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Alumni Spotlight

Carmen Scott

After graduating from the College of Charleston as a political science major in 1996, Carmen Sessions Scott earned her law degree at the University of South Carolina in 1999. She is currently a pharmaceutical mass tort litigation attorney for Motley Rice LLC. She has shared her expertise with well-known media outlets including The Associated Press, NBC News, Marie Claire, Mother Jones and The Safety Report. She has been named to the South Carolina Super Lawyers list and The Charleston Regional Business Journal’s Forty Under 40. The Political Science Department had the fortunate opportunity to learn more about Carmen’s successful career.

How did you become involved in pharmaceutical mass tort litigation and what types of cases have you managed?

Almost by accident. I clerked for a law firm in Columbia when I was in law school and the principal attorney at the firm was involved in the pharmaceutical litigation, Fen-Phen. Fen-Phen was a diet drug that was promoted to women and men to lose weight very quickly, but had devastating consequences, including a serious disease that required patients to undergo heart and lung transplants. Many of these individuals died. There was also a valvular issue of the heart that developed from taking this drug. That really began my love for this type of work because it involved not only my passion for helping people, but it sparked an interest in the science and medicine behind the law. I was able to go to work and not just read legal case law all day but also medical journals and explore a side of my brain I had not used. I didn’t have a science background, but doing this work made me realize I really loved it. There were a few other steps before I came to Motley Rice, but for almost my entire legal career, I have focused on pharmaceutical litigation. For the past 10 years, I have developed a niche in women’s litigation representing women who have been harmed by medical drugs and devices.

What background information do you need in science to be successful in medical cases?

A lot of it is self-taught. I spend a lot of time reading British Medical Journal, The New England Journal of Medicine, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. Those journals are full of information about the current state of knowledge in the medical community about these drugs, how they interact with the users and the safety issues that might come up. I also work with experts who help me weed through the very complex issues that sometimes arrive in these cases. They help me understand the physiology and everything associated with how these drugs work in humans.

If I am going to present to a jury, I need to be able to tell them in three sentences what my case is about. I need to be able to process what is sometimes decades of research to reach a conclusion about how an adverse event can occur by the use of a drug or medical device and communicate that in very simple terms.

You have been quoted in well-known news media outlets and have served as speaker at various organizations. What kind of information do you share?

My speaking engagements have included community-oriented events where there is an interest in an issue that has arisen in the pharmaceutical community. For example, thousands of people who took a drug that was suddenly removed from the market may be unaware of the reasons why or the potential harm it may have caused. That’s why we sometimes sponsor and organize community events to educate people about these potentially dangerous drugs and devices.

When our firm takes on projects, we have to become extremely well-versed in those areas. Also, other attorneys often want to learn what we have spent a great deal of time studying, so I speak at attorney conferences about the current status of litigation, how to identify cases, and litigation strategies for various drugs and projects I am working on.

I have had the benefit of meeting some wonderful people in my work. However, the unfortunate part of what I do is that people don’t come see me on their best days; they come to see me on their worst days. Most people only come in contact with me when something really traumatic and devastating has happened to them or a family member. In one particular case, I represented a gentleman whose 32-year-old wife died in front of him and his children because she took a particular type of birth control. Her case was the first of its kind filed and, as a result, received a lot of local media attention in New Jersey where they lived. It also attracted attention from other news outlets like Mother Jones that were interested in learning more about how something as simple as a contraceptive choice could be a life-changing decision.

It sounds like you have an ethical obligation to educate people on these issues but also have to be very sensitive to the individuals affected by those cases.

Absolutely. One of the things I don’t think a lot of lawyers think about when they enter law school or the profession is that we are really called attorneys and counselors at law. I really think I use my counselor side more or equal to the amount of time that I actually operate as an attorney. I have to talk to people about awful personal issues that have occurred to them and their families. They need someone to talk to and someone they can trust. I have an obligation and duty to not only represent them to the fullest extent I can and be a zealous advocate for them, but to do so very sensitively and appreciate the sensitivity of the information that they are sharing with me.

A lot of what I do is also telling people that, unfortunately, we can’t help them, most often for a number of reasons. A lot of changes in the way our government works and some Supreme Court decisions in the past several years have affected individual rights. A lot of what I do is to help explain to people why it is so important to pay attention to what their government is doing, and to help them understand how these decisions trickle down and affect people on an everyday basis. It’s really hard to explain to someone that because they chose to take a generic drug versus a name brand drug that they may not have a claim. It’s hard for folks to understand.

The Department of Labor recently published that 36 percent of lawyers are women. Why do you think that percentage is low and what advice do you have for women who wish to pursue law?

I don’t know why that percentage is as low as it is. I will tell you that change is on the horizon. There has been a movement in the past couple of years on the federal court side to involve women in leadership roles and make sure that diversity is complete in representation before the court. I am involved in an area of law known as mass torts that is presided by federal court judges who appoint steering committees to represent the entire litigation. I serve on steering committees in several cases. A huge topic of discussion at judiciary conferences all over the country is that these panels have for far too long been made up of non-diverse individuals. Judges, and juries, want to see more women in these leadership roles particularly because many of the products that we are seeing in mass tort litigation are women’s products. It makes sense that women would be representing other women. I’m also proud to be part of a group called Women En Mass which is made up of over 250 women who litigate mass torts all over the country. This group is very much a part of this movement and very much a group that reaches down and pulls other women up, highlighting women’s achievements and making sure we are all prepared and have the resources we need to bust that glass ceiling wide open.

Can you talk about your volunteer work?

I have volunteered for a number of organizations over the years, but the main focus has been with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I’ve worked with the South Carolina chapter for nine years. Six of those years I served on the board for the South Carolina chapter. For each of those nine years, I have been a wish granter, which means I assist families and children who are eligible for wishes in making their dreams come true. It’s one of those organizations that really hugs you back. It has been one of the most meaningful things I have ever done.


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