The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

While teaching, Warren worked on about 60 legal matters, far more than she’d previously disclosed

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at a forum in Houston last month.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at a forum in Houston last month. (Michael Wyke/AP)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren worked on about 60 legal matters during her prior career as a law professor, advising people with asbestos disease, a corporation facing possible liability over ruptured breast implants and the former directors of Getty Oil as they monitored the Texaco bankruptcy in 1987.

Warren’s presidential campaign released a list of 56 cases on the Massachusetts Democrat’s website late Wednesday, a far higher number than she had previously disclosed. The Washington Post had requested a detailed accounting of her outside work and has separately identified several additional cases that appeared to involve Warren.

Kristen Orthman, a Warren spokeswoman, said that the campaign would add some of the additional cases, all related to asbestos litigation, but did not confirm that Warren had been paid to work on them. “Out of an abundance of caution, we will add those related cases where her name appears in filings but we have not found court documents indicating that Elizabeth did any work,” Orthman said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) officially launched her 2020 presidential campaign Feb. 9, more than a month after announcing her exploratory committee. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Sarah Rice/The Washington Post)

She also said Warren was “proud” of her work on behalf of asbestos victims.

Warren’s legal consulting work has received little scrutiny over the course of her political career, and the new list may offer her opponents fresh avenues for attack. Many of the cases pitted “sympathetic interests against each other,” according to Warren’s campaign.

Since her first campaign for the Senate in 2012, Warren has cast herself as a fighter against overbearing corporate interests and criticized policymakers and experts who have accepted money from large companies.

During that election, Warren came under pressure from her Republican opponent and the news media to discuss her legal work. At the time, she released a list of 13 cases without saying whether it represented a full accounting; at least one other case came to light during the race.

A spokeswoman for Warren’s presidential campaign said that it had always planned to make records of Warren’s legal work public and that the documents were released Wednesday night because that was when they were ready.

“Elizabeth was one of the nation’s top experts on how to make sure victims hurt by bankrupt companies eventually got paid,” Warren’s website said Wednesday night. “Throughout her career, she worked to help set up trusts and other mechanisms to return $27 billion to victims and their families.”

The list includes work going back to the 1980s, but the bulk of her consulting occurred when Warren was a professor at Harvard Law School and at the University of Pennsylvania Law School from 1987 to 2012.

Legal experts who reviewed the list of cases said that most appeared to be consistent with Warren’s liberal politics. Several were groundbreaking bankruptcy cases, they said.

“These are cases where the court is struggling with unresolved issues and she is trying to convince the court how she thinks the bankruptcy code should be interpreted,” said Robert K. Rasmussen, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law who was familiar with many of the 12 amicus briefs that Warren listed and consulted with parties on the opposite side of at least one case.

“She looks like she was pretty selective in what she did,” he said. “With most of them she is consistent with her positions. In none of them is she contrary to them.”

The Post found that a wave of Warren’s legal work came in the early 2000s as manufacturing companies whose products contained asbestos were forced into bankruptcy by waves of personal injury claims.

A nationally recognized expert in bankruptcy law, Warren consulted for more than a dozen committees representing claimants and creditors in these cases, often in partnership with the law firm Caplin & Drysdale.

Warren did legal work related to major U.S. corporations. In 1987, she advised the former directors of Getty Oil on “Texaco’s bankruptcy and the settlement negotiations between Texaco and Pennzoil,” the list stated. In 2003, she served as an expert witness for the Fuller-Austin Insulation Co. in a case against insurers. In 2005, she provided testimony that bolstered the case of the private-equity firm Platinum Equity in a contractual dispute.

One of her most controversial clients was Dow Chemical, which she advised in the mid-1990s. A subsidiary that manufactured silicone-gel breast implants faced hundreds of thousands of claims from women who said their implants caused health problems. Dow Chemical denied that it played a role in designing or making the implants and sought to avoid liability as its subsidiary, Dow Corning, declared bankruptcy.

