Distinguished litigator Mary Nold Larimore works closely with some of the brightest minds in the pharmaceutical industry.
Looking back on Mary Nold Larimore’s successful career, you have to wonder about the high school guidance counselor who discouraged her from getting the political science degree she wanted. The counselor suggested she look into elementary education instead, since she’d probably just get married after college instead of going to law school.
“With my personality type,” Larimore says, “that was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.”
Larimore, the daughter of bright academics who encouraged her to pursue her passions, was bored with school, planning for early graduation, and contemplating her future with the meticulous logic of a future litigator. She’d consulted a set of career cards with different professions listed on the back and was, in thorough lawyerly fashion, working her way through the entire set. “I tried to imagine myself in each of these careers,” she says. “Based on what, I don’t know. Had I had more knowledge back then, there might have been fifteen other things that would have interested me.”
But Larimore craved learning, and she’d made herself a rule: “I didn’t want to go to the same place and be with the same people every day,” she says. “I wanted to have a career where I was out in the world and meeting lots of people from different walks of life.”
So with not a single attorney in her circle and no particular mentor to follow, she ignored her guidance counselor and chose the law.
Larimore would eventually become the first female attorney in Indiana invited to become a fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers. But when the IU School of Law graduate started her career at Ice Miller—her first and current firm—women were still fighting for a seat at the table.
So her introduction to product litigation could hardly have been more fitting: working for noted attorneys Geoffrey Segar and Ralph “Buffy” Cohen, Larimore was part of the team defending pharmaceutical firm A.H. Robins, maker of the Dalkon Shield—the birth-control device that was the subject of one of the first real mass tort cases in the United States.
“It was a very fortuitous thing for my career that I had the opportunity to work with Buffy,” Larimore says, “because at that point in time, in 1980, there were some clients that they would have had to sell on having a female associate work on the case. But with the Shield litigation, it was the other way around. Companies—A.H. Robins in particular—began to realize the value of having women as part of the team, especially when you’re defending a product as uniquely female as an intrauterine device.”
Although the Dalkon Shield litigation eventually dragged A.H. Robins into bankruptcy, it was actually an auspicious beginning for Larimore, who has made a brilliant career of defending pharmaceutical companies against mass tort claims ever since. While the public perception of “big pharma” can be colored by distrust, Larimore points out that these big companies are the ones who are designing and providing life-saving treatments for every disease that afflicts humankind. Someone has to stand up for that—and that someone is Larimore.
“It’s become an industry,” she says of mass tort litigation. “I worry all the time about the effect that it will have on innovation and public health in this country. Are there potential adverse effects that can occur with any pharmaceutical? Absolutely. But the value that these medicines provide to an individual’s health and to public health is extraordinary.”
Even though Larimore doesn’t view her career as a statement for women’s rights, per se, she has played a real role in securing women’s access to health care, and she’s proud of that. “When I think about it, I’ve defended the manufacturers of almost every major form of contraception in this country, including IUDs, oral contraceptives, Norplant and the Ortho Evra patch,” she says. “Every single form of contraception has been under assault at one point or another.
“It’s shocking to me the way pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies are portrayed in the press,” Larimore continues. “I’ve had the opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with researchers, scientists, physicians—all the people who are really the driving force behind making better medicines—and I love waking up in the morning knowing I’m helping these companies I admire. I love working with thought leaders on issues that are really important to public health.”
Larimore has also successfully argued pro bono cases outside her primary area of specialty. “Some of the most interesting wins I’ve had in my career have been completely unrelated to the substance of what I normally do,” she says.
One of those cases involved a client, Derek Farmer, who really touched her heart—and whose situation fueled her desire to see justice done. “Derek’s story is the most remarkable one you’ll ever hear,” she says. Farmer, a fellow attorney, was the first person in Ohio admitted to the state bar after having spent time in prison for murder. While a teenager, Farmer participated in a robbery gone wrong that ended in the shooting deaths of two people, and although he was not the triggerman, he was convicted of murder. But he spent his time in prison rehabbing his mind: he got his GED and his bachelor’s degree and began studying the law, even filing his own pleadings and corresponding with a federal judge from jail. After he was released, Farmer earned his law degree and an L.L.M. and passed the bar exam, but has spent a considerable part of his career trying to overcome the long shadow of his past.
