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Black History Month Spotlight

Interview with the G.O.A.T.s (Greatest of All Time)

By Stacy Lynne Douglas, Esq. 

This is my second and final year serving as Chair of DRI’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee. When I was asked to author another submission for Black History Month, I struggled with what to write as I had already placed in print one year prior my perspective on this very important month. Therefore, after some thought, I reached out to the four individuals who have inspired not only my professional journey but many journeys inside and outside the DRI community. These compelling and groundbreaking individuals graciously agreed to sit down with me to discuss Black History Month, providing their valuable insight on the importance of the month, obstacles they faced in their professional lives, and current issues that continue to plague the Black experience in the United States. 

Following is my 2023 Black History Month submission, which includes my interview of DRI Past Presidents Sheryl Willert, Toyja Kelley, and Douglas Burrell, as well as the incomparable Pam Carter

What does Black History Month mean to you, and why is it important? 

Toyja Kelley

Black History Month is important to me because I am in favor of anything that brings attention to the historical significance of Black folks in this country. And while we joke about Black History Month being the shortest month of the year, the reality is that a lot of people do not think positively, if at all, about the significant historical contributions Black people have made and continue to make in this country the remaining eleven months of the year. The more attention that can be brought to our contributions, even if it only changes the perspective on one person, for me is worth celebrating.  

Sheryl Willert 

Black History Month is about the celebration of the contribution of people of color to the development of this nation. People forget that the White House was built on backs of Black people. Black people did a lot of things that make this a progressive nation. For me, it is even more important to celebrate Black History Month today, as we currently live in an era that is attempting to stifle the black contributions in this country. It is unfortunate that we have a segment of the population that is interested in changing the historical narrative as it relates to the Black experience in this country. 

Douglas Burrell 

Black History Month is extremely important because it provides an opportunity for people to learn and better understand the Black experience in America. Black History Month provides a spotlight on the Black experience that a lot of people take for granted the other eleven months of the year. It provides a unique opportunity to say, “I am here, talk to me. Let’s exchange information so you can understand that a situation may occur and you may interpret it one way and I may interpret it another.” Black History Month is about opening the door to understanding different perspectives. 

What are your thoughts about the current efforts to discontinue teaching Black history to children in the United States? 

Pam Carter 

My mom taught elementary school for over 25 years, and my mother was the one who went all out when it came to Black History Month. She would do humongous walls that would display Black history, identifying scientists, entrepreneurs, and entertainers from every sector within the local community. I learned more from my mother’s bulletin boards than anywhere else.  

As it relates to children and education, if children do not know where they come from, how can they be proud of where they come from? Minimizing Black history in the schools is tantamount to stifling dreams. How can Black children dream if they are not educated on the obstacles their ancestors overcame, the resilience demonstrated and the ability of people under dire circumstances to find light? That is powerful and a necessary component of this nation’s history.  

While it is important to celebrate the leaders we all know well, including Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B Dubois, Black History Month is more than that. It is an opportunity for all of us to take a look at all blessings in our local communities and how we can help continue to build on that. 

History is about the past and the future going forward, and it should all be celebrated and taught. Failing to teach children history interferes with their ability to grow and invest in their communities. Education is vital because it shows children that they, too, can accomplish things that they might not realize are possible. History teaches about possibilities. When you teach children true history, you show them women can be members of Congress, Black people can own businesses, and their lives are not limited by their race or gender. Even at its simplest form, it shows children that their people, who look like them, are just as smart, brave, and capable as anyone else.  

When it comes to education, ignoring the truth does not change the truth, and we should not hide the truth from children. Not teaching children the truth about the history of their country is such a one-sided way of looking at things. It is important to teach everybody about what slavery not only meant for Black people, but for the nation as a whole. Slavery shows how Black people took the worse sort of situations, where they were not allowed to read, hold their families together, or make an income and turned that into enormous triumph and achievements. That needs to be celebrated and taught to all children.  

Toyja Kelley 

The movement to whitewash history amounts to intellectual dishonesty. I find it interesting that when there have been heated discussions about city and states deciding to remove confederate monuments, people were complaining that this was their “history,” and it was wrong to remove that history from their town centers. Yet, when we talk about teaching the truth about slavery, the same people who so desperately wanted to preserve their history, want to now remove our history, which in essence, is doing the very thing they were complaining about.  

Every day, I am learning something new about the history of my people, and I am amazed at the vast historical contributions. To have folks wanting to silence that, while it does not surprise me, makes me sad. Sad for the children being denied access to such an abundance of knowledge and inspiration and sad for a nation that continues to be divided, in part, because they are not open to the truth. 

Sheryl Willert 

My mother was a high school teacher, and my dad was a principal. As it relates to the notion that teaching children about slavery results in white children feeling bad, teaching of truth is never made to feel someone bad. There is no reason for any child to feel guilty for something they had no say in and were not even around when it occurred. Children can feel bad that it happened at all, but that makes the children compassionate people and should not be confused with them owning the guilt of their ancestors. There is no reason not to teach the truth about the past because it shapes our present and future. If we do not teach the truth, future generations will be ignorant, and that should not be perpetuated. 

There is so much information people do not know about Black history. For example, many people do not know that Jack Daniels learned how to make whiskey from a Black man who was a descendent of slaves. This is not to say that slavery was good, but it demonstrates that there are both positive and negative things to be learned about slavery when it is taught from an honest space. One of the most important messages about slavery is that black people achieved, in spite of, and the question is why do we not want to teach that? Why is that something we do not want to be known? 

Douglas Burrell 

As lawyers, we are supposed to be vanguards of the truth, and if we are not pushing for a truthful rendition of history, then we are not serving the rule of law. The reason why I say that is because throughout history the rule of law has been used to hold back minority groups - whether it's Japanese interment, Jim Crow Laws, Chinese Exclusion Act, or even current immigration laws. The law has been used to exclude and hold back people. As vanguards of the truth, we have a responsibility to make sure that the truth is told no matter what, because the alternative is the truth will not be told - which is what is happening now. We would rather tell them things that are not factually accurate, which is more harmful to them.

The notion that teaching the truth is harmful is problematic. Child psychologists support truth-telling. For example, if a parent dies, we are told to be honest with children. This is why people talk about the death scene in Bambi being so powerful for kids. Why should we tell our children the truth about life and death but then lie to them about history?  

People are always seeking advice about how to handle tragic events in life, but then when it comes to history, they want to shield children from it, which makes no sense. If you can talk to your children about calling 911 in an emergency, why are you unable to talk to your children about documented history, including reasons for the Civil War?                   

Please share an obstacle related to being Black that you faced in your professional journey.  

Sheryl Willert 

When I was a prosecutor in Washington, I moved from the criminal division to the civil division under the tutelage of an incredible woman who became an appellate court judge. The County was sued by an African American male for alleged racial discrimination, and when I was assigned to handle the case, he sued me because he felt it was not fair to him if a Black person represented the County. I share this because it is important to recognize that at times, people of color are willing to interfere with the success of other people of color when it interferes with their personal goals.  

On another occasion, I interviewed at a law firm after leaving government service. At the interview, the firm said to me that they wished I had interviewed sooner because they had hired their “Black person for the year.” Interestingly, in my mind, I thought if there is any place that needs me as a lawyer, this is the place. However, once that was said, I was no longer interested in ever working at the firm. In fact, what that did for me is fuel my energy and anger, giving me the drive to find the right job versus any job. Unfortunately, this statement was made to me decades ago, in the 80s, and these types of statements are still common today, in 2023.  

Pam Carter 

When I first started practicing law, I was excited to be placed on a team of women that represented General Motors. The case ultimately went to trial, and we successfully defended the case. The thing that struck me was a juror who was a woman of color. After the trial, she approached me and told me that she was upset with me initially because she thought I was a “sell-out.” In the Black community, a sell-out is someone who betrays the community. She felt this about me because I represented the company. She ultimately stated that she understood I was just doing by job, but this was a big lesson for me. It taught me to always unapologetically be my authentic self, no matter who I am representing. It also taught me never to take for granted who I am representing and how I am perceived. At the end of the day, I cannot read a juror’s mind, so the only thing I can control is being true to myself and not worry about the rest.  You can only control you.