“In this case, Elizabeth served as a consultant to ensure adequate compensation for women who claimed injury from silicone breast implants who otherwise might not have received anything when Dow Corning filed for bankruptcy,” Warren’s list of cases said. “Thanks in part to Elizabeth’s efforts, Dow Corning created a $2.35 billion fund to compensate women claiming injury from Dow Corning’s silicone breast implants.”

Warren did not release information about how much time she spent on each case. A set of guidelines adopted in 1991 required Harvard Law School faculty members to limit their outside activities to 20 percent of their “total professional effort.”

One Harvard Law professor and former colleague of Warren’s questioned the practice of outside consulting by legal academics. “I think it’s potentially corrupting,” said Bruce Hay, who specializes in legal procedure. “It creates conflicts of interest if you have a financial interest in taking one position that conflicts with your settled scholarly judgment.”

Hay said he was surprised by the volume of Warren’s work. “One of the things that troubles me is nobody knows about this,” he said. “It’s all kept completely under wraps, but they’re using the Harvard name in everything they do.”

Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor who worked with Warren on one matter that went to the Supreme Court, wrote in an email that Warren’s outside work “always reinforced (rather than ever detracting from) her highly successful teaching and her exemplary role as a mentor.”

In a 2001 affidavit, filed in the bankruptcy proceedings of chemical company W.R. Grace, Warren wrote that she “sharply limit[s] the time I spend on paid consultation, spending the remainder of my time either on my university work or on uncompensated writing, research, lecturing and various pro bono activities.”

Warren’s $675-per-hour rate of compensation to consult on several asbestos-related cases, as described in court documents, was at or below market rate for her level of experience and was less than what some law firm partners charged to work on the same matters.

Trustees in several asbestos cases initially objected to or raised questions about Warren’s qualifications and proposed hourly rate. In an affidavit replying to one such objection in 2001, she defended her expertise.

“I have been working, writing, lecturing, and consulting in the bankruptcy field for twenty-two years,” she wrote. “My fee is commensurate with other professionals of similar experience. I do not share in [law firm] partnership profits.”

In summarizing many of her cases, Warren’s campaign cast her as advocating for victims or saving jobs by representing the interests of a company.

For example, Warren’s work on behalf of Fairchild Aircraft, a case that arose after a plane crash in which the manufacturer was not found at fault, was described as protecting “hundreds of jobs.” When she represented the interests of asbestos claimants, her work was described as advocating for victims.

Warren’s roles in these cases varied. At times, she served as an expert witness or filed briefs; at other times, she advised fellow lawyers or represented clients directly. She worked in more than 20 courts, including the Supreme Court, where she participated in at least eight cases.

The asbestos cases included work on behalf of Travelers Insurance. In that case, which the Boston Globe first reported on in May 2012, Warren helped the company fight for immunity from asbestos litigation by forming a $500 million trust for current and future victims. But after she was no longer involved, Travelers was able to temporarily avoid paying the $500 million, an outcome that Warren told the Globe she had not foreseen. In July 2014, a federal appeals court ordered Travelers to pay the $500 million.

Warren did not release details about her compensation, and that information was scant in court records. Documents reviewed by The Post showed that she made at least $462,322 from her work on 13 cases. Warren has released her tax returns since 2008, and much of her legal consulting work is not reflected in those documents.

A spokeswoman for Warren’s campaign said there are no plans to release additional returns.

Tax returns show that in the five years before Warren became a senator, she made a total of $753,929 on “consulting, lecturing, writing, investing.” This income included book royalties and consulting for clients such as Travelers Indemnity and the ­Fuller-Austin Asbestos Settlement Trust.

At $846,394, Warren’s adjusted gross income for 2018 was the second-highest of the 11 presidential candidates who have released tax returns, according to an analysis this month by the New York Times. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) had the highest income, at $1,889,156. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who came in third after Warren, made $561,293.