By Chris Bruce
Pick any two people at random, and odds are good that one of them is affected by a case now in the hands of attorney Amy E. Keller.
Keller, a 34-year-old partner with DiCello Levitt & Casey in Chicago whom legal colleagues call a “rising superstar,” was recently named as co-lead consumer plaintiffs’ counsel with two other lawyers in a massive court case stemming from the 2017 data breach at Atlanta-based Equifax Inc.
Equifax, in announcing the incident last year, said as many as 143 million U.S. consumers could be impacted, raising privacy and security questions for nearly half of the U.S.
The case against Equifax is about more than numbers, according to Keller, who said the information that was accessed, such as Social Security numbers, is the kind that can’t be changed. That means it will have lasting impact in ways that other breaches don’t or can’t have, Keller told Bloomberg Law.
“This is something that has impacted and will impact peoples’ daily lives for a very long time,” she said.
Equifax, one of the three major U.S. consumer credit reporting agencies, disclosed the incident in September 2017, saying criminals gained access to certain files between mid-May and July of 2017.
A flood of class lawsuits that followed are now before the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL), a special body that allows consolidated treatment of cases in different federal districts that share common questions.
On Feb. 13, Keller was named as co-lead counsel for the consumer plaintiffs before the MDL Panel, along with Kenneth S. Canfield of Doffermyre Shields Canfield & Knowles in Atlanta, and Norman E. Siegel of Stueve Siegel Hanson in Kansas City, Mo. In general, their job is to manage pre-trial proceedings on behalf of consumer plaintiffs, while overseeing the work of other plaintiffs’ counsel and taking on other duties as needed, such as coordinating settlement discussions.
Keller said one early focus is to ensure that the case has plaintiffs from all 50 states, saying the U.S. Supreme Court has set a high bar for nationwide class actions. Among other next steps, she and other attorneys will be looking at the universe of plaintiffs who have filed claims and trying to figure out who can serve as the best representatives of the class.
Keller is “an exceptional choice” as co-lead counsel, Jason L. Lichtman, a partner in the New York office of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, told Bloomberg Law.
“She’s smart, tough, and practical with opposing counsel, and she is one of the most talented people I know when it comes to the nuts and bolts of actually managing a case and moving it forward efficiently,” said Lichtman, who also represents consumers in litigation against Equifax.
Equifax spokeswoman Francesca De Girolami declined to comment on the MDL proceedings.
Keller’s firm, DiCello, Levitt & Casey, is a plaintiffs’ law firm with offices in Chicago and Cleveland that opened for business in April 2017. Keller graduated from the John Marshall Law School in Chicago in 2008, and settled into class action work right away. “Being able to help people — on such a large scale — really resonated with me,” she said.
She’s critical of mandatory binding arbitration clauses and waivers that limit class actions, as well as efforts to cap damages on jury awards and other relief. The rights of consumers have eroded in recent years and access to the courts is being limited, she said.
“The American justice system works best when government and private civil enforcement actions can proceed in tandem, ensuring that wrongdoers are punished, and individuals can seek redress for their injuries,” Keller said.
For Keller, being tapped as co-lead counsel in the Equifax case means she’ll be representing more people than ever before. The appointment is important for others as well because the MDL culture has been an “old boys’ club” for a long time, according to Keller. That’s changing as courts recognize the need to bring differing perspectives to large, complex cases, she said.
“The millions of consumers we are representing in this case include women, minorities, and younger consumers, so it only makes sense that the attorneys representing them should have the same diverse experiences to draw from,” she said.
Keller sits on the board of directors of the Public Justice Foundation, which supports what it calls “high-impact” lawsuits to combat social and economic injustice, including suits by Public Justice P.C.
F. Paul Bland Jr., executive director of Public Justice P.C., called Keller a force to reckon with among class action lawyers. “She’s got a deep and thoughtful understanding of the most difficult issues in consumer class actions,” Bland told Bloomberg Law.
That will be important in this case, according to Bland, who said its sheer size may affect efforts to gain relief for those affected. “This case is on such an incredibly large scale I think it will be a challenge to get compensatory relief commensurate with the harm the company’s behavior has caused,” Bland told Bloomberg Law.
Keller didn’t always aim for class action work. Early on, she planned to practice historical preservation law, in part after seeing the planned or actual renovation of buildings she knew well and the potential loss of elaborate woodwork and craftsmanship. However, she’s still engaged on that front as a board member of the Chicago Art Deco Society, which works to preserve and restore Art Deco-style structures in Chicago.
She’s also active in a different artistic setting. Keller, along with other attorneys in Chicago, has secured Youtube star-status as a writer, dancer, and singer in the Chicago Bar Association Bar Show, an annual music and comedy production that’s now in its 95th year. “It might be hard to believe, but many attorneys are very creative people,” Keller told Bloomberg Law. “Being able to perform and put on a show that makes light of current events and makes people laugh is rewarding and a great outlet.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Bruce in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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