Douglas Burrell 

The first example is I realized that a partner only wanted me at the firm so that he could check the diversity box needed for current and prospective clients. They would keep me away from power people and decision makers. My impression was that they feared being compelled to share some of that client with me. However, my biggest disappointment was with the clients, who championed diversity and inclusion but did not enforce it. I would see similarly situated white associates being given access to clients and decision makers I was not. This experience is what ultimately brought me to DRI’s Diversity for Success Seminar, where I learned how to develop my own power via a book of business. I met life-long friends in Toyja Kelly, Sheryl Willert, and Pam Carter, who helped me develop in my profession. I had access to in-house counsel, which motivated me because I felt I had a chance to build business with some of them. I learned how to pitch for business and also learned the essential skill of correcting mistakes with grace. Since my first attendance at a DRI seminar, I have been able to network and build relationships that have resulted in referrals for business, contributing to my book of business and creating my own space and power in the legal community.  

Toyja Kelley 

Admittedly, my experience has been a bit different and not as dire as others because I was shielded from criticism common to other attorneys my age. Most of my career, I was able to have a level of autonomy unusual to other attorneys at the same level. As such, I was a bit naïve relative to what the true experience was for other lawyers of color at law firms. In a lot of ways, I was shocked when I heard some of the stories from people regarding what they were experiencing. I now know that my trajectory could have been very different had I not had that unusual autonomy. 

One thing that was very jarring for me was after I made partner and became more involved in the review process. I noticed that partners would comment similarly when it came to review of minority associates. Words describing them as inarticulate or commenting on their writing styles were consistent across the board when referring to minority lawyers. This really brought home to me the reality that lawyers of color must work twice as hard and the margin of error was so much thinner than for other similarly situated attorneys. 

Does your firm celebrate Black History Month? Should law firms celebrate Black History Month? 

Douglas Burrell 

Law firms should celebrate the history months of all groups because it creates greater understanding.  If the goal of a law firm is to make money for partners, one of things you would want is for everybody to have a better understanding of everybody else so you can collaborate, work together, get along, and make more money. I never understood why certain law firms resist in engaging in things that will make people feel accepted and respected. Law firms do a lot of things and spend a lot of money to try and create a sense of camaraderie and yet they resist things that really do not require a lot of funding.  

Pam Carter 

My firm celebrates Black History Month and takes part in community events. I believe it is important for the firm to engage in the communities surrounding them. As lawyers with so many opportunities and many blessings, we should be giving back to our communities, whether it be by participating in a march, cleaning a school, or volunteering at a local charity. The best way to celebrate not only Black History Month but the diverse communities we all live in is to get involved in those communities. As a child, I remember seeing a Black doctor driving a Mercedes. I grew up in the “hood,” and seeing that doctor encouraged me and made me realize what I could accomplish. As attorneys, we should get out into the communities and be that inspiration for today’s youth.   

Sheryl Willert 

We celebrate Black History Month in a variety of ways. We have a Daily Bulletin where we highlight achievements in the country every day. In 2022, we started having at least one fireside chat where people would share their success stories, including the obstacles they faced and how they stayed on course. The firm community responded with enthusiasm to these fireside chats, causing us to start doing them for Pride Month. I anticipate this will continue to expand, but the excitement in the firm left the impression that people are craving this type of education and information.

Toyja Kelley 

My firm is the beneficiary of one of our former partners who was at the forefront of Diversity & Inclusion, Paulette Brown. She was instrumental in the hiring of Diversity & Inclusion professionals who have picked up where Paulette left off in getting the firm from top to bottom to recognize the important contributions of Black attorneys. Similar to Sheryl’s firm, we are expanding this to all celebratory months and holidays for all our diverse communities. 

One thing that really stood out for me is our firm chairman, who, on a monthly basis, does an address to the firm. In February, he utilizes a significant portion of his presentation to recognize Black History Month. Being newer to the firm, this really impacted me in a favorable way. It is easy for firms to post something on social media, but we can usually sense the sincerity or insincerity of these posts from far away. When the chairman addresses this in his address to the firm, something that is not for marketing purposes, that demonstrates for me that the firm is truly committed to inclusion.

What advice would you give young lawyers who face disparate treatment or witness it in their law firm? How should they handle it?

Douglas Burrell 

In my opinion you have two choices. You either speak up or you don’t. If you choose to speak up, you have to understand that law firms are political animals. You need to have formed at least one relationship with someone who has a position of persuasion and who is in a position to protect you. The reality is that it is difficult to raise issues at law firms without some sort of retribution or retaliation. Because of the political nature of a law firm, you have to spend political capital by letting the decision makers get to know you, because if they know you, they are more likely to weigh in in support of you.  

Therefore, from the very beginning, when you walk into a law firm - create a plan to develop those relationships. I went to every social event, talked to the leaders, and got to know them well. This can be challenging because diverse attorneys are hesitant to share their personal business. In these scenarios, I suggest sharing anything that is public record and avoid sharing personal things that show areas of vulnerability. For example, when my father got cancer, I never told my firm until it could impact my availability to work or my work itself. You never want people to be in a position to utilize your personal information against you. 

Sheryl Willert 

The most important thing that you have is your own integrity. If you stand back and observe or allow yourself or someone else to be victimized, it is a degradation of your own integrity. It is important to be able to sleep at night, look in mirror and respect who you are. Incredibly important to stand up and say, “I am not going to be silenced. I am not going to accept this. I am not going to let this continue to happen.”   
In the short term, you face possible retaliation. In the long term, you are a better person and more successful because you chose to do the right thing and had the courage to do it. Also, never be afraid to ask for help. You would be surprised at how many people have confronted similar issues who can provide wise counsel. 

Pam Carter 

I agree with Sheryl. There is nothing worse than years later remembering you did not say something when you should have. That regret does not leave you and can mentally scar you. I can remember specifics down to the judge, lawyer, and issue when I chose not to speak up and should have. I remember not saying anything when a judge said something outwardly racist. I remember all those details, because I am haunted by my choice to stay silent. I did report the statement to the chief judge. In the end, what you have is your integrity, your worth, and living with who you are, which requires you say something. I would also agree it is wise to have counsel in moments like these, a trusted mentor who can guide you in the right direction and possibly provide that political protection Douglas referenced. 

Toyja Kelley 

As I stated earlier, I operated in a bubble largely through my career and now realize that at times certainly other minority attorneys were having a vastly different experience. If I could go back and say something to my younger self, it would be to recognize my ability to say more. In certain situations, I wish I had said things where I could have helped others. However, I recognize that today there is space for me to even do more and I am committed to be that space for those attorneys who need it. This upcoming generation, I applaud them and their courage to speak up in the face of injustice. 

DouglasStacy-21-webStacy Douglas is a Partner and Director of Diversity & Inclusion with Everett Dorey LLP.  She is Chair of DRI’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee. 

Toyja KelleyToyja Kelley is a Partner at Locke Lord LLP. He currently serves as President of DRI's Center for Law and Public Policy. From 2018-2019, he served as President of DRI after having been a member of DRI's national board of directors.

Sheryl WillertSheryl Willert is a Member at Williams Kastner. She serves the firm on its Board of Directors and chairs the firm’s Labor & Employment Practice Group as well as the Diversity Committee. She is a past president of DRI. 

Douglas BurrellDouglas Burrell is a Partner at Chartwell Law. He served as president of DRI from 2021-2022. 

Pamela CarterPamela W. Carter is the Managing Partner of the New Orleans office at Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A. 

ICCI Screenshot
Medical Liability


Social Inflation White Paper Published 

Social Inflation

The Center is pleased to announce the publication of its latest white paper, which addresses a dynamic phenomenon that is growing in volatility, scope, and public interest: Social Inflation. Produced with strategic partner National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC), this paper examines and recommends model rules that courts are using to increase transparency and help level the playing field. It also examines legislation that targets systemic flaws and exploitative legal tactics that contribute to social inflation. Finally, this paper suggests creative, common-sense strategies to combat social inflation. 

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Black History Month Spotlight

Ensuring Their Legacy Lives On 

By Dillon B. Williams, Esq.

February will always be that sacred time of year that we reflect on and celebrate Black History. Thanks to the contributions and sacrifices of those that came before me, I got to enjoy a childhood that was, for the most part, insulated (no pun intended) from the ghosts of this country’s racist past. I was born in the 90s—over 30 years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic March on Washington. I grew up in a military family, no less, so there was no shortage of diversity in the communities we lived in. I certainly wasn’t oblivious to the Civil Rights Movement—and my parents made darn sure I knew about it—but to say that I’d lived it, or even witnessed it with my own eyes, simply wouldn’t be true. Looking back on it though, I realize that my childhood was a living testament to the dream Dr. King spoke of on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial all those years ago. It’s not something I take for granted, but as I grew into adolescence and adulthood, I had to come to terms with the inevitable conclusion that there is still much to do.  

