A reputation for adroit leadership in complex antitrust cases.
Dena Sharp ’06 was recently made a name partner at a prominent plaintiff’s class action firm in San Francisco. With founder Daniel Girard and others, the aptly named Sharp helped grow a successful practice that challenges antitrust violations and other corporate wrongdoing, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry.
Sharp joined the firm, then known as Girard Gibbs, as a newly minted J.D. in 2006, after being connected to Girard through Professor David Levine. “I was as green as you could be,” she said. “But I was in the right place because the firm had a fascinating practice and I wasn’t attracted to defense work.”
Her first cases were large and capable of intimidating most new lawyers. One involved a complex Ponzi scheme; another sought recoveries for defrauded investors whose nest eggs had been demolished in the aftershocks of the 2008 financial crisis.
“Working on those cases was a big deal because I felt like I had very close contact with our clients,” Sharp recalled. “For the retirees whose investments were underwritten by Lehman Brothers, we were able to get them more than 50 percent of their money back, and bankruptcy proceedings gave the majority of the rest owed to them.” She explained that she “also acquired a sense of the intensity and pressure of a $100 million case, which was a great learning experience at an early stage in my career.”
Since then, Sharp has developed a reputation for adroit leadership in complex antitrust cases. Her recent focus has been drug companies that agree to price their medications exorbitantly or try to stymie competition by illegally delaying the release of generic versions. “These are righteous cases,” she said. “There’s nothing good about companies colluding to keep prices of key medicines high.”
In a notable multidistrict matter, In re Lidoderm Antitrust Litigation, Sharp led a team that gained the largest recovery for a class of consumers in similar federal litigation in over a decade. The case involved a “reverse payment” from a brand-name company to a generic company to delay entering the market for Lidoderm, a frequently prescribed pain relief patch. On the eve of trial, as Sharp practiced her opening statement, Sharp and her team settled the case for a generous $104.75 million.
While she was understandably disappointed not to have her day in court, Sharp recognized that the most effective lawyering sometimes happens behind the scenes: “On TV we see that you have to be a tough guy and pound the table. But one skill that is less apparent and yet so important is diplomacy—understanding how to bridge the gap between people who might have very different ideas about the right way to do something.”
She learned her form of diplomacy as the youngest of eight strongly opinionated children of immigrants. “My interest was always in figuring out who was agreeing and disagreeing, and getting every body’s sails pointed in the same direction,” she said.
Sharp also models admirably maverick qualities. After a childhood in Minnesota, Sharp became an avid surfer throughout law school. And she became a name partner while raising two young kids.
Sharp attributes her can-do attitude to the influence of her own mother, who worked for a time as a doctor at the Mayo Clinic. Sharp’s mother taught her that only she could decide whether being a woman was an asset or a liability in her profession, but that the important thing was to pursue positive goals.
“Every woman who has undertaken a career wants to be recognized on the merits rather than as a token of diversity,” she said. “I’ve heard from a lot of women who have taken heart from the fact that I could become a name partner.”
Sharp acknowledged essential support from her work partners and her husband, but noted that first and foremost, she has to answer her five-year-old son Calvin when he asks her, evening after evening, “Hey mom, did you crack the case today?”
By Jessica Carew Kraft