend Toyota?

The lawsuit floodgates have opened, inundating Toyota (TM) with class-action claims over its "runaway cars." And now, with the potentially new Prius brake problems, the gusher is only going to get stronger as the days go by. In these kinds of cases, only one party is a sure winner: the defense counsel. (The plaintiff's counsel generally only gets paid if it wins.) According to American Lawyer's reading of the tea leaves, Alston & Bird is poised to be the big winner.Can a Company Patent Your DNA?

Yes, if Myriad Genetics (MYGN)/Jones Day wins; no, if the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation do. At issue are seven patents on gene mutations linked to breast and ovarian cancer identified by Myriad. Myriad says that without the ability to patent such discoveries, the whole biotech industry is in doubt. The ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation argue that women's health is endangered by the patents, since Myriad charges several thousand dollars for screening tests and closely limits scientists' research use of the mutations. Since patents are given for inventions, the question essentially is, did Myriad invent the mutations? The final arguments have been made, so the judge will let us know soon.

Lawyers Accused of Behaving Badly

A Texas attorney bribed insurance officials to get settlements for his victims, according to the plea deals of two insurance executives.

Attorneys suing Dole Food (DOLE) over Dole's poisoning of Central American workers by use of a pesticide that is banned in the U.S. allegedly fabricated evidence.

A now-retired California judge was censured for modifying a class-action settlement so that everyone, including the plaintiffs' lawyer, got store credits instead of cash settlements. The male lawyer, who lost $125,000 in cash but gained that much in certificates for a women's clothing store, was not amused. Nor was California's Commission on Judicial Performance. Surely the defendant corporation got a good chuckle from the now vacated-order though, and probably consumer advocates did too, as the result of so many consumer class-actions is a big payout to the plaintiff attorney and coupons of little value to the harmed consumers.

More Attorney Layoffs and Lost Revenue

Not all is well at big law firms: Howrey LLP just announced layoffs, and internal sources suggest the total is 100, both staff and associates. White & Case, in the news recently because of repeated waves of partner defections, just reported its revenue plunged 11% in 2009 compared to 2008. Not that the 2009 number is small; White & Case brought in $1.3 billion, resulting in profits per partner of $1.6 million.

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