William S. Lerach (December 7, 1941 - February 21, 2018) was an American attorney, known for his pioneering work in the field of class action litigation. He was a partner at the law firm of Milberg Weiss & Bershad, and later at the Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins law firm.
Lerach was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to a family of modest means. He attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1962, and then went on to attend the University of Pittsburgh Law School, earning his Juris Doctor in 1965.
Lerach began his career as a lawyer in the mid-1960s. He was an assistant district attorney in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and then an assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. In 1975, he joined the law firm of Milberg Weiss & Bershad as a partner.
At Milberg, Lerach pioneered the practice of class action lawsuits. Class action lawsuits are legal actions brought on behalf of a group of people with similar claims. These cases enable a single person, or small group of people, to sue a large company on behalf of a larger group of individuals who have suffered an injury or damages due to the company's actions.
Lerach was a pioneer in the use of class action lawsuits to pursue corporate wrongdoing. He was successful in securing large settlements for his clients, and in the process, became one of the country's most prominent and successful trial attorneys.
In 2004, Lerach left Milberg Weiss & Bershad and formed his own firm, the Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins law firm. The firm was highly successful in pursuing class action cases, and by 2008 was the largest such firm in the U.S.
In 2008, however, Lerach pleaded guilty to a single felony charge of aiding and abetting a kickback scheme at Milberg Weiss. He was sentenced to two years in prison and fined $250,000. He served his time in prison, and in 2011, was released on parole.
Despite his conviction, Lerach remained a respected figure in the legal community. He was a passionate advocate for the rights of shareholders and victims of corporate wrongdoing, and his legacy in the field of class action litigation will live on. He died in 2018 at the age of 76.