Litigation Star Walsh Leaves ‘Dream’ Defense Job for Plaintiffs

May 14, 2021, 10:00 AM

Alexandra Walsh said it was “a dream come true” five years ago to co-found a litigation firm with Beth Wilkinson after leaving Big Law partnership at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

“We did this amazing thing,” she said of starting Wilkinson Walsh.

In March she pivoted again to pursue another dream—this time her own litigation boutique, exclusively representing plaintiffs. “I spent 20 years on the defense side,” Walsh said. “I wanted to represent individuals who have been wronged.”

Walsh’s upcoming milestone of turning 50 hasn’t deterred her from a new course in a legal career punctuated with surprises and successes. She established a star reputation in 2010 when she won a nearly $1 billion jury verdict for Liberty Media in a securities fraud and breach-of-contract action against French media conglomerate Vivendi SA.

Walsh also was lead counsel for Bayer Corp. when it in 2019 beat back a $600 million class action targeting the company’s labeling of its popular One-A-Day vitamins. She represented Bayer successfully in other claims against its blood thinner Xarelto.

By twice opting to establish firms, she has departed from the law school-to-clerkship-to-big firm path she followed since graduating from Stanford Law School. She clerked for both U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and Attorney General Merrick Garland when the latter was a D.C. Appeals Court judge. She was a Baker Botts partner before joining Paul Weiss.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many women lawyers have responded to the pressures of working remotely by considering whether to drop out of full-time practice or downgrade their roles, an American Bar Association survey released in February said. Walsh instead decided to change direction.

“I never planned on being a corporate defense lawyer for my entire career,” she said. “I wanted at some point to do something that involves the causes I care about in a more direct way and helps people in a more direct way. And I decided this was the time to do it.”

Walsh’s exit from her old firm, now called Wilkinson Stekloff, came months after the departure of two of the firm’s other founding partners, Brant Bishop and Sean Eskovitz.

Two other former colleagues from Wilkinson Stekloff, Kim Channick and John James “JJ” Snidow, signed up with Walsh and the trio is working virtually as Walsh Law. Her husband of two decades, Brendan O’Brien, is the firm’s chief financial officer.

The new firm so far is representing clients in the 3M Co. product liability litigation in federal court in the Northern District of Florida. The litigation involves claims that the company’s Combat Arms earplugs caused plaintiffs to develop hearing loss or tinnitus.

The firm is also participating in product liability litigation against heartburn medication Zantac in federal court in the Southern District of Florida. That litigation involves a large number of claims that an active ingredient increases the risk of cancer.

The “client dynamic is definitely different” on the plaintiff side, Walsh said. Clients “are individuals who have been wronged and are looking for representation to right those wrongs.”

Her new venture comes with risk, “as there is to anything,” she said. “There can be a certain lumpiness to the income, and you have to be willing to tolerate that.”

Being “careful and conservative in financial matters” during her career “put me in the position to be able to do this,” Walsh said.

She’s proud of Wilkinson Stekloff, with its well-known, lucrative clients such the National Collegiate Athletic Association. “It remains a place,” she said, “where women can flourish and see a remarkable woman in a leadership position who is a role model and mentor.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson at egolson1@gmail.com
To contact the editor on this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloombergindustry.com;
John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com
Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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