A career trajectory in which she wore many hats offered the perfect blend of inspiration and insight for Product Liability associate Teri Peeples. “I have learned things from each place where I’ve worked,” Peeples said. “As a junior lawyer, I spent a year as a director of operations for a charter school in Newark, New Jersey, and it was an amazing experience, but I missed the mental activity of being a lawyer. Trying different roles confirmed that this is what I want to be doing with my professional life.”
Building a Rewarding Career
Having started her legal career practicing litigation in various practice areas at prior law firms —insurance defense, commercial litigation, and antitrust— Peeples was drawn to product liability work because it allowed her to engage in complex scientific and medical issues within a legal framework. “Each case is different — the facts, the medication, the injury alleged — so there’s always something new for me to dive into.” Her clients include pharmaceutical, medical device, and consumer product companies, whom she represents in matters involving mass torts and multidistrict litigation. Peeples works closely with her clients at all stages of the litigation process, including assessing product development, crafting the defense strategy, and developing expert witnesses. She is frequently called upon by clients to break down scientific theories and defenses in lay terms.
Among the recent cases Peeples has found particularly rewarding is an ongoing matter in which she represents one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies relating to their Type 2 diabetes medication. That case has allowed her to build a long-term relationship with the clients, offering a unique opportunity to provide ongoing counsel through a deep understanding of the business aspects of the company and the relevant key witnesses. She also represents companies that are new to U.S. product liability litigation. These clients include a U.S. drug manufacturer facing their first major product liability litigation related to an essential medication franchise and a group of ex-U.S. entities in their first U.S. product liability litigation involving a drug supplement. She said getting to know the clients, researching the legal and scientific issues behind these matters, and coming up with defense strategies is the right fit for her inquisitive nature. “I’m always learning, and that’s what really keeps me interested and motivated.”
Peeples said she has also seen an increase recently in U.S. and foreign clients requesting an assessment of potential product liability risks before litigation is on the horizon. She noted that clients understand that product liability litigation can harm the reputation of blockbuster products, and they want to safeguard their patients, products, and reputation well before it comes to litigation.
A Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion
Alongside her legal practice, Peeples is a dedicated advocate for diversity and inclusion. She serves as a mentor and role model to colleagues at the firm, as well as to young students in underserved communities, and is co-chair of Sidley’s Recruitment Sub-Committee and a member of the firm’s New York Associates’ Diversity and Inclusion Committee. In 2019, she co-founded the Women of Color Initiative in the New York office as a way to enhance Sidley’s inclusive culture and foster a greater sense of belonging among diverse women. “Diversity work is so important to me in my career because I’ve seen how underrepresented people of color are in the profession, and I’ve always wanted to play a role in making a change.”
“Teri is an outstanding lawyer, as well as an incredibly strong and caring advocate, mentor, and role model for young women of color lawyers at the firm and in the larger legal community,” said Heidi Levine, global co-leader of Sidley’s Product Liability practice, who also serves as firmwide co-chair of the Committee on Retention and Promotion of Women, and as one of Peeples’ mentors. This level of commitment to diversity, most notably, women and women of color, is directly reflected in the Product Liability practice group, which Levine noted is helmed entirely by women and comprises a majority of women.
“Our practice has been run, led, and filled with women and diverse lawyers for many years,” Levine said, citing Peeples’ Chambers award and the 2020 induction of Product Liability partner and former co-chair of the practice, Debra Pole, into the LMG Life Sciences Hall of Fame as further evidence of the team’s commitment to a diverse workplace.
Leading by Example
Peeples was recently commended for her leadership at the 2020 Chambers Diversity & Inclusion Awards: North America, where she was chosen as the recipient of the “Future Leader – Diversity & Inclusion” award. The honor is given to role models and trailblazers in pro bono, corporate social responsibility, and inclusion. Levine shared that Peeples’ compassion and professionalism in both her law practice and her diversity and inclusion efforts made her the clear choice for the nomination.
Of her mentor and leadership roles, Peeples says she hopes to continue to empower and inspire young lawyers from all backgrounds to broaden their networks, share their perspectives, and expand their exposure to opportunities, all of which she said have helped her achieve a balanced legal career.
“You have to make your own path, be as present in your career as you can be, and don’t be afraid to speak up,” Peeples advised. “You have to allow your voice to shine through.”