Litigation Leaders: Shawn Wright of Blank Rome on Being Efficient, Prepared and ‘Relentlessly’ Pressing Towards Trial
Blank Rome's Shawn M. Wright was interviewed by The AmLaw Litigation Daily on serving as co-chair of the firm's Litigation Department, her white collar defense practice, the firm's litigation practice and successes, her personal and professional insights, and more. The full interview is available below.
Welcome to another edition of our Litigation Leaders series, featuring the litigation practice leaders at some of the biggest and most innovative law firms in the country.
Meet Shawn Wright, the co-chair of the litigation department of Blank Rome who is based in Washington, D.C. Wright’s practice centers on white-collar criminal defense matters, with a focus on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and international anti-corruption laws, criminal antitrust, public corruption and government contracts matters, as well as complex civil litigation. When she was tapped to help lead the 300-plus lawyer department in January, Wright became the first woman of color to lead any firm-wide department at Blank Rome, and the first woman to co-lead the firm’s litigation department.
Tell us a little about yourself—beyond what’s in your law firm bio.
I believe that people should find ways to give back to the communities in which they live and work, and so I am a strong supporter of investing in communities and being impactful beyond providing legal services. In the Washington, D.C., community, I serve as chair of the board for My Sister’s Place, one of the oldest domestic violence shelters in the District of Columbia. I also serve on the boards of National Capital Bank of Washington, the oldest community bank in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area; D.C. Legal Aid Society; and the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. In each of these organizations, I have the opportunity to not only serve on their boards, but volunteer and invest in the stakeholders we seek to serve. Additionally, as a strong advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession, the community work provides an opportunity to educate and nurture future diverse attorneys.
Finally, I am an enthusiastic football and basketball fan at both the professional and collegiate levels.
How big is Blank Rome’s litigation department and where are most of your litigators concentrated geographically?
Blank Rome LLP has 329 litigators, which represents 51% of our attorneys firm-wide. Our three largest concentrations of litigators reside in our Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; and New York offices. I am one of three litigation department leaders, working closely with my co-chairs Daniel Rhynhart in Philadelphia and Gregory Bordo in Los Angeles.
What do you see as hallmarks of your firm’s litigators? What makes you different?
First and foremost, we are some of the fiercest litigators! Our department is entrepreneurial in nature, meaning, we are uniquely creative in our approaches to problem-solving and solutions. Our clients’ issues and opportunities are not cookie-cutter. We have a strong focus on deeply understanding our clients’ businesses and helping them achieve resolutions that fit their needs and goals, not ours. Most importantly, we are always prepared to go to trial if needed.
Ninety-one percent of our cases in the past five years have ended successfully based on a win/loss assessment. We don’t spin wheels in discovery. We want to be in court. We train year-round, at every level, from associate to the most senior partner, in our BR Trial Accelerator program so that our litigators are always ready to go to court.
Our philosophy is to minimize the tactical sparring that too often accompanies litigation and to proceed promptly toward successful resolutions for our clients. We are efficient. We are prepared. We relentlessly press toward trial, and that pressure drives positive settlements for our clients. When litigation is necessary, we are laser-focused on the scope of the dispute and develop a case strategy and budget appropriate to our clients’ goals. We keep the narrative clear so that even the most complicated disputes can be easily grasped by juries, judges, and arbitrators.
In what three areas of litigation do you have the deepest bench?
Commercial litigation, corporate litigation, and matrimonial and family law.
As department co-chair, what are some of your goals or priorities for the next year?
As a relatively new department co-chair, my first priority is to listen. To get to know my fellow litigators at all levels and make sure they feel heard, invested in, and empowered. My goal is to be a sounding board, supporting and challenging my colleagues to be their best selves and, ultimately, to help our department and our firm succeed. I want to meet people where they are and help them get to where they want to be. Along with my litigation department co-chairs, I am looking for ways to be intentional and impactful for the benefit of our clients.
