As an advocate for the medtech industry and for the advancement of women in life sciences, Lori Cohen is often tapped to represent industry members in their legal issues.
Cohen is co-chair of Greenberg Traurig’s Global Litigation Practice, as well as chair of the firm’s Pharmaceutical, Medical device & Health Care Litigation Practice. She has also served for the past five years as chair of the Women in Life Sciences Conference, held annually in Boston.
Cohen’s interest in medtech started as a young attorney. She was drawn to the human element of the cases and the intersection of law with science and medicine.
“Medtech is an industry that is bringing important innovation and development to everyone. It’s saving and improving lives, and allowing us to live better and longer. The industry is giving people access to amazing new technologies and pharmaceuticals,” Cohen said. “So, for me to be able to defend this industry for so long has been extremely rewarding and inspirational, day after day, year after year.”
For the past six years, Cohen has been involved as national counsel and trial counsel in the vaginal mesh litigation, considered one of the most complex medtech product liability cases in history. The case started out small and has become “enormously large,” she said.
“It’s probably the largest case in the history of the multi-district litigation in the United States. At one point for all companies, there were over 200,000 cases,” Cohen noted.
There are a number of legal cases that are currently ongoing in the medtech industry. From medical device patents to class action suits, each has unique nuances.
Over the years, Cohen has obtained numerous defense verdicts in complex litigation with millions of dollars in controversy. This includes a two-month trial with $28 million in alleged damages involving pelvic mesh implants; a two-month trial with $30 million in alleged damages involving a laser-resistant endotracheal tube against a medical device manufacturer; and a three-month trial with $78 million in alleged damages against the world’s leading manufacturer of pacemakers.
“All of my cases have been interesting, but I’ve had a couple of major trials that I would say have been particularly rewarding because they went all the way through trial,” Cohen said.
One of those was the 2013 Medtronic case, where the patient went in for a 10-minute outpatient procedure that was intended to laser off nodules on the vocal cords using Medtronic’s Laser-Shield II. The patient suffered serious injuries, and the question was whether there was a problem with the device or another cause of the patient’s injuries.
“That case was challenging because it involved numerous defendants, including medical professionals, my client, which was the medical device company, and the plaintiff, whose injuries were very sad and tragic, ” Cohen said. “We took it all the way to an eight-week trial, and the case ultimately went to the jury. Fortunately, we had a strong jury that was able to understand the medical technology and the design issues, and come to the right conclusion, finding that our medical device company was not liable for what happened. Our key witness was the designer of the medical device, who gave very compassionate and credible testimony – in combination with a strong cadre of industry experts.”
Cohen leads a team of nearly 150 lawyers in the firm’s product liability practice. Under her direction, they represent clients in some of the largest multi-district litigations and mass tort cases in the country, while defending against some of the most dangerous single-plaintiff catastrophic injury cases. The group was named The American Lawyer’s “Litigation Department of the Year” for products liability in January 2018.
Currently they are working on a variety of matters, including representing clients in many of the most active pharmaceutical and device cases, such as Taxotere, mesh, talc, opioids, and filter cases, to name a few.
Although the medtech industry serves a diverse population, its leadership doesn’t always reflect that diversity, with few women in top positions. With this in mind, Cohen has focused on growing the annual Women Leaders in Life Sciences Conference, which is produced by American Conferences Institute (ACI) and held in Boston. After being a featured speaker at ACI events for many years, Cohen was approached by ACI leadership to help launch the Women Leaders in Life Sciences Conference. Cohen has chaired the event for the past five years, along with two other co-chairs, and has grown the conference from 40 attendees to over 200 attendees every year.
“The Women in Life Sciences Conference was very well received, and it brought together a new group of women professionals in the medtech industry,” Cohen said. ” I’ve been the conference chair for five years, and it’s really exploded. I think what makes this event so special is that it brings together women from across the spectrum of the medtech industry, including innovators and service providers. By getting to meet such a diverse group, the conference has dramatically expanded our horizons in terms of who we know.”
The conference provides an opportunity for women in medtech to come together and network. Women helping women is one way to break barriers to get more women in executive roles.
“Women have certainly made significant strides in workplace equality, but those advancements have taken place predominantly at the entry level and middle management,” Cohen said. “There are still not enough women in C-suite roles or executive positions. This is why it is critical to elevate more women to leadership roles, where they can play a key role in the corporate decision-making process. In the medtech industry, I am always urging companies to ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to increasing diversity at the top. We can look across different pharmaceutical, medical device and medical technology companies and see female leaders, but it still pales in comparison to the number of male leaders.”
But the industry is improving. More women are rising through the ranks, while others are founding their own companies. The trend needs to continue, as more women in CEO, VP and executive roles means more opportunities.
“If you consider who benefits from medtech innovations as a consumer, many of the people in that target market are women,” Cohen said. “With more women leaders in place, medtech companies would benefit from more diverse viewpoints and a better understanding of the marketplace they are trying to serve.”