It’s the collective experience and sacrifices of those great individuals that came before us, including Dr. King, Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali, and so many others, that help us make sense of the world we live in today. We all are immeasurably blessed that their legacies are something we have the chance to reflect on with the benefit of hindsight. Even in today’s climate of social unrest, there is much we can learn from the way these Black heroes lived their lives that will enrich and empower us, as we carry on through our own.   

I know I am far from the only person who has struggled with frustrations when they see the systems in this country were set up in a way that benefits some to the detriment of others. And I don’t mean “see” like you read it in a book or online. I mean taking a drive down Troost Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2023 and seeing, with your own eyes, the ever-present effects of redlining practices that took place decades ago. I mean learning about (and visiting) Tulsa, Oklahoma. I know that I (and many others) have spent nights agonizing over America’s insatiable appetite for unrestrained cruelty, particularly where Black lives and blue lives are concerned. The likes of Keenan Anderson, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and many others each serve as painful reminders that as far as we’ve come, there is still some way to go.   

For many, accepting this reality means you’ve inevitably dealt with those same feelings of frustration, and at its worst, resentment. But what do you do with those negative emotions? I encourage anyone that has felt (or is feeling) this way to take this month to reflect on the lessons we can learn in Black history. To put this in perspective, I will share a discussion I was lucky to have with Dr. Yusef Salaam—one of the “Exonerated (Central Park) Five” during a visit he took to KU in February 2020, during my last year of law school. There, I asked him how on Earth he emerged on the other side of a wrongful conviction, losing years of his life in prison, and being vilified in a page one newspaper article by (at the time) the sitting President of the United States—who to this day has never issued any kind of apology. How did he suffer through all of that without being vengeful towards the inequitable systems in this county that allowed that to happen? His response to me was a quote he learned from Dr. Maya Angelou:

“You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like a cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.” 

And that’s exactly what Dr. Salaam did. He read, and he wrote, and he never stopped talking about it.  That is how he overcame his struggle and went on to inspire a generation—myself included. And therein lies the beauty of Black history. Behind every great man or woman in history was someone that inspired them to act in kind. In this sense, Black history is not something distant or perpetually suspended within the ambit of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s always being made. From Dr. Angelou to Dr. Salaam, and from Dr. Salaam to myself—it’s Black people inspiring those that follow after that constitutes Black history. It’s something that should always be celebrated, shared, and in times of strife, should be looked to for wisdom and clarity. I thank Dr. Angelou because her words gave grace and clarity to frustrations I’d carried in my heart for years. I also thank Dr. Salaam for being the vessel through which her words could flow in ways that not only inspired and changed the course of his life, but also touched on mine. 

I am certain there is something for all of us to learn this month that will revitalize our collective spirit and inspire us as we carry on through this year. We only have so much time on this earth, and the clock is ticking inexorably toward our journey’s end. To that end, I would encourage anyone to be proactive and seek out ways we can learn from and emulate our predecessors. It is incumbent on all of us to ensure that their legacy lives on. Whether that be reading about these Black revolutionaries online, conversing with a colleague, or simply watching a Netflix documentary—what can you learn from those that came before, and how can you ensure those lessons are passed on to those that follow after?  

Dillon WilliamsDillon Williams is an associate attorney in the Kansas City office of Rasmussen Dickey Moore (“RDM”). He practices primarily in the areas of products liability, toxic torts, and premises liability. Prior to joining RDM, Dillon worked as an intern with the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office, prosecuting criminal defendants on behalf of the State of Kansas. Dillon also successfully competed on the Mock Trial team and was recognized as the Top Advocate for the Final Round of the KU Mock Trial Tournament. He is currently a member of DRI and a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Membership Subcommittee. 

Membership Campaign Spotlight

DRI Drives Business 

February Membership Campaign

One of DRI’s greatest assets is its community.  

That’s because our members are committed to helping each other grow their careers and expand their opportunities. In fact, in a 2022 survey of active DRI members, we saw that 49% of respondents have given or received a referral in the last two years: 

Over 40% of those referrals were worth more than $50k. The DRI community comes together to not just invest in their future, but to help their peers build their book of business and grow their practice. 

So, how do you want to see your DRI community grow in 2023?  

Consider the role DRI has played in your professional life and success of your firm. By encouraging your peers to join DRI, you can share that experience with them. DRI membership enables you to: 

  • Personalize your membership by joining one of our 29 substantive communities.
  • Engage in countless business networking opportunities and connect with friends and colleagues or potential clients at DRI seminars
  • Receive member-exclusive publications such as: For The Defense, DRI's flagship legal magazine focused on civil defense practice; The Voice, DRI’s monthly member e-newsletter; The Brief Case, the monthly substantive law committee e-newsletter; and In-House Defense Quarterly, a quarterly publication with in-depth reporting on topics relevant to in-house counsel.
  • Help future clients find you through DRI’s Find a Lawyer tool.
  • Earn points and rewards for using your member benefits.
  • Access DRI’s Solutions Marketplace for exclusive savings and/or value-added services across a range of products

DRI Drives Business. Who are you encouraging to join DRI and build their business? Help us grow the DRI community by telling your peers about DRI.  


New Center Appointments: Larry Ebner Now Chair 

Larry Ebner, founding member Capital Appellate Advocacy PLLC in Washington, D.C., is now chair of the DRI Center for Law and Public Policy.  Larry has held appointed positions in DRI for the past 15 years. These include his service as Center vice chair, as chair of the Center’s Amicus Committee, as publications chair of the Appellate Advocacy Committee, and as a Board member of the National Foundation for Judicial Excellence. Larry is an appellate specialist who has a half-century of pro-business litigation experience with a focus on federal issues. In addition to handling appeals for companies of all sizes, he has authored dozens of amicus curiae briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court, and in federal courts of appeals and state appellate courts for DRI and other organizations. Larry also serves as Executive Vice President & General Counsel of the Atlantic Legal Foundation, where he conducts that nonprofit organization’s amicus program. 

DRI Chief Executive Officer Dean Martinez stated: "We are excited to have Larry assume this leadership role at The Center. He will be a key partner in our work to promote a judicial system that respects the rule of law, and to protect the interests of business and individuals through legal scholarship, practical expertise, and advocacy." 

Larry Ebner

Center Management Council 

Joining Larry in new roles on the Center Management Council are John Guttmann (Beveridge & Diamond), who is now Center vice chair; Phil Willman (Brown & James) who is now Center president; John C.S. Pierce (Dentons Sirote), who is now chair of the Public Policy Committee, and Douglas Burrell (Chartwell Law) who, as DRI Immediate Past President, holds an ex officio seat on the council. Matt Nelson (Warner Norcross + Judd) and Jim McCrystal (Sutter O’Connell) continue their service as chairs of the Amicus Committee and Legislation and Rules Committee, respectively. 

The Center Management Council is responsible for providing advice and counsel to the DRI Executive Committee in setting the strategic focus of the Center. The Management Council also coordinates and oversees the work of the Center’s committees (Amicus, Legislation & Rules, and Public Policy) to ensure that the committees’ charges are fulfilled and the committees are furthering the approved strategic direction of the Center. 

Guttmann_JohnWillman_PhilPierce_John C.S.Douglas Burrell
Pictured, L to R: Guttmann, Willman, Pierce, Burrell

Amicus Committee 

The Center is pleased to announce appointments to its Amicus Committee, including new vice chair Lisa Baird (Reed Smith).  Lisa, who has served on the committee since 2019, is a past chair of the DRI Appellate Advocacy Committee.  Also joining the committee are new members Mia Lorick (Locke Lord), Melinda Kollross (Clausen Miller), and Adam Hofmann (Hanson Bridgett). 

