Mark P. Robinson, Jr. Honored as One of The National Law Journal’s Elite Trial Lawyers

Fifty of the nation’s leading plaintiffs firms were honored at The National Law Journal’s Elite Trial Lawyers awards ceremony on Thursday.

More than 80 people attended the inaugural event, which was held at the Wynn Las Vegas and featured CNBC anchor Nicole Lapin as master of ceremonies. Lapin also regularly appears as a financial expert on CNN and on talk shows.

“Trial lawyers have occasionally been used as a political football,” said David Brown, editor in chief and vice president of ALM, publisher of The National Law Journal. “We hoped to reclaim the phrase ‘trial lawyer’ from the realm of partisan politics.”

The firms featured obtained billions of dollars in verdicts. Their work in products liability, consumer, antitrust, personal injury and whistleblower actions helped reshape public policy and punish corporate misbehavior during the past 18 months. Their cases involved bank fees; financial securities; and pharmaceutical, medical device and automobile defects.

Some lawyers attending the event said the wave of tort reform in recent years has subsided as companies have learned economic lessons about making better products.

“The product liability laws are a great example of policy that’s worked very well,” said Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi chairman Martin Lueck. The rise of products made in countries outside the United States has made such lawsuits even more important, he said.

There remain challenges. Pursuing class actions, for instance, has been made more difficult by U.S. Supreme Court decisions including AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, in which the court ruled in 2011 that the Federal Arbitration Act preempted state laws that prohibited class action waivers in arbitration agreements, said Matthew Axelrod, a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. When considering taking a consumer case, he said, “one of the first questions is: Are there arbitration agreements?”

Mark Robinson, managing partner of Robinson Calcagnie, Inc. in Newport Beach, Calif., argued that the jury trial offers citizens a direct say in government and public policy. As president of the American Board of Trial Advocates, half of whose members are defense lawyers, he speaks across the country about the need for a return to jury trials.

“We don’t do things for plaintiffs or the defense,” he said of his organization. “Our big thing is civility among lawyers.”