Feinberg Reflects on Mass Torts

During a trip to William & Mary Law School on November 13, renowned dispute resolution expert and mediator Kenneth R. Feinberg spoke to students about his work negotiating settlements for the victims of 9/11, the BP oil spill and other high profile cases.

Kenneth R. FeinbergFeinberg drew a packed audience to his lecture, "Reflections on Mass Torts," where he described the challenges of providing justice in the wake of mass tragedies. For torts students, the lecture provided an opportunity to apply the concepts they had been learning all semester.

"Engaging is a massive understatement," said Tony Glosson, 1L, after Feinberg's lecture. "He really just drew us in because he really is a master of this topic."

In recent years, Feinberg, founder and managing partner of Feinberg Rozen LLP, has made regular trips to William & Mary Law School to mentor students and deliver lectures to the wider community. In 2011, he received the Law School’s Marshall-Wythe Medallion, the highest honor conferred by the faculty, for his exceptional leadership and legal accomplishments.

During his lecture, Feinberg explained that events like 9/11 can give rise to thousands of lawsuits, making it difficult to provide justice in an efficient and timely manner.

“The existing tort system doesn’t cope with the problem of mass torts,” he said.

Feinberg has been on the cutting edge of addressing this problem. As special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, for example, Feinberg worked pro bono to distribute $7 billion in public money to victims and their families. Feinberg explained that the 9/11 fund allowed victims to circumvent the court system and receive more immediate compensation.

Earlier in the day, Feinberg met with a group of about 30 students to dispense career advice, drawing on lessons from his own career.

In addition to his 9/11 work, Feinberg served as fund administrator for the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund following the Virginia Tech shootings. He also oversaw the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which is administering $20 billion in claims from victims of the BP oil spill. Currently, Feinberg is leading the effort to compensate the victims of the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting and the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.

Feinberg encouraged students to focus on their immediate goals, rather than worrying about what their career will look like in five or ten years. He explained that unexpected events can have a big impact on shaping careers, and counseled students to remain flexible to new opportunities.

“I’m the best example of a lawyer who never thought it important or imperative to think too far ahead,” he said.