In 2023, the Amicus Committee plans to launch two new subcommittees: Appellate Skills Development and Litigation Issues & Trends. The Appellate Skills Development Subcommittee, which will be chaired by Adam Hofmann, is designed to engage and involve less-experienced appellate lawyers who may wish to develop their practices by preparing pro bono amicus briefs on behalf of the Center in cases assigned by the Amicus Committee, primarily in conjunction with SLDOs.  The Litigation Issues & Trends Subcommittee, which will be chaired by current Amicus Committee member Mary Massaron (Plunkett Cooney), will be charged with proactively monitoring litigation trends and unresolved legal questions that are of interest to the Center and identifying vehicles that may create circuit splits and drive specific issues to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Baird_LisaLorick_MiaKollross_MelindaHofmann_AdamMary Massaron
Pictured, L to R: Baird, Lorick, Kollross, Hofmann, Massaron

Legislation & Rules and Public Policy Committees  

Brooks Magratten (Pierce Atwood) is now vice chair of the Center’s Legislation and Rules Committee.  Baxter Drennon (Hall Booth Smith) now holds the same position within the Center’s Public Policy Committee. Brooks is a former member of the DRI Board of Directors, a past chair of the DRI Life, Health, and Disability Committee, a former member of the DRI Law Institute, and a past president of the Defense Counsel of Rhode Island   Baxter served as chair of the DRI Young Lawyers Committee before his recently completed term as a DRI National Director.  He is also a past president of the Arkansas Association of Defense Counsel. 

The Legislation and Rules Committee undertakes in-depth studies of a range of topics, assembles data, and produces articles and white papers for DRI publications. These efforts serve not only as practical tools to assist DRI members, but also serve to offer advice to policymakers on issues affecting the interests of DRI members and provide information useful to a wider audience about the development and impact of federal and state legislation and rules on the civil justice system. 

The Public Policy Committee is charged with examining topics that are of importance to DRI members and that affect the functioning of the legal system. Its subcommittees, task forces, and working groups examine policy issues of broad applicability as requested by the DRI Executive Committee and the Center’s Management Council. They generate white papers for publication, present at DRI meetings and seminars, and work with SLDOs and SLCs as they face important policy questions. 

Magratten_BrooksBaxter Drennon
Pictured, L to R: Magratten, Drennon

Social Inflation Task Force 

One of the Center’s newest task forces now has new leadership. Chris Turney (Turney LG) and Lauren Motes (Dinsmore & Shohl) were recently appointed chair and vice chair, respectively, of the Center’s Social Inflation Task Force. This task force is responsible for studying factors influencing the rise in the size of jury verdicts above expected levels given inflation and for recommending steps to limit that rise.  Chris and Lauren were instrumental contributors to the task force’s recently published white paper. Also joining the task force is Lisa Bellino Apelian (Zurich North America). 

Turney_ChrisMotes_LaurenBellino Apelian_Lisa

Pictured, L to R: Turney, Motes, Bellino Apelian

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From the Foundation

What Will Year Two of the New Foundation Bring to the DRI Community?

By Matthew Keris

Highlights from the first year of the new DRI Foundation included better coordination of DRI Cares and DRI for Life events; a successful NFJE fundraising raffle; minority scholarships;  the outstanding participation of wellness and service projects during the Annual Meeting in Philadelphia (our efforts made the local news) and the first ever International Day of Service.   What will the DRI Foundation do for an encore in 2023?   

First, I applaud the DRI Executive Committee for keeping the Foundation leadership intact for a second year to ensure continuity and momentum from the first year where we literally started from scratch.  We hope to improve on the quality and coordination of  DRI Cares and DRI for Life events at as many DRI events as we can, greater fund the NFJE, expand monetary scholarships to needy law students and receive greater SLDO participation with DRI in service projects in the fall.  In terms of the International Day of Service, we had nearly 75% SLDO participation last year.  We want to reach 100% this year.  Thank you to all those who made this project a success and for those who did not participate, we ask you consider it for 2023.  If you have any suggestions on improving these efforts, we want to hear from you.  Please reach out to myself or the DRI Foundation Vice-President, Jodi Terranova.   

Second, the DRI Foundation now has a better-defined online home.  Be sure to routinely visit our dedicated web page for the latest ways you can give back to the community and better yourself.  There you can donate towards the DRI Foundation, SLC initiatives or the Diversity Law School Student Scholarship Fund.  You can also discover worthy  charitable organizations the DRI Foundation has sustained through the years and submit your own group that you believe should be supported.  The DRI Foundation website also contains trusted resources to assist with mental health, substance abuse or addiction issues.  You can also learn more about attorney mindfulness, wellbeing and work-life balance at our website.  In the future, we aim to re-introduce and improve the DRI Tributes page for members who have passed on to better preserve and honor their legacy.  Also, if you are on LinkedIn, please “like” DRI Foundation posts to better spread the good work we do. 

Third, the Foundation is proud to have new, expanded leadership, including new chairs of the DRI Cares and DRI for Life committees.  I look forward to working with DRI Foundation At-Large Board members Gary Howard, Ashley Brathwaite and Scott Toomey.   I also want to congratulate and thank Catherine Dugan, DRI Cares and Lori O’Tool, DRI for Life Chairs for agreeing to take the lead of these important groups.   Denise Eichhorn also replaces Nancy Parz as DRI Director.  We are excited to see their vision for the Foundation this year.  Lori O’Tool is specifically looking to expand the Foundation’s wellness component and is creating and compiling a database of wellness speakers for everyone’s benefit.  She is also looking to expand on the number of health awareness months.  Catherine Dugan is leading ways to better track participation and satisfaction with our service projects.  Jodi Terranova and I will continue to attend and participate in the DRI Cares and For Life Committee meetings to provide assistance when needed.  We would like to expand our scholarship opportunities as well and your gracious donations can help us achieve that goal.  By this time next year, I am certain the DRI Foundation will have more successes to share with our community.    

Very soon, you will see the orange and blue DRI Foundation banners adorn our meetings and I am confident to say that nearly every DRI member, whether they know it or not, will assist or be impacted by our efforts to do better.  The future success of the DRI Foundation is largely up to you as a member of the DRI community.  On behalf of the DRI Foundation’s leadership, I look forward to seeing you in person this year at one of our many events.  Look for me and don’t be a stranger.  Share with me your vision for the betterment of the defense bar through efforts of the DRI Foundation.  Let’s make it a terrific year. 

Matthew Keris

Matthew Keris is a Shareholder at Marshall Dennehey. He is President of the DRI Foundation. 

From the Foundation

2023 Law Student Diversity Scholarship – Now Accepting Applications 

The DRI Foundation announces its annual Law Student Diversity Scholarship program, open to rising (2023–2024) second- and third-year African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, LGBTQ+, and multiracial students. Incoming second- and third-year female law students are also eligible, regardless of race or ethnicity. Incoming second- and third-year law students who also come from backgrounds that would add to the cause of diversity, regardless of race or gender are eligible to apply.  

The Foundation’s goal is to provide financial assistance to three worthy law students from ABA accredited law schools in order to promote, in a tangible way, the DRI Diversity Statement in Principle. One (1) scholarship in the amount of $10,000 and two (2) scholarships in the amount of $5,000 each will be awarded to successful applicants.  

The application deadline is March 31, 2023. Recipients of the scholarships will be announced at the Diversity for Success Seminar in June 2023.  

Learn more and apply here.



Advocacy Updates 

The Center Joins with DANY for NY Legislative Win 

At the request of the Defense Association of New York, The DRI Center for Law and Public Policy submitted a letter to New York Governor Hochul’s office in support of DANY’s opposition to the enactment of proposed amendments (A. 6770, S. 74-A) that would affect damages awarded in wrongful death actions. 

On Monday, January 30, Governor Hochul vetoed the enactment of the amendments, also known as the Grieving Families Act. “This is a great win for DANY and the civil justice system,” said Jim McCrystal, Chair of the Center’s Legislation and Rules Committee. 

The New York Times’ coverage of the veto featured multiple quotes from DANY President Claire Rush. 

Center Proposes Amendments to Relieve Unnecessary Burdens for Counsel and Courts 

The Center has also submitted a letter to the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, proposing that Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 29(a) be amended to eliminate the requirement for obtaining the parties’ consent, or the court’s permission, to file an amicus brief. The Supreme Court recently amended its Rule 37, effective January 1, 2023, to eliminate the consent/permission requirement for both petition-stage and merits-stage amicus briefs. 

