Skillfully negotiating complex settlements, Motley Rice co-founding member Joe Rice plays a lead role in resolving some of the nation’s largest civil actions. Over the past 30 years Rice was recognized by some of the nation’s best-regarded defense lawyers as being “the smartest dealmaker they ever sat across the table from,” Thomson Reuters reported.
Professor Samuel Issacharoff of the New York University School of Law, a well-known professor and expert in class actions and complex litigation, commented that he is “the best strategic thinker on the end stages of litigation that I’ve ever seen.” National defense counsel and legal scholars describe Rice as one of the nation's “five most feared and respected plaintiffs’ lawyers in corporate America,” Corporate Legal Times stated in an article. "For all his talents as a shrewd negotiator ... Rice has earned most of his respect from playing fair and remaining humble.”
Joe Rice started practicing law at Blatt & Fales in Barnwell, South Carolina, after graduating from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1979. Working closely beside his mentor, the late Ron Motley (B.A. ’66, J.D. ’71), Rice and Motley took on two powerful industries: asbestos and tobacco. Rice structured some of the most significant resolutions for workers injured by asbestos-related products. He held leadership and negotiating roles involving the bankruptcies of several large organizations and worked on numerous asbestos trust advisory committees. Serving as lead private counsel for 26 state attorneys general, Rice and Motley’s advance on the tobacco industry in the 1990s resulted in the historic $246 billion Master Settlement Agreement, the largest civil settlement in U.S. history.
Blatt & Fales became Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole, expanding to Charleston, South Carolina. Then in April 2003, Ron and Joe founded Motley Rice LLC, one of the nation’s largest plaintiffs’ litigation firms. Motley Rice remains headquartered in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, where Rice leads more than 130 attorneys across the firm’s nine offices in practice areas including occupational disease, medical device and pharmaceutical injuries, securities fraud, consumer protection, whistleblower rights, anti-terrorism, environmental contamination, catastrophic injuries, premise and product liability, and wrongful death.
Rice’s achievements since co-founding Motley Rice are numerous, including playing a crucial role in executing strategic mediations and resolutions on behalf of 56 families of 9/11 victims who opted out of the government-created September 11 Victim Compensation Fund. He negotiated the nearly $15 billion Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Fraud settlement in 2017 following its “clean diesel” scandal — the largest auto-related consumer class action settlement in U.S. history. Also to his credit are two settlements with BP in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill — one of which is the largest civil class action settlement in U.S. history.
Today, Rice remains as active as ever in the firm’s cause-driven litigation for clients. He serves as a co-lead lawyer for more than 3,000 plaintiffs in the National Prescription Opiate MDL aimed at combating the alleged over-distribution and deceptive marketing of prescription opioids. As chair of the negotiating committee, he worked with the committee and the attorney general committee to reach more than $50 billion in settlements for communities nationwide. This litigation is ongoing.
He currently serves as co-lead counsel for the AFFF/PFAS multidistrict litigation in the District of South Carolina for public water systems, landowners and other plaintiffs. Recently, Rice was named to the court-appointed resolution committee to keep victim concerns and interests a focus as multiple agencies seek to resolve claims related to toxic exposures at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
Rice taught art of negotiating classes at the University of South Carolina School of Law, Duke University School of Law and Charleston School of Law. He has served on the faculty at Duke University School of Law as a senior lecturing fellow. He also functions as co-chair of the largest national asbestos-focused conference, which includes plaintiff and defense attorneys from across the world. For his legal work and resolutions, Rice earned the National Association of Attorneys General President’s Award, the National Trial Lawyers Elite Lifetime Achievement Award, the SCAJ Founders’ Award and the USC Compleat Lawyer Award.
Over the years, Rice has acted in leadership roles for several charitable causes. Some involving the entire Rice family include First Tee of Greater Charleston, the Center for Birds of Prey, the Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center and MUSC Children’s Hospital. In 2013, he and the members of Motley Rice LLC created the Ronald L. Motley Scholarship Fund at the University of South Carolina School of Law in memory and honor of co-founding member and friend, Ron Motley. In 2021, the Rice family helped ensure that the USC Children’s Law Center would have a permanent home for its official training center. This space provides child welfare professionals including attorneys, prosecutors, investigators, forensic interviewers and DSS case managers, among others, an opportunity to gain practical, hands-on experience for situations they will encounter in the trenches with South Carolina’s vulnerable children and youth. In addition, law students who complete the Children’s Law Concentration requirements are recognized as Lisa S. Rice and Ann E. Rice Ervin Child Advocates.
Rice is married to Lisa Summer Rice (B.A. ’77). They met on campus at an Alpha Tau Omega fraternity event. Forty-five years later they are still tailgating together in front of Williams-Brice Stadium before each home football game alongside their daughter, Ann E. Rice Ervin (B.A. ’06, J.D. ’09), her family and lots of friends, many of whom they met at USC. They are proud to be a part of the Garnet Way, helping create a first-class athletic campus with enhanced programs, learning environments and scholarships.
As a family, they have enjoyed watching their beloved alma mater expand and evolve into the institution it is today, and they look forward to the future.