Top 250 Women in Litigation - Midwest


Kirkland & Ellis's Leslie Smith enjoys her fourth consecutive year in the Top 250 ranks, and in addition, she has rocketed into the position of one of the Top 10 this year as well. "Leslie Smith is a real star that people really love working with," commends a peer, echoing the sentiments of many. While Smith enjoys a varied pratice, she is chiefly known for product liability, a practice that finds her often on some of the most contentious of cases. A recent example is her representation of World Fuel Services Corporation in connection with the train derailment and resultant conflagration in Quebec that left 47 deceased. The defense involves 20 wrongful-death suits filed in Illinois and later moved to federal district court in Maine where the cases are better positioned for resolution in the Chapter 11 context. Smith's colleague at Kirkland Emily Nicklin practices in the areas of professional liability, securities and common law fraud, contract, tort, employment discrimination, constitutional law, and municipal law. Her list of clients is extensive, as it includes such household names as Bank of America, Navistar International Transportation Company, and Dow Chemical Company. "Emily Nicklin is beloved by the Chicago legal community," enthuses a peer. "She is like royalty among U. Chicago alumni." Yet another Chicago-based Kirkland partner, Anne Sidrys attends to matters involving contract disputes, fraud, accounting malpractice, products liability, securities, and shareholder and shareholder activities claims. Rebecca Weinstein Bacon hails from the Chicago office of Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott, where she manages a practice focused on pharmaceutical products liability, antirust, consumer class actions, and commercial disputes. Recently, she represented Bayer in a matter in which she led a legal team that defeated class certification at the district court for all but one state in which certification was sought. The global coordinator for Sidley Austin's Products Liability and Mass Torts practice whom peers refer to as "outstanding," Maja Eaton currently serves as co-chair of the firm's Committee on Retention and Promotion of Women. She recently assisted General Electric in obtaining summary judgements and dismissals in a number of different cases, including in two marine turbine cases and in an asbestos case. Sara Gourley, also from the Chicago office of Sidley Austin, is a member of her firm's Executive Committee. She specializes in pharmaceutical and medical device defense and serves as lead counsel to Grunenthal GmbH in 51 cases in which plaintiffs seek damages for injuries allegedly suffered as a result of their mother's ingestion of thalidomide during pregnancy in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Gourley and her legal team's representation of this client has so far led to two grants of summary judgement, 13voluntary dismissals, five motions to withdraw as counsel, and no depositions of the client's witnesses.

Head of Winston & Strawn's professional liability practice group, Caryn Jacobs specializes in accounting and auditing defense matters. In 2015, she represented a major financial institution in government investigations on credit crisis issues and an accounting firm in conflict of interest exposure in New York in a case that was favorably resolved prior to litigation. She also represented Northern Trust in a credit crisis litigation. Stationed in the Chicago office of Latham & Watkins, Mary Rose Alexander is the Vice Chair of the firm's Litigation & Trial and Environment, Land & Resources Departments. Alexander has extensive experience in litigating matters regarding toxic torts, the environment, industrial accidents, and product liability and consumer fraud, and insurance coverage. A peer attests, "I saw her in action, and she was great on her feet."

Managing partner of Schiff Hardin and leader of the firm's Class Action Group, Marci Eisenstein is an experienced class action attorney who has been practicing for thirty years. She played a lead role in the case Avery v. State Farm, one of the few nationwide insurance class actions to ever go to trial and also represented major insurance carriers in many class actions involving auto insurance, homeowners insurance, and life accident and health insurance. Susan Stone is the co-leader of Sidley Austin's global Insurance and Financial Services group. She practices in the areas of general commercial arbitration and litigation and has served the insurance industry for more than twenty years.

Tabet DiVito Rothstein litigator Meredith Martin Addy is a seasoned intellectual property litigator who has served as first- or second-chair trial counsel in nearly 30 federal district court cases. Her clients represent some of the leading companies in a variety of different fields, including software, technology, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical industries.

Michele Odorizzi is located in Mayer Brown's Chicago office, where she is a member of the firm's Litigation group and Supreme Court and Appellate practice. She has argued more than 70 appeals and has filed hundreds of briefs in courts across the country, and her specialty lies in the areas of securities litigation, accountants' liability, shareholder derivative litigation, and fiduciary duty issues.


Heading a more than two decade old practice in trial and appellate product liability matters, Andrea Roberts Pierson hails from the Indianapolis office of Faegre Baker Daniels. In 2015, Pierson successfully represented client Zimmer in a matter regarding an orthopedic implant, which was alleged to have been poorly designed.