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SLC Corner | Insurance Law & Medical Liability and Health Care Law SLC Corner Narrow

Insurance Law

Insurance Law Committee
Jonathan Schwartz, Chair 

The Insurance Law Committee (“ILC”) is one of DRI’s largest and most active committees and is the resource for professionals whose careers are devoted to or influenced by insurance. The biggest issue in insurance now is the frequency and severity of claims post-COVID-19 pandemic. Social inflation; supply chain disruptions; court docket clog and the ability to try a case; bad faith setups; consumer protection statutes; and public nuisance claims are among the many issues keeping the insurance industry and outside counsel up at night. The Insurance Law Committee provides an opportunity to educate oneself about cutting-edge issues, see what is creeping into your jurisdiction, and brainstorm and share information with colleagues about what they are doing to best protect the interests of our carrier employers and clients. 

We are excited that the Insurance Law Committee’s annual Insurance Coverage and Claims Institute returns to Chicago on March 8-10, 2023. I am looking forward to, in particular, the discussions of nuclear verdicts and time limit demands. We also have an awesome Premier Networking Event at AceBounce in Chicago. You’ll find me taking on all comers at ping pong (unless they’ve brought their own paddle, in which case I know how to spot a hustler!). There is still time to register!

The Insurance Law Committee has a semi-annual Insurance Bad Faith Conference, and it’ll be in Charlotte, NC, for the first time on June 14-16, 2023. This year’s program is going to be outstanding, with industry leaders sharing insights about insurer versus insurer bad faith claims, litigating the bad faith case, and what’s top of mind for industry professionals that manage bad faith cases. 

Want to get involved? 

  • Join the Insurance Law Committee, get involved, and meet friends from all over the country. DRI is a cut-above in terms of helping you to grow your brand. We would love to hear what interests you and what’s going on in your world. It’s that collaboration and fellowship that makes our Insurance Law Committee truly special.  

  • Raise your hand and share your inner “Coverage Geek.” Rest assured, the Committee is a safe space for us “Coverage Geeks.” Our Membership team will reach out to you once you’ve signed up for the Committee to let you know what you can do to get involved.   

  • Volunteer to speak at one of our several seminars or a virtual program. Plus, we have multiple publications, so there are lots of opportunities to write about the coverage issues you’re facing.

  • Follow the Insurance Law community page - set up daily email notifications so you can stay up to date with what is being posted. 

  • Contact Committee Chair Jonathan Schwartz or Vice Chair Melanie Lockett for more information. 

Caduceus (staff of Hermes), medical symbol, Doctor's notes iconMedical Liability and Health Care Law
Laura Eschleman, Chair 

The mission of the Medical Liability and Health Care Law Committee is to be the "Standard of Care" for attorneys representing health care professionals and institutions. This goal is met in part through the committee's focus on education and skill development of our members, through seminars, virtual programming, and publications. 

As with many of the SLCs, our committee’s biggest issue lately has been nuclear jury verdicts. There has been a huge sea change in verdict values nationwide, and the increasing numbers then create an expectation/opportunity for plaintiff’s attorneys that creeps into all aspects of our cases: from depositions to settlement negotiations. Our committee has been addressing this trend by focusing our seminars and webinars on strategies to combat the nuclear verdict – whether through voir dire, expert selection, humanizing the defendant, and/or working with jury science professionals. 

The Medical Liability and Health Care Law Committee hosts two in-person seminars each year – focusing on medical liability in the winter/spring and long-term care litigation in summer/fall. Our next Medical Liability and Health Care Law Seminar is March 8-10 in Chicago, and we have a great program. Register now! Many of the presentations reach beyond the defense of medical liability cases and have broader applicability to the general litigator. For example, we have a panel on gender dynamics in the courtroom, which will help all practitioners be mindful of their actions before the jury. Our committee is just starting to plan the next Senior Living and Long-Term Care Litigation Seminar, slated for August 16-18 in Washington, D.C. Now is a great time to get involved in the planning stages for another great seminar!

In addition to two in-person seminars each year, we are always working to bring more content to our membership, and we will continue to host webinars to assist the practitioner, particularly with jury selection in the current climate.   

Want to get involved? 

  • Join the Medical Liability and Health Care Law Committee. 

  • Follow the Medical Liability community page -- set up daily email notifications so you can stay up to date with what is being posted. There is a wealth of information about experts and other important topics. 

  • Attend our in-person seminars and webinars and reach out to us if you would like to be involved in planning these events or presenting a topic. 

  • Volunteer to write an article for one of DRI’s many publications

  • Please reach out to Committee Chair Laura Eschleman or Vice Chair Erika Amarante if you want to get involved or have any questions.  


Amicus Update: Center Backs FAA’s Intent, Principles of Judicial Economy 

Supreme Court

The DRI Center for Law and Public Policy recently filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in Coinbase, Inc. v. Bielski, a case involving whether trial court litigation must be stayed during a nonfrivolous appeal of an order denying a motion to compel arbitration.   

The majority rule adopted by most federal circuits holds that Section 16(a) of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) divests the district court of ongoing jurisdiction over the case and grants an automatic stay pending interlocutory appeal, subject to a frivolous appeal exception. The minority rule adopted by the Ninth Circuit (along with the Second and Fifth Circuits) holds that district courts retain jurisdiction and have discretion to deny stays during appeals of arbitration denials. This discretion wrongfully subjects defendants to the costs, burdens, and prejudice of litigation while the threshold question of arbitrability remains open. The Center’s brief supports the position of petitioner Coinbase, Inc., which was denied the right to arbitrate and was forced into litigation during its interlocutory appeal of the district court’s order denying arbitration.  

The Center explains the longstanding federal policy favoring arbitration and outlines the many U.S. Supreme Court cases carrying out the intent behind the FAA by holding that its scope and effect are broad. The Center shows how the minority rule could irreparably harm litigants seeking to enforce arbitration. Permanent consequences result from litigation. They cannot be undone even if an order is reversed on appeal.  Legal scholars have identified and explained these harms and economists have quantified the costs of litigation as compared to arbitration. Historical data shows that approximately half of orders denying arbitration are reversed on appeal. This is a significantly higher reversal rate than civil cases as a whole.  It appears district courts commonly decide this issue incorrectly and are often reversed.  The Center argues that this statistic supports the automatic stay rule and divestiture principle.  

The Center argues that the Ninth Circuit minority rule deprives both businesses and consumers of bargained-for contractual rights. Arbitration is not an issue unique to business interests. As explained in the brief, in recent years consumer groups represented by sophisticated plaintiffs’ lawyers have filed “mass arbitration” proceedings (akin to “mass tort” lawsuits), seeking to change the narrative on arbitration and to use it to their advantage.  The Center explains how the Ninth Circuit’s rule could harm consumers just the same as businesses.    

The Center also explains how the majority rule fosters judicial economy and is better aligned with the structure and function of the federal judiciary, with its unique functions of district and appellate courts.  On the other hand, the minority rule wastes judicial economy because district courts must expend resources on adjudicating a motion to stay, and if denied, presiding over litigation in the case, despite the strong chance of reversal.  

The Center’s amicus brief was authored by Sarah Elizabeth Spencer of Christensen & Jensen, P.C., in Salt Lake City.   

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Trending Topics

Damar Hamlin and Tips for Crisis Communication When Bad News Breaks

By Michael Thompson, Jr. 

Over the Christmas holiday I tried to catch up by reading some of the books that had collected on my desk. One, Breaking Bad News, by Jeff Hahn of Austin, Texas, about crisis communications was particularly interesting and memorable. The book itself is great, but its connection for me to the incident that occurred while watching the Bills v. Bengals Monday Night Football Game January 2nd, shortly after I finished the book, makes it memorable.  

For those off the grid that don’t know, during that game, Damar Hamlin, a defensive player for the Bills, made a tackle and fell to the ground. It was not unlike scores of plays that occur daily on football fields across the land. But it went bad quickly. Hamlin got up, then fell back to the ground and promptly emergency staff at the stadium was summoned to his aide.  

There on national TV, in a full but silent stadium, CPR was administered to Hamlin. The ambulance at the stadium for emergencies like this left with Hamlin. This was bad news in real time. Those scenes are all pictures that no one on the field, in the stands, or watching at home will ever forget.  

The incident glued my wife and I to the TV for news of how the young man was doing after he was taken away. Like most of the other Americans who were watching, we also grabbed our phones to look for further information. Later we learned some of the “news”—like that Hamlin had a second cardiac event—was not true.  