How many lateral litigation partners have you hired in the last 12 months? What do you look for in lateral hires?
We look for laterals who are strategic thinkers and strong trial attorneys, not afraid of the courtroom. Litigators who can see the big picture but can also get in the weeds. We look for team players who are a cultural fit and adept at a variety of litigation tools, including mediation and arbitration. Our litigators must have the ability to understand our client’s business and the flexibility to adapt their approach to meet the client’s needs. And finally, we are always looking to complement our existing industries and skills to better serve our clients.
What were some of Blank Rome’s biggest in-court wins in the past year, and can you cite tactics that exemplify your firm’s approach to success?
A Blank Rome team successfully represented Johnson & Johnson and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, on September 24, 2021, when the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of J&J following a six-week jury trial, wholly rejecting the plaintiff’s claim that her use of J&J’s baby powder caused the plaintiff’s ovarian cancer.
This client success was highlighted as one of the top five highest verdicts covered by The Legal Intelligencer in 2021, in “Looking Back on The Legal’s Top Verdicts of 2021.”
On March 8, 2022, a Pittsburgh jury returned a verdict for Blank Rome’s client PPG Industries invalidating five Sherwin-Williams patents. The verdict followed a five-day trial and came less than 24 hours after closing arguments.
A Blank Rome team representing the National Collegiate Athletic Association successfully concluded the final appeal of the first and, to date, only NCAA football concussion case to go to trial anywhere in the country. The matter of Onyshko vs. NCAA involved a former collegiate football player, and his wife, who asserted claims against the NCAA for injuries allegedly sustained as a result of the long-term effects of concussions and sub-concussive blows to the head from playing football. On September 1, 2021, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied the plaintiffs’ petition for allowance of appeal in which the plaintiffs sought a new trial after a May 2019 defense verdict for the NCAA following a four-week jury trial.
On January 21, 2022, Blank Rome won a jury verdict for our clients NCS Multistage, Inc. and NCS Multistage, LLC after a four-day trial in the Western District of Texas, Waco Division. NCS designs and sells downhole tools used in drilling and completing oil and gas wells. The jury found that defendant Nine Energy Service’s BreakThru product infringes NCS’s ’445 patent and awarded NCS $486,400 in past damages. The jury’s damages award is more than twice what the defendant argued the damages should be and equates to a go-forward royalty of $750 for every BreakThru product Nine sells in the future. The patent is barely two years old, so the future royalty payments will be due to NCS for years to come—which will result in millions in license revenue to NCS.
A Blank Rome trial team secured a significant litigation victory on behalf of our clients Decision Resources Group and Clarivate, following a three-week jury trial that concluded on February 28, 2022. In May 2019, a DRG data supplier, Allscripts Healthcare LLC, one of the world’s largest medical software companies, sued DRG in the District of Massachusetts, claiming that DRG breached the parties’ contract and misappropriated Allscripts’ trade secrets. Over the next three years, the parties engaged in intensive discovery, which included more than 25 depositions and the production of hundreds of thousands of documents. The case involved complex and cutting-edge legal issues related to the licensing of healthcare data. Allscripts sought significant damages for breach of contract and willful violations of trade secret statutes, as well as punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. In the final verdict, the jury concluded that DRG did not misappropriate Allscripts’ trade secrets and awarded Allscripts one dollar on its breach of contract claim.
Our approach to winning outcomes that most benefit our clients includes early and creative case assessment, thorough preparation, and assembling the right litigation and industry team with the right skill sets from among our more than 300 litigators.
What does your firm’s coming trial docket look like?
We anticipate a combination of IP litigation, insurance recovery cases, breach of contracts, mass torts, and high-net-worth matrimonial litigation.
"Litigation Leaders: Shawn Wright of Blank Rome on Being Efficient, Prepared and ‘Relentlessly’ Pressing Towards Trial," interview by Ross Todd was published in The AmLaw Litigation Daily on September 7, 2022.