There will be a lot of familiar faces in U.S. District Judge Dan Polster’s courtroom in Cleveland on  Jan. 31, when lawyers gather for a hearing on multidistrict litigation against the nation’s opioid manufacturers and distributors.

The prospect of the biggest payday since the $200 bill­­ion tobacco settlement in 1998 has drawn many of the same plaintiff lawyers who appear again and again in big tort cases over everything from VW diesels to Vioxx to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

It’s such a common scenario that one prominent legal scholar has devoted a significant chunk of her career to documenting what she calls the “systemic pathologies” that develop when a small group of repeat players dominate the business of MDLs.

These lawyers “form what looks like an oligopoly,” said Elizabeth Burch, a professor at the University of Georgia School of Law. “The same five lawyers are involved in practically every proceeding.”

Indeed, Paul Hanly, appointed by Judge Polster to serve as one of two lead counsel overseeing the plaintiff side of the opioid litigation, is a name partner in Simmons Hanly Conroy, where fellow name partner Jayne Conroy is one of those five individual attorneys on Burch’s repeat-player list.

And five of the 16 law firms on the plaintiffs’ steering committee – the Lanier Law Firm, Seeger Weiss, Lieff Cabraser, Motley Rice and Weitz & Luxenberg – also appear among Burch’s list of the 10 firms that most often supply lead counsel to MDLs.

Read more of this Legal Newsline story on Forbes.