While the scene unfolded, the NFL brass and coaches discussed what to do. Ultimately, they decided to cancel the game. Interestingly, a similar incident occurred in 1971 and that game was played until it finished the day it started. Those decisions and responses, as well as how to present them are what Breaking Bad News discusses. These things are also decisions that businesses large and small, their directors, and General Counsel face daily. Their attorneys should study these things not just to assist in those moments, but also in assessing likely jury responses.  

The book is important because it teaches how businesses should plan for and respond to breaking bad news. The fact is that incidents like those the country witnessed on that Monday night football game happen. While not exactly the same as those the book discusses, it is a similar enough situation to amplify central points of the book: how businesses prepare to attempt to influence the narrative of such a crisis that will impact reputational interests.  

The author has a solid background for his topic; he was a member of the critical incident response team for a large tech company and now his own media company in Austin. He reviews the literature about crisis communication response strategies casting a wide net. That net includes review of several incidents where companies responded to breaking bad news and how. For me, a data junkie, the research detailing how media has changed and continues to change was interesting. For example, the research digested confirmed what most trial lawyers know-- the attention span of the average American is very short. And media sources are held in fewer hands today than they were in 1980. Furthermore, social media is the news source of most American adults. I count myself in that number as illustrated by the reaction to the Hamlin incident. One sensational story can hit personal news feeds and control the news cycle as all the other media follows that lead.  

The lesson is that companies must have a media response plan in place outlining how to evaluate and respond to breaking bad news well before it happens. The plan is critical because even the most experienced executives will be under extraordinary stress when these crisis events occur. The stress is compounded because timely response is critical to influence the narrative. Hahn references the “tick-tock box” as a reminder of the speed required to successfully engage.  

 The steps Hahn suggests to influence the narrative include a call of the critical response team within 15 minutes of the decision if there is a critical incident and a response likely required. In his practice, the first meeting of the team should occur 15 minutes later. Decisions about whether a “place holder” message will be issued should be made promptly. A placeholder message can be thought of as a statement about the basics of what is known and a promise that more information will be coming. During the next two hours the team works to come up with the planned responses.  

In those two hours, the big things the team focuses on are developing the messaging, selecting and preparing the messenger, and the best method of delivering the message. Message development will involve finding a proper tone and point of view. One tool the author recommends for this workup is a chart like the one below from the book to help develop the message:  











Decisions and actions are re-framed by external agents as blunders/missteps.






External agents working to knowingly cause harm.







Acts of nature or random, human error over which little control exists.






Intentional acts that knowingly create risk or harm.


Chart reproduced from the book Breaking Bad News.  

Using the chart helps direct the planning with the emphasis on these factors. 

The real-life examples in the book are well worth the read too. Those stories had me thinking that a real caution for the team should be to do no harm with the messaging, like the mistaken news claiming Hamlin had suffered a second cardiac event at the hospital. Listening to the news and call-in radio discussing the event the next day was also enlightening. Folks wanted to use the incident to create or support their own narratives. For example: why did the young male in peek health, monitored carefully by doctors all the time have a cardiac event like increasing numbers of young men who had “only one thing in common”—COVID-19 vaccines. Or conversely, this: the tragedy proves the need to change the rules of football to save lives. People have a narrative too. How those impact the story should be investigated too.  

For me, a recovering trial lawyer, the most meaningful lesson of the book was that the lawyer’s advice in those meetings to make no statements might need to be reconsidered. My thinking as I read the suggestion: Maybe. Sometimes. Read the book to see the discussion between a CEO and General Counsel on the question. But once the decision is made consideration of legal privileges must be considered. See, for example, “The Implications of Retaining Public Relations Firms on Attorney-Client Privilege,” For The Defense, July 2019 p. 50. 

While the decisions about whether to continue to play the Bills v. Bengals game were being made off screen, on the scene those who had just watched the incident—spectators in the stands and players on the field—did what most Americans do in such situations. They bowed their heads and prayed to God for Hamlin to survive. Those televised scenes of people praying too will be hard to forget. Perhaps a prayer is something that should be added to the media response team tool kit also.  

Mike ThompsonMichael Thompson, Jr. is a recovering trial lawyer who now works as Associate General Counsel for the Texas Association of Counties in Austin. Opinions expressed are the author's own and not those of his employer. Mr. Thompson has been a member of DRI since attending a Young Lawyer Seminar in Orlando a minute or two ago. He is also a member of Sam’s Club.  

The DRI Blog

Read Our Newest Blog Post—A Lawyer's Guide to Chicago

Chicago is one of the best cities in the world for embracing culture, art, history, and recreation.  

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Everyone needs a break from the grind of their job, and lawyers are no exception. A legal hub for some of the top firms in the country, Chicago is also one of the best cities in the world for embracing culture, art, history, and recreation.  

Check out our new post on Court & Counsel: The DRI Blog to learn more!

Court & Counsel: The DRI Blog – Your premier resource for civil defense content.

And The Defense Wins

DRI Members Share Their Victories

Defense Verdict for Insurance Client in Commercial Dispute

In January 2023, Huie lawyer Tom Bazemore obtained a defense verdict in favor of Allstate Insurance Company in a commercial dispute tried in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. The dispute surrounded tornado damage to a commercial property. The plaintiff contended that the building had suffered extensive damage well beyond that paid by the insurance carrier. Plaintiff sought between $250,001 and $1.25 million in damages. The jury returned a unanimous defense verdict.

Tom Bazemore

On November 14, 2022, a jury in downtown Los Angeles returned a defense verdict following a three-week trial in a case involving a pedestrian who suffered permanent injuries after being struck by a car in the city of Pomona. The plaintiff alleged that Foothill Transit, represented by DRI member Will Kronenberg, created a dangerous condition of public property through its placement of a bus stop. The Plaintiff sustained a severe traumatic brain injury with left occipital skull fracture, diffuse axonal injury, and intercranial hemorrhage. At trial, the parties stipulated that the plaintiff was in a persistent vegetative state with a future Life Care Plan totaling $12 million, and Plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award $65 million. After deliberation, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Foothill Transit, and both Motions for New Trial and JNOV were denied by the court. 

Will Kronenburg

Keep The Defense Wins Coming!

Please send 250–500-word summaries of your “wins,” including the case name, your firm name, your firm position, city of practice, and email address, in Word format, along with a recent color photo as an attachment (.jpg or .tiff), highest resolution file possible, to DefenseWins@dri.org. Please note that DRI membership is a prerequisite to be listed in “And the Defense Wins,” and it may take several weeks for The Voice to publish your win.

DRI Member News

Congratulations to DRI Members for Their Achievements

DRI member Drew L. Block, has been named as one of Plunkett Cooney’s newest shareholders. A member of Plunkett Cooney’s Bloomfield Hills, Michigan office, Block focuses his practice primarily in insurance coverage. He represents property and casualty insurance companies in coverage disputes involving bad faith claims, intellectual property, first-party property loss, construction accidents and sexual abuse and molestation claims. He also has experience handling litigation involving commercial and contract disputes, premises and product liability claims, and medical malpractice claims, and has been a member of DRI since 2011.

DRI Enterprise member Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice LLC has added twenty-one attorneys in Missouri. Eighteen have joined as part of the firm’s Jan. 1 merger with Foland, Wickens, Roper, Hofer & Crawford, P.C., along with three more who were not part of the merger.  

The following attorneys a have joined Baker Sterchi from Foland Wickens, and are now DRI members:

  • Scott Hofer, a trial attorney with a practice focused on the defense of bad faith and extra-contractual insurance claims, insurance coverage, commercial and business litigation, and sports.

  • Jim Maloney, an appellate, civil and insurance defense litigator.

  • Christopher Mirakian, a civil defense trial lawyer practicing in the areas of complex civil litigation and insurance defense.

  • Angela Probasco, an insurance coverage, extra-contractual and bad faith litigator.

  • Kyle Roehler, a trial lawyer with a practice focused on catastrophic personal injury defense, transportation, insurance coverage and extra-contractual liability, construction defect, and product liability litigation.

  • Philip Sumner, a civil defense trial lawyer practicing in the areas: construction law, product liability, personal injury, premises liability and extra-contractual liability.

Baker Sterchi also announced that Megan Sterchi Lammert, a DRI member since 2018, has been elected member of the firm. Megan is a civil litigation attorney with a practice concentrated on the defense of personal injury, premises liability and product liability matters. She has been a member DRI member since 2018. Carly Iverson has also joined the firm in Kanas City is as an associate. Carly has been a DRI member since 2021.

