Law360 interviews Joe Rice on opioid MDL, litigation milestones

Motley Rice co-founder Joe Rice discussed takeaways from the National Prescription Opiate MDL, lessons learned so far during the course of his 40-year career and what first attracted him to a career in law in an interview with legal publication Law360.

The interview followed a $260 million settlement reached with multiple opioid manufacturers and distributors on the eve of the opioid MDL’s first bellwether trial. Joe, who is co-lead counsel for the MDL and a member of the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee, served as one of the settlement’s lead negotiators. He has also led other groundbreaking negotiation and litigation including  the $246 billion tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in the 1990s, the largest civil settlement in U.S. history,  and two settlements reached with BP following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, one of which was the largest civil class action settlement in U.S. history. Joe also served as a lead negotiator in the Volkswagen emissions fraud settlements, following a recall of more than 11 million vehicles worldwide that were equipped with software designed to bypass emissions regulations.   

In the interview, Joe described the opioid MDL as being “more challenging than anything I've taken on to date,” while referring to the tobacco settlement as one of his proudest cases.

“I think the tobacco settlement has shown over the last 20 years that it made a huge difference in the use of tobacco products by kids,” he said. “But overall, I think it has to be up there as one of the most successful uses of the civil judicial system to right a wrong that wasn't being addressed in the congressional process.”

On what led him to pursue a career as a lawyer, Joe cited his grandfather’s love for the law as an early influence. 

“My grandfather, whom I never knew, was a paymaster in a textile mill. This is back in the '30s and '40s. He had three children and did what he could to raise those kids, but when he had a spare dollar or actually probably 50 cents back then, he would go buy a law book and he'd read up on the law, and he always wanted to be a lawyer, he said. “I had some of those law books when I was growing up, so I got interested I think at first because it was intriguing. And that's what he wanted to do, but his life got cut short and he didn’t have a chance.”

Meeting Ron Motley (1944-2013) shortly after completing law school led to a career in products liability, he said, beginning with the pair’s work at the forefront of asbestos litigation in the 1970s.

Read the full interview.