A member of Davis Brown's finance and budget committees, Deborah Tharnish focuses on business litigation and employment law. She is a senior shareholder in her firm, deals with real estate assessment appeals, and also handles adoptions for families. Angel West of Nyemaster Goode's Des Moines office manages a practice focused on products liability, business and commercial litigation, personal injury, and tort defense. She served as lead counsel to Principal Management Corporation and Principal Global Investors in a case in which the plaintiff, American Chemicals & Equipment, sought $300 million in damages in a shareholder derivative action. She also represented BNSF Railway Company in a matter against Marlin in which a railroad employee sued his employer and sought damages for injuries he alleged arose out of a train collision while he was operating one of the trains.


Donna Donati of Miller Canfield has amassed twenty years of experience representing newspapers, radio stations, and magazines in defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuits. A Detroit-based litigator, Donati also represents automotive-sector clients. With a diverse practice focused on commercial and complex litigation, construction, securities, intellectual property litigation, employment litigation, class actions, and professional malpractice defense, Sharon Woods serves as chair of Barris Sott Denn Driker's Litigation Department.

Michelle Thurber Czapski leads the insurance practice group at Bodman and has achieved successful resolutions for insurance and financial service companies, tier-one automotive suppliers, and pharmaceutical companies in disputes ranging from the Consumer Protection Act to insurance and ERISA to contract matters. Czapski currently serves as lead counsel for Key Plastics Corporation in a matter in which the client seeks coverage under Directors and Officers insurance policies issued by the defendant insurers. She also represents the General American Life Insurance Company and the Integrity Life Insurance Company in a financial services litigation matter.


Founding partner of Ciresi Conlin, Jan Conlin focuses her practice on intellectual property and business-critical litigation. She represented Georgia-Pacific in a matter against NCR, International Paper, and Weyehauser in which the client sued the defendants for contribution to the clean-up costs associated with PCB contamination of the Kalamazoo River. "Jan is a nationally recognized litigation star, for plaintiffs and defendants," declares a peer. "She is sensible, smart, and maintains her cool."

Wendy Wildung of Faegre Baker Daniels has handled dozens of matters at the trial and appellate levels, including the defense of directors and officers and corporations in securities class actions. She is known to other lawyers as a "terrific person and lawyer" whose recent casework includes representing Target in a complex, big-ticket litigation involving the bankruptcy estate of its supplier that settled favorably for the client.


Having argued hundreds of appeals in state and federal court, Tucker Ellis litigator Irene Keyse-Walker manages an appellate practice and was the first lawyer in Ohio to be named to the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers. In the areas of products liability and insurance bad faith in particular, many of her cases have resulted in precedent-setting decisions.

Elizabeth "Liza" Kessler of the Columbus office of Jones Day specializes complex litigation, including multijurisdictional cases and class actions with a focus on nationwide product liability. Recently, she defended Sherwin-Williams in public nuisance suits brought by various governmental entities. Fellow Tucker Ellis partner Rita Maimbourg, who defends clients in the pharmaceutical, medical device, and healthcare industries, receives regular plaudits from peers. One remarks that, "If I had to refer a case, and I only do that reluctantly, it would be to Tucker Ellis, and specifically [to] Rita." Elizabeth "Missy" Wright, a partner in Thompson Hine's Product Liability Litigation and Business Litigation practice groups, focuses her practice on automotive, aviation, and pharmaceutical and medical device product liability litigation. She represented Unison Industries in a case that involved a triple fatality as a result of a crash of a Grumman Traveler AA-5 airplane. It was alleged that the muffler designed and manufactured by Unison was defective in design, manufacture, had inadequate warnings, and several statutory claims and caused the crash. After a two-week trial, the jury returned a defense verdict. She also served as lead counsel to the Ford Motor Company in a product liability case regarding allegedly defective spark plugs.

Co-Chair of Ulmer Berne's Financial Services & Securities Litigation practice group as well as of its Data Privacy & Information Security group, Frances Floriano Goins is hailed by peers as "outstanding in securities litigation." It is also said that "When it comes to that shareholder derivatives type work, she is among the best in Ohio, if not the best." An accomplished appellate lawyer, Goins also boasts impressive skills in resolving complex business disputes involving securities, corporate governance, shareholder rights, cybersecurity, financial services, and consumer and contract law.