Schlichtmann is considered one of the country’s most notable plaintiff attorneys concentrating in the areas of consumer, environmental, product, toxic torts and mass tort litigation.
Schlichtmann’s lecture, “Change the Thinking That’s Changing the Climate,” was devoted to refocusing the efforts of the legal community to better address the needs of clients by moving away from conflict and toward conflict resolution.
He framed his message with his own story of the landmark case in Woburn, Mass., in which Schlichtmann represented eight families against W.R. Grace and Beatrice Foods with a claim that the company had contaminated the local water supply and caused family members to contract leukemia.
His career and involvement in the 1986 Woburn case was chronicled in the national best seller, “A Civil Action,” which was also made into a major motion picture starring John Travolta as Schlichtmann. During his lecture, Schlichtmann took his audience through an engaging and emotional journey, detailing the sacrifices and struggle he and his clients endured in a search for the truth.
“Truth is not something you have to take or extract by destruction,” Schlichtmann said. “Shared experience creates soil that gives root to life. When life is shared, life is given, so life can go on.”
Schlichtmann ultimately advocated for the legal profession to move toward an increased reliance on mediation and alternative dispute resolution. He noted that many divisive issues can be resolved satisfactorily when the parties involved agree to a mutual sharing of ideas.
Schlichtmann also visited NIU Law professor Robert Jones’ civil procedure class earlier in the day. He explored the history of legal terminology and the foundations of the legal practice, while challenging the students’ notions of the purpose of the law.
“I have admired Jan Schlichtmann ever since I read ‘A Civil Action’ when I was a law student. Jan has a profound perspective and set of insights on the American civil justice system which is why my students also use ’A Civil Action’ throughout their first year to inform and enrich their studies in civil procedure,” Jones said.
In 2005, Schlichtmann co-founded The Legal Broadcast Network, designed to leverage new media tools to reach a very specific, high value audience of lawyers from all over the United States. This unique broadcasting venture is the first online podcast radio/TV program specifically designed for trial lawyers, their clients and the experts who help serve the legal community.
In 2007, he founded The Civil Action Center, LLC, a place where he and his associates not only work to help people find the right lawyer for their case or cause, but act as an incubator of ideas for the legal community to provide the best service and innovative practice models for their clients.
“We were extremely honored to have Mr. Schlichtmann as our Marla Dickerson Lecturer on Public Interest. His dedication and accomplishments to public interest captures the essence of this lecture series and personifies for our students the core values of passionate advocacy, commitment to clients and the pursuit of justice,” said Dean Jennifer Rosato Perea.
The Marla Dickerson Public Interest Lecture Series was established to further the mission of NIU Law and appropriately honor the spirit of our former student, the late Marla Rene Dickerson (1969-1994). Funded by a donation from the Dickerson family, this lecture series brings nationally known speakers to the Northern Illinois University College of Law to discuss current issues relating to public interest.