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Thought Leaders

Thought Leaders

Thought Leader

WWL says

Sylvie Gallage-Alwis is acclaimed for her “rigorous analysis, strategic guidance and seasoned litigation” on complex product disputes. Clients applaud her “customer-centric and financially aware” approach.

Questions & Answers

Sylvie Gallage-Alwis is the head of the product liability practice of the litigation and arbitration specialist law firm Signature Litigation. She specialises in product liability, product safety, toxic tort, mass litigation/class actions, regulatory compliance and the environment. Sylvie is both an Avocat à la Cour in France and a solicitor in England and Wales. Her team is one of the largest and the most recognised in the French market for high-stakes, complex product-related issues.

What do you enjoy most about product liability work?

Product liability implies being an expert in product design/manufacturing and regulation. You get access to companies with amazing ideas and technology, and have the privilege of defending their business and employees. You also get to work on product regulation and its adaptability to new technologies that the national or European legislator did not imagine would exist when drafting it. 

What qualities make for an effective product liability specialist?

You have to be curious and like being outside of your comfort zone. Product liability specialists have to understand the product and its manufacturing process very quickly, whatever the industry. They also have to know the market surveillance authorities and have negotiation skills, as well as connections with experts to defend their clients. Product liability lawyers must also always consider the fact that product-related matters have an international reach. Therefore, before developing a defence for a jurisdiction, he/she must ensure that this defence will not harm the manufacturer in another jurisdiction.

How does Signature Litigation distinguish itself from the competition?

Signature Litigation is a specialist law firm handling major and complex litigation, arbitration and regulatory investigations. Its model, focused on dispute resolution only, means that we have virtually no conflicts of interests. We are more flexible with billing, staffing and clients benefit from a real partner’s availability. Our partners have more than a decade of experience in product liability and in the development of pro-company case law. As such, we have been at the forefront of new types of claims such as planned obsolescence, air pollution cases, anxiety linked to the presence of chemical substances in products, environmental compliance, etc. 

In what ways is the Parisian legal market changing?

The Parisian legal market is moving towards the multiplication of law firms specialising in specific areas (litigation, IP, competition, employment, M&A), with a number of partners from international law firms leaving in order to avoid conflicts of interests and the administrative burden. This is what inspired the opening of the Paris office of Signature Litigation in January 2019. The market is also seeing the development of a strong plaintiffs’ bar which launches innovative claims against companies, inspired by what is happening in the United States. The result is that France, and the European Union, is a market where businesses can face significant legal risks with claims filed by competitors, consumers, associations of protection of various interests, regulators themselves, on different grounds for the same issue.

How has covid-19 impacted the relationship between regulators and manufacturers in the European market, and what has been the effect of this on consumers?

Regulators showed flexibility in allowing manufacturers to equip the European market with necessary products during lockdown, e.g. masks, hand sanitiser gel, PPE, food. Now, they are trying to make sure that products placed on the market following a faster approval process than usual are compliant with standards, with stringent investigations pending. As such, the number of recalls linked to the above-mentioned products is significant, and regulations are being revised in order for the market to be more flexible should a similar pandemic happen again. 

As founding partner of Signature Litigation’s Paris office, what advice would you give to other lawyers hoping to establish their own firm?  

There are three key pieces of advice I would give. 

First, develop your own client base. This can only be done by developing your own profile and you should start as early as your first year as an associate by writing articles for instance. You can do so whatever the size and style of your law firm. Having your own clients means that you have a source of revenue which is key when starting your business. 

Second, know your market. You do indeed have to ensure that your client base will be comfortable with the model of law firm you want to launch and adapt. I decided that the time was right when international companies were ready to have a specialist law firm assist them instead of an international full-service law firm. But I also had to offer an international reach to my clients. Signature Litigation was perfect as its launch in Paris made it the first and only cross-channel dispute resolution-only firm. 

Third, dream big and understand that any business launch requires time, detailed planning and proper financing.

Where, in your opinion, does the future of the practice area lie?

Litigation relating to the alleged non-compliance to the environment or lack of sustainability of manufacturers (so-called climate change litigation) will keep on growing given the increase in regulation on this topic and the rise in concern by the population. 

Class actions will also have an increasing impact on companies doing business in Europe, notably through the development of a collective redress mechanism at a European level. Mass litigation will evolve so as not just to compensate people who suffer an actual loss but also the ones who fear they will in the future (anxiety claims). 

Basically, no bright future for companies from a litigation risk standpoint.

Global Leader

Product Liability Defence 2020

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Sylvie Gallage-Alwis “is a star in the international world”. She is recognised as a “well-connected expert” and a “wonderfully bright and enthusiastic” lawyer.

Biography

Sylvie Gallage-Alwis is a partner and head of the product liability/product compliance practice in Paris. She is a litigator specialised in all disputes linked to products, namely product liability, product safety, toxic tort, mass litigation/class action, regulatory compliance and environment. Her team is one of the largest in the Paris market focused on these issues.

