Collected Wisdom on Selecting Leaders and Managing MDLs

16 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2021 Last revised: 10 Dec 2021

Date Written: April 14, 2021


Today, nearly one out of every two new suits filed in federal civil court is part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL). Initially designed to organize antitrust cases against electrical equipment manufacturers, MDL’s adaptability and minimal requirements made it the preferred approach for coordinating pretrial process for all manner of cases, from securities, employment, intellectual property, and antitrust to sales practices, common disasters, and products liability. Yet, the simplicity of MDL’s technical requirements—that cases are pending in different districts and share a common factual question—belie the complexity of the proceedings themselves. Governed principally by insiders’ unwritten but longstanding norms, both newly-appointed MDL judges and lawyers with cases suddenly swept up in MDL may find themselves in unfamiliar waters.

For those both old and new to this burgeoning world, we have collected case-management wisdom from judges handling the thorniest of MDLs: products-liability proceedings with over 500 cases. Consider this article an insider’s guide on how to navigate the critical first step—appointing lead attorneys. We also offer best-practice tips on permitting dissent and objections, heading off meritless cases, developing future stars, keeping lawyers fiscally responsible, progressing cases, maintaining transparency, and seeking help from magistrate judges versus special masters.

Keywords: MDL, lead lawyer, steering committee, diversity

JEL Classification: K41

Suggested Citation

Burch, Elizabeth Chamblee and Bough, Stephen, Collected Wisdom on Selecting Leaders and Managing MDLs (April 14, 2021). Judicature, forthcoming Fall 2021, University of Georgia School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2021-17, Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth Chamblee Burch (Contact Author)

University of Georgia Law School ( email )

225 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602
United States

HOME PAGE: http://

Stephen Bough

U.S. District Court

400 East 9th Street
Chambers 7462
Kansas City, MO 64106
United States

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