When Farmer traveled to Indiana to investigate a case for the grandson of an Ohio client starting in 2003, he ran afoul of the Indiana State Bar’s Disciplinary Commission, which accused him of practicing law in Indiana without a license. Larimore, who had once chaired the commission’s rules committee, was asked to take his case.
“I thought I’d just make a phone call and clear this all up,” she says, “because if anybody knows about the unauthorized practice of law in another state, it would be me. I fly all over the country week after week and I have a clear understanding of what’s permitted and what’s not. I felt that what Derek did fell clearly within the rule.”
What was clear in theory was less so in reality. The case ended up before the Indiana Supreme Court after a hearing in which Farmer lost. “It was fascinating representing Derek in that process, feeling as though we had put on an outstanding defense at the hearing, with outstanding witnesses that testified on his behalf,” she says. “It was one of those gut-wrenching moments in your career where you really do understand that sometimes civil justice works for a client and sometimes it doesn’t.”
But Larimore got an audience in the higher court, and made it count. “We benefited from the opportunity to have five brilliant justices really focusing in on the key facts relating to the rules as they were drafted,” Larimore says.
Larimore got a unanimous decision from the Indiana Supreme Court in Farmer’s favor—a head-turning accomplishment, considering the disciplinary commission is an agency of that court. “I had lawyers from around the state thanking me for standing up,” she says. She considers it one of her most rewarding moments in practicing law.
“Even though Derek’s career was devoted to helping and defending others, he didn’t feel the legal system worked for him in the same way,” she says. “It was so gratifying for me to be able to say to him, ‘There’s justice for you, too.’”
Larimore’s mother, an elementary school teacher, died young. That’s why Larimore has a list tucked away of all the places and people she’d like to see in this world, and she’s conquering each item one by one—mostly on foot.
“Being outdoors is the one thing that totally recharges my batteries,” Larimore says, “whether it’s hiking or snow skiing or snowshoeing. I just think that we live in an incredible country and a beautiful planet. All you have to do is step outside your door.”
Larimore has trekked all over many of the hikable, raftable, and skiable parts of America with friends and family, but she has also pushed herself to travel two of the world’s most challenging and awe-inspiring hiking routes: the Haute Route through the French and Swiss Alps and the Salkantay Pass in the Andes Mountains of South America. Still very much the curious student, Larimore did as much reading for those trips as physical training.
“It’s not just about getting a set of tickets and going somewhere,” she says. In the case of her trip to Peru: “I read all about the Incan people and the history of that civilization, which was so extraordinary, and then got to see, so many centuries later, how the Peruvian people live and what a beautifully exquisite country that is. The big payoff was visiting Machu Picchu, which is something everyone should experience.
“I’m looking right now in my office at two pictures, one of which is me and three of my closest friends,” she says. “We’re standing by a sign that says, ’15,250 at the Salkantay Pass,’ and I just remember that feeling of accomplishment. The outfitter had hired local farmers to fix lunches for us—so we came down from that path basically in the middle of nowhere, and there’s this little tent that a Peruvian farmer has set up with tables and soup. It’s just an incredible memory.”
Larimore’s workload keeps her on her toes intellectually, and that’s the way she prefers it. “The scientific and medical issues I get to tackle are cutting-edge and fascinating,” she says. “And I also have clients that value good lawyering.”
Right now, for example, she’s in the thick of defending one client that developed a medication for diabetes, and representing another as national counsel in litigation involving over 1,600 plaintiffs claiming cardiac injuries from a pharmaceutical product. “Every new case and every new client is an opportunity to learn cutting-edge developments in medicine, genetics, toxicology, pharmacology, or biomedical engineering,” she says. “I have loved learning about everything from epidemiology to analytical chemistry, from the effectiveness of herbicides in controlling weeds to the health effects of polyvinyl chloride. I feel my career is evidence of the value of a broad liberal arts education.”
Ultimately, though, for Larimore, the satisfaction of the work lies in the value it brings to the people and organizations she represents. “I love helping clients solve problems,” she says, “and I love using all the skill and talent I have to defend great companies when they’re under attack.”
Leaders in Litigation is an advertorial series created by WKW to feature some of Indiana’s most interesting and accomplished lawyers. We hope you enjoy learning more about these fascinating lawyers as we did interviewing them.
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