Beveridge & Diamond elected DRI member Collin Gannon (DRI member since 2019) as a new principal.Collin maintains a national practice concentrated on complex environmental and toxic tort litigation. While Collin focuses primarily on environmental litigation, he also applies his litigation background to resolve associated regulatory issues, advise on transactions involving environmental matters, and recover insurance proceeds or recoveries on behalf of policyholders facing critical loss exposure.     

Christian & Small announced that the firm has elevated DRI member Shauncey H. Ridgeway to partner, effective January 1. Shauncey joined the firm in 2019, and focuses her practice on insurance matters, bankruptcy, creditor’s rights, and real estate. Shauncey is the immediate past co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion subcommittee for the DRI’s Young Lawyer Committee and has been a DRI member since 2019.

Ragsdale Liggett announced that DRI member Skye MacLeod has been named partner.  Skye has been a DRI member since 2021 and has more than 25 years’ experience handling complex legal issues and brings impressive skills to our robust civil litigation group.  Her practice is focused in the areas of environmental, estates and trusts, business, real property, construction, and insurance litigation with extensive experience in the areas of product liability, fire and water losses and personal injury.

Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP and Freeborn & Peters LLP announced that their respective partnerships have unanimously approved a combination of the two law firms. The firms – with a shared strategic vision and complementary high-value, top-tier markets and practice areas – will operate under the Smith Gambrell Russell name, effective March 1.  DRI member from the new combined firm include Edward Wasmuth (member since 2006) and Lawrence Ingram (member since 2012).

Waranch & Brown, LLC is proud to announce that Saamia Dasti has been elected partner. Saamia handles all phases of complex litigation. She has tried cases to verdict in Maryland State and Federal courts and the District of Columbia and has experience in Maryland’s appellate courts and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and has prevailed on numerous dispositive motions and has repeatedly tried cases to defense verdicts.  Saamia has been a member of DRI since 2015.

If you have a recent achievement or recognition, you would like featured, email your news to membership@dri.org. Please note that DRI reserves the right to review all accomplishments to ensure they are adequate for publishing. All submissions will be reviewed for relevance and compliance with DRI’s mission. Submissions may be edited to conform with our standards, and space limitations.



SLDOs Name Officers for 2023 Term

During the month of January, two DRI members have been named officers for the upcoming 2023 leadership term in their State and Local Defense Organization (SLDO):

Mississippi Defense Lawyers Association has elected James L. (J.L.) Wilson, IV (DRI member since 2000) as President and J. Seth McCoy (DRI member since 2012) as President-Elect.  

The Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana (DTCI) recognized three DRI members with awards at the end of 2022 in conjunction with its Annual Meeting. The DTCI has installed as “Diplomats of the Indiana Defense Trial Counsel” two members of the Indiana bar who, in the judgment of the officers and directors of the DTCI, have distinguished themselves throughout their career with outstanding contributions to the representation of clients in defense of litigation matters. The two recipients are Michele S. Bryant (DRI member since 1995) and Jim Strenski (DRI member since 2004). The DTCI identified Evan Norris (DRI member since 2020) with the “Outstanding Young Lawyer” award. This award is presented to a member of the Defense Trial Counsel, less than 35 years old, who has shown leadership qualities in service to the Indiana defense bar, the national defense bar, or the community.   

Sexual Torts

Seminar Spotlight

What We're Looking Forward To

2023 Drug and Medical Device Seminar

May 3-5, 2023 | New Orleans, Louisiana 

The 2023 Drug and Medical Device Seminar is the premier event for litigators in this space. In anticipation of the gathering, here’s what our members are most looking forward to.  

Are you ready for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival? This DRI seminar overlaps with one of the most iconic events of the year in New Orleans, so you’re sure to take in the best of the city when you join! 

For the first time, attendees will have access to small group networking opportunities. With a city like New Orleans, you won’t want to miss out on what the location has to offer beyond the conference room walls! 

April 26-28, 2023 | New Orleans, Louisiana  

The practice of law is changing, from where we practice to how we preserve and present evidence. At DRI’s Business Litigation and Intellectual Property Super Conference, you will learn about generational differences impacting the practice of law, issues in front of the Supreme Court and the anticipated effects of future rulings, the sweeping changes affecting restrictive covenants, and much, much more. Our featured experts will cover a wide range of issues affecting the modern litigator in an informative and interactive setting. Come reconnect, recharge, and leave reenergized about your practice.  

In anticipation of the gathering, here’s what our members are most looking forward to.  
Members are excited to get back to in-person programming, and 2023 also marks the 10th anniversary of DRI’s Intellectual Property seminar offering!  

Intellectual Property Litigation Committee Membership Chair Steven Kennedy of Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP said this year is particularly special given the anniversary – you won’t want to miss it! 
Business Litigation Program Chair Shannon M. Bell of Kelly Law Partners LLP said that “one of the things we go to DRI for is to meet with fellow lawyers,” and the several small group networking events available at the seminar are sure to expand your network! 

IP Litigation Program Vice Chair Nicholas B. Clifford of Tucker Ellis LLP highlighted the complementary programming between the business litigation and intellectual property litigation elements of the super conference, which is sure to draw members across numerous practice areas! 

DRI Cares

Insurance Law Committee Partners with New Yorkers for Children 

In December 2022, the Insurance Law Committee proudly partnered with New Yorkers for Children (NYFC) at the Insurance Coverage and Practice Symposium in New York City for the DRI Cares Event.  NYFC improves the well-being of youth and families in the child welfare system with an emphasis on older youth aging out of the system.  NYFC provides direct education, financial and emotional support and develops programs to fill gaps in the system in partnership with foster care agencies, community organizations, and the NYC Administration for Children’s Services.  The ILC is honored to work with such a great organization and encourages everyone to support NYFC.



DRI Welcomes the Following Members and Advocates:

New Members
Liva Rivera, Miami, FL                                                                              
Matthew Knight, Rosemont, IL                                                                        
Graham D Barth, Lexington, KY                                                                       
Parada Ornelas, San Diego, CA                                                                       
Jordan Lippner, New York, NY                                                                        
Halle Gray, Columbia, MD                                                                            
Cordes B. Kennedy, Columbia, SC                                                                     
Melodie Craft, Dallas, TX                                                                           
Joseph Emill Lanzot O'Neill, Shrewsbury, NJ                                                         
Kjrsten Tendall Hersey, Rockville, MD                                                               
Allison Geary, Providence, RI                                                                       
Richard M. Lord, Norwich, CT                                                                        
Michael Shumway, Phoenix, AZ                                                                        
Anelisa Benavides, Phoenix, AZ                                                                      
Cassie Ferries, Houston, TX                                                                         
Andrew Robert Wilkinson, Omaha, NE                                                                  
Chad A. Staul, Saint Cloud, MN                                                                      
John Swafford, Pleasant Hill, CA                                                                    
Mark Jeffrey McGhee, Charleston, WV                                                                 
Briana Waite, Pleasant Hill, CA                                                                     
Mary Dale, Covington, LA                                                                            
Nicole M. Scarmato, Livermore, CA                                                                   
Robert R. McLeod, Denver, CO                                                                        
Kiera Meehan, Carle Place, NY                                                                       
Andrew Heck, Madison, NJ                                                                            
Madison Vacarella, Birmingham, AL                                                                   
Eric Schwettmann, Encino, CA                                                                        
Ryan Radford, Washington, DC                                                                        
Lorena Valle, Houston, TX                                                                           
Erica Zolner, Chicago, IL                                                                           
Kevin Ringel, Barrington, IL                                                                        
Damion Michael Young, Irvine, CA                                                                    
Cheyna Haas Galloway, Fishers, IN                                                                   
Megan A. Van Pelt, Indianapolis, IN                                                                 
Briana Gornick, Saint Paul, MN                                                                      
Colton Parks, Irvine, CA                                                                            
Rana Dawson, Chicago, IL                                                                            
Paige Silva, Las Vegas, NV                                                                          
Sara M. Valentine, Columbus, OH                                                                     
Christine E. Laing, Calgary, AB, Canada                                                             
Trenton Gray, Dallas, TX                                                                            
Xavier McLean, Raleigh, NC                                                                          
David Joseph Welder, Leawood, KS                                                                    
Brennan Baxter Ferguson, Wilmington, NC                                                             
Michelle Laughlin, Huntsville, AL                                                                   
Christopher S. Knight, Portland, ME                                                                 
Laura O'Hara, Conway, AR                                                                            
Mikaela Marie Jackson, San Diego, CA                                                                
Parisa Rose Gold, Troy, MI                                                                          
Ryan A. Walton, Houston, TX                                                                         
Bradey Camille Baltz, Little Rock, AR                                                               
Briana Combs, Bloomfield Hills, MI                                                                  
Yiran Ryan Liu, Saint Louis, MO                                                                     
Gabrielle E. Szlachta-McGinn, Newport Beach, CA                                                     
Jeremy Aaron Freiman, Atlanta, GA                                                                   
Savannah G. Baker, Lexington, KY                                                                    
Alexander Tibor, Minneapolis, MN                                                                    
Ashlyn Banks, Tampa, FL                                                                             
Brian M. Searls, Avonale, PA                                                                        
Robyn Gayle Toledo, Scottsdale, AZ                                                                  
Courtney Kramer, Phoenix, AZ                                                                        
Laurie Webb Daniel, Atlanta, GA                                                                     
Kyle Koebele, Saint Paul, MN                                                                        
David E. Hackett, Los Angeles, CA                                                                   
Marjorie E. Kratsas, Las Vegas, NV                                                                  
Brittany Lewis, Las Vegas, NV                                                                       
Jeffrey Douglass, Atlanta, GA                                                                       
Mia Lorick, Houston, TX                                                                             
Haley M. Loutfy, Chicago, IL                                                                        
Peter G. Syregelas, Chicago, IL                                                                     
Michael Ohly, Troy, MI                                                                              
Chazle' Woodley, Raleigh, NC                                                                        
Barrett Johnson, Raleigh, NC                                                                        
Michael John Hurley, Morristown, NJ                                                                 
Jeffrey Ditmar, Farmington Hills, MI           
Madeline R. Becker, Providence, RI                                                                  
Alexandria Layton, Las Vegas, NV                                                                    
Noah G. Blechman, Pleasant Hill, CA                                                                 
Craig F. Martin, Omaha, NE                                                                          
Ray Moore III, Columbia, SC                                                                         
Ashley Brathwaite, Raleigh, NC                                                                      
Edward P. Gonzales, Omaha, NE                                                                       
Sean D. Quinn, Omaha, NE                                                                            
Ashley K. Brown, Lexington, KY                                                                      
James M. Weiss, Raleigh, NC                                                                         
Stephanie Holcombe, Houston, TX                                                                     
Kate Mercer-Lawson, Denver, CO                                                                      
Jerry D. Hamilton, Miami, FL                                                                        
Katherine Otto, Denver, CO                                                                          
Jessie L. Sogge, Saint Cloud, MN                                                                    
Kelly E. Petter, Rocky Hill, CT                                                                     
Paul A. Miller, Birmingham, AL                                                                      
Mary Massaron, Bloomfield Hills, MI                                                                 
Gregory C. Ulmer, Houston, TX                                                                       
Jeffrey T. Edwards, Portland, ME                                                                    
Natalie Baker Reis, Houston, TX                                                                     
Toyja E. Kelley, Washington, DC           

DRI Education

Upcoming Seminars & Webinars

2023 DRI Insurance Coverage and Claims Institute
March 8–10, 2023 | Chicago, Illinois
Join us this spring in Chicago at DRI’s flagship seminar for insurance executives, claim professionals, and outside counsel. The 2023 Insurance Coverage and Claims Institute promises to provide an array of outstanding speakers to keep you up-to-date on the latest developments in the industry and current trends in insurance coverage.

2023 Medical Liability and Health Care Law Seminar
March 8–10, 2023 | Chicago, Illinois
Join us in Chicago for a seminar that has something for everyone, including analyses of high-profile legal events that “broke the internet.” Topics include medical practice after Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the impact of live-streaming trials, and the ethical minefield that is representing a provider in a malpractice claim when the provider is also facing criminal charges for medical decisions.

2023 DRI Fidelity and Surety Roundtable
March 10, 2023 | Chicago, Illinois
The Fidelity and Surety Roundtable focuses exclusively on important legal issues involving fidelity and surety claims and litigation. A portion of our program is dedicated to addressing ethical dilemmas faced by claims handlers when dealing with settlement and related issues. The size of the seminar encourages lively group participation from the many surety company representatives and attorneys who attend.

2023 DRI Sexual Torts Seminar
March 13–14, 2023 | Indianapolis, Indiana
Defending businesses, churches, schools, and other institutions against liability for sexual abuse is a daunting challenge for defense lawyers.  Attendees will gain valuable education about investigation and discovery, statutes of limitation, evaluation of damages, and insurance coverage issues from experienced lawyers and professionals.

2023 DRI Life, Health, Disability, and ERISA Seminar
April 26-28, 2023 | New Orleans, Louisiana
The nation’s best conference for Life, Health, and Disability practitioners is making its long-awaited appearance in the Big Easy, with best-in-class CLE, enhanced networking opportunities, and new ways to connect with your colleagues in a setting unlike anywhere else. Explore New Orleans with networking events that offer something for everyone and earn CLE from top industry leaders and practitioners. Plus, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival kicks off on April 28; come for the seminar and stay for a weekend of world class music and celebration. This is the seminar you will not want to miss!

2023 DRI Business and Intellectual Property Litigation Super Conference
April 26-28, 2023 | New Orleans, Louisiana
The practice of law is changing, from where we practice to how we preserve and present evidence. At DRI’s Business Litigation and Intellectual Property Super Conference, you will learn about generational differences impacting the practice of law, issues in front of the Supreme Court and the anticipated effects of future rulings, the sweeping changes affecting restrictive covenants, and much, much more. Our featured experts will cover a wide range of issues affecting the modern litigator in an informative and interactive setting. Come reconnect, recharge, and leave reenergized about your practice.

2023 Toxic Torts and Environmental Law Seminar
April 26-28, 2023 | New Orleans, Louisiana
The nation’s best conference for toxic tort and environmental practitioners is making its long-awaited appearance in the Big Easy, with best-in-class CLE, enhanced networking opportunities, and new ways to connect with your colleagues in a setting unlike anywhere else. Explore New Orleans with networking events that offer something for everyone and earn CLE from top industry leaders and practitioners. Plus, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival kicks off on April 28 – come for the seminar and stay for a weekend of world class music and celebration. This is the seminar you will not want to miss!

2023 Cannabis Law Seminar
May 2-3, 2023 | New Orleans, Louisiana

2023 DRI Drug and Medical Device Seminar
May 3-5, 2023 | New Orleans, Louisiana
Join us in historic New Orleans for the Drug and Medical Device industry’s premier event for learning, networking, and advancing the defense of life sciences clients! You’ll hear from heads of litigation from the world’s foremost drug and medical device companies, get the latest insight on jurors’ changing perceptions, and celebrate Daubert’s 30th anniversary. This year, take advantage of new CLE opportunities on Wednesday afternoon and small group, off-site networking events on Thursday afternoon, which provide more opportunities than ever to network with renowned industry experts while enjoying the best of New Orleans.

2023 DRI Employment and Labor Law Seminar
May 3-5, 2023 | New Orleans, Louisiana
Join us in the Big Easy as we reconnect at DRI’s 46th annual Employment and Labor Law Seminar. The nation’s best employment law seminar brings together leading management-side employment and labor attorneys, in-house counsel, human resources professionals, and EPLI representatives from throughout the U.S. and Canada. Always intensely practical and accompanied by helpful written materials, this seminar is indispensable for experienced practitioners as well as those who are just getting started in labor and employment law. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from some of the best practitioners and professionals in the labor and employment arena.

Webinar Bundle

New Year’s Resolution Bundle
New year means new business! And the DRI New Year’s Resolution Bundle can provide you with the knowledge to help grow your practice and client base. Save 75% by purchasing this set of four on-demand courses. 

Expert Panel on Damages
February 15 | 12 p.m. CST
Sponsored by DeeGee Rehab Technologies Ltd.

State Trial Court Research + Analytics for Defense Counsel - Tips & Best Practices!
March 1 | 12 p.m. CST
Sponsored by Trellis

DRI Town Hall: Gun Ownership and Policing
March 28 | 12 p.m. CST
Save the date for this free webinar! Details coming soon.


“Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations."
- Mae C. Jemison