Sylvie is both an avocat à la cour in France, and a solicitor in England and Wales. She is described by WWL as a “dynamic and determined litigator” who is “a firm favourite among clients” as “she always goes the extra mile to support her clients, and is proactive in seeking commercial solutions to disputes”. WWL: France further notes that she “stands out in the market for her highly respected product liability, toxic tort and mass litigation expertise”. She has been recognised as a “rising star” for product liability in France by LMG Expert Guides (2015 to 2018) and won the Best in Product Liability award at the 2019 LMG Euromoney Europe Women in Business Law Awards.

Sylvie represents a variety of globally recognised manufacturers from industries such as automotive, electronic products, cosmetics, new technologies, steel, energy, food and toys. In this scope, she has developed strong regulatory knowledge, putting together innovative defences and representing her clients before the French market surveillance authorities should they question the compliance of a product or service. She has worked on countless product recalls and negotiations with authorities and distributors/retailers on behalf of manufacturers. Her team also provides regulatory assistance before a product is placed on the market to ensure compliance.

Sylvie is further known in the French market as a leading toxic tort/mass litigation lawyer. She has been involved in most pro-company case law rendered in recent years, notably in asbestos-related cases, with some cases mentioned in the French Civil and Social Security Codes because of the significant reversal in case law they represent. Sylvie has been the lead counsel in hundreds of cases where the plaintiffs claim for damages on the grounds that either they had developed a disease, or they suffered from anxiety around developing a disease in the future. This second ground is recognised by French courts and lies at the origin of high-stakes litigation, which started first with asbestos and is now extended to any hazardous substance or product. Sylvie is involved in the most sensitive of such cases that will impact future case law in this area.

Her experience in both mass litigation and consumer-related issues made her one of the go-to litigators in class actions in France, but also in cases where new legal grounds are explored, such as matters involving diesel, air pollution, planned obsolescence of electronic products and civil liability of a manufacturer exposing to a risk via imported products.

Sylvie is an active member of the International Association of Defense Counsel (IADC) and the Association of Defense Trial Attorneys (ADTA). She also regularly attends meetings of the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO).

National Leader

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Sylvie Gallage-Alwis is acclaimed for her “rigorous analysis, strategic guidance and seasoned litigation” on complex product disputes. Clients applaud her “customer-centric and financially aware” approach.

Biography

Sylvie Gallage-Alwis is a partner and head of the product liability/product compliance practice in Paris. She is a litigator specialised in all disputes linked to products, namely product liability, product safety, toxic tort, mass litigation/class action, regulatory compliance and environment. Her team is one of the largest in the Paris market focused on these issues.

Sylvie is both an avocat à la cour in France, and a solicitor in England and Wales. She is described by WWL as a “dynamic and determined litigator” who is “a firm favourite among clients” as “she always goes the extra mile to support her clients, and is proactive in seeking commercial solutions to disputes”. WWL: France further notes that she “stands out in the market for her highly respected product liability, toxic tort and mass litigation expertise”. She has been recognised as a “rising star” for product liability in France by LMG Expert Guides (2015 to 2018) and won the Best in Product Liability award at the 2019 LMG Euromoney Europe Women in Business Law Awards.

Sylvie represents a variety of globally recognised manufacturers from industries such as automotive, electronic products, cosmetics, new technologies, steel, energy, food and toys. In this scope, she has developed strong regulatory knowledge, putting together innovative defences and representing her clients before the French market surveillance authorities should they question the compliance of a product or service. She has worked on countless product recalls and negotiations with authorities and distributors/retailers on behalf of manufacturers. Her team also provides regulatory assistance before a product is placed on the market to ensure compliance.

Sylvie is further known in the French market as a leading toxic tort/mass litigation lawyer. She has been involved in most pro-company case law rendered in recent years, notably in asbestos-related cases, with some cases mentioned in the French Civil and Social Security Codes because of the significant reversal in case law they represent. Sylvie has been the lead counsel in hundreds of cases where the plaintiffs claim for damages on the grounds that either they had developed a disease, or they suffered from anxiety around developing a disease in the future. This second ground is recognised by French courts and lies at the origin of high-stakes litigation, which started first with asbestos and is now extended to any hazardous substance or product. Sylvie is involved in the most sensitive of such cases that will impact future case law in this area.

Her experience in both mass litigation and consumer-related issues made her one of the go-to litigators in class actions in France, but also in cases where new legal grounds are explored, such as matters involving diesel, air pollution, planned obsolescence of electronic products and civil liability of a manufacturer exposing to a risk via imported products.

Sylvie is an active member of the International Association of Defense Counsel (IADC) and the Association of Defense Trial Attorneys (ADTA). She also regularly attends meetings of the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO).
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