Ms Sheila L. Birnbaum > Dechert LLP > New York, United States > Lawyer Profile

Dechert LLP
Three Bryant Park, 1095 Avenue of the Americas
NEW YORK, NY 10036-6797
United States
Sheila L. Birnbaum photo

Work Department

Product Liability and Mass Torts


Sheila L. Birnbaum is co-chair of Dechert’s product liability and mass torts practice and focuses on complex product liability, mass torts and insurance litigation. She is one of the country’s preeminent product liability defense lawyers, having served as national counsel or lead defense counsel for numerous Fortune 500 companies in some of the largest and most complex tort cases in the United States. She has also argued many influential appeals in appellate courts across the United States, including the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Ms. Birnbaum has won three cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, including State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Campbell where the Supreme Court reversed a US$145 million punitive damages award against the company as unconstitutionally excessive. She won a unanimous victory in the U.S. Supreme Court in Warger v. Shauers. The case resolved a long-standing circuit split regarding the application of Federal Rules of Evidence 606(b), which generally prohibits testimony of jurors about statements made during deliberations when the testimony is offered in an inquiry into the validity of a verdict. She also successfully argued Buckley v. Metro Worth, a landmark case involving medical monitoring and risk of injury.

In addition to her legal achievements, Ms. Birnbaum has led an active career as an academic, becoming the first tenured woman professor of law at Fordham University Law School, and was a professor of law and associate dean at New York University School of Law. 

She has received numerous other honors, including the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award from the American Bar Association, the John L. McCloy Memorial Award from the Fund for Modern Courts and the Law and Society Award from the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. She is also the recipient of the New York University Law Alumni Award for outstanding achievement in the legal profession, the George A. Katz Torch of Learning Award and the Milton S. Gould Award for Outstanding Appellate Advocacy. Ms. Birnbaum was honored with the Louis D. Brandeis Award by the American Jewish Congress and an award from Touro Law School for achieving the highest standards of professional excellence. She is a member of the Hunter College Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Benchmark Litigation Annual Awards and the New York Law Journal.


Member of Council (1989-present), American Law Institute; Member, Advisory Committee to the Restatement of the Law of Product Liability, Complex Litigation and Insurance Law; First President and Founding Member, Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert


Hunter College, B.A., 1960, cum laude; Hunter College, M.A., 1962; New York University School of Law, LL.B., 1965; Hunter College, LL.D., 2009, Honorary Doctorate of Laws

Lawyer Rankings

United States > Dispute resolution > Product liability, mass tort and class actions: pharmaceuticals and medical devices - defense

(Leading lawyers)

Sheila BirnbaumDechert LLP

Highly regarded in the pharmaceutical space, Dechert LLP is particularly experienced in handling product liability, mass tort and class actions for manufacturers and distributors. Jointly led by New York-based Sheila Birnbaum and Mark Cheffo, the team is representing Purdue Pharma as national counsel in over 1,400 cases regarding its prescription opioid medication, and is defending Pfizer as lead national counsel in litigation relating to the antidepressant Zoloft, which allegedly causes birth defects in children when taken during pregnancy. The practice group also continues to represent AbbVie in national product liability litigation involving testosterone replacement therapy AndroGel, including an MDL in Chicago in which Nathan Hoffman takes the co-trial counsel role. Moreover, the team is acting as lead appellate counsel for Johnson & Johnson in the mass tort litigation claiming personal injury from use of anti-psychotic medication Risperdal. Philadelphia-based Ben Barnett and Douglas Fleming in New York are other key members of the practice group.

United States > Dispute resolution > Product liability, mass tort and class actions: toxic tort - defense

Dechert LLP is well known for representing pharmaceutical companies in chemical exposure claims, and also has experience in water contamination matters. Sheila Birnbaum and Mark Cheffo, who jointly head the team from New York, are defending Pfizer in product liability litigation relating to the antidepressant Zoloft, which allegedly causes birth defects in children when taken during pregnancy; the duo is also acting for Purdue Pharma in multiple cases concerning opioid medication. Los Angeles-based William Oxley continues to act as lead trial counsel for Union Carbide in asbestos litigation across the US. Nathan Hoffman in Chicago and Hope Freiwald in Philadelphia are also recommended.

United States > Industry focus > Healthcare: life sciences

The ‘highly creative’ practice at Dechert LLP is co-headed by Andrea L C Reid in Boston and David S Rosenthal in New York, who focus on IP and corporate work respectively. Reid advised clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company PureTech Health on IP-related aspects of its deal with Hoffman-La Roche to advance its milk-derived exosome platform technology for the oral administration of Roche’s antisense oligonucleotide platform. Rosenthal has assisted Egalet with an asset purchase agreement to acquire four FDA-approved, non-narcotic pain products from Iroko. Product liability litigators Sheila Birnbaum and Mark Cheffo, who joined the New York office from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP in July 2018, have been acting for Purdue in over 1,400 cases related to its prescription opioid pain medications. Patent specialist Chad Davis from Goodwin is another recent arrival in Boston. The ‘incredibleCarl Morales in New York, who is experienced in developing and prosecuting patent portfolios for FDA-approved or soon-to-be approved drug products, is also recommended.