A Lawsuit Delayed Is A Dollar Saved

I know that's a really bad take-off on a common expression, but it can be used to describe the prevailing attitude in legal departments toward filing suit against another company -- or even defending against a suit brought against your company. More accurately, the mindset is, “a lawsuit avoided is many, many dollars saved,” and those savings can directly effect the bottom line.

In past downturns, the Bar has been able to take some solace in the loss of transactional work knowing that the litigators would soon have more than enough cases to carry the load. Everyone expected that to be the case this time around as well. The common thought was that corporate work goes down, litigation goes up. But this recession is not like any other in so many respects, so why should it follow that course?

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve taken note of the lack of an appreciable increase in litigation. Companies are not willing to make the huge investment that even the smallest case requires; big cases can quickly become a massive drain on resources. Has the recession created an incentive to avoid these cash sponges? I believe it’s coincidental for a lot of legal departments.

Monday’s National Law Journal contains an interesting and well-written article by Karen Sloan. In it, she notes that there seems to be a dramatic shift in how corporate America is thinking about litigation as a result of the recession. Ms. Sloan shares my humble opinion that you cannot blame this change in attitude totally on the recession and cites other logical reasons why there has been a shift. There are many, many factors that lie outside of the current economic climate which have, through the course of time, changed the mindset of our corporate colleagues. The reality is that it’s just too darn expensive to enter into a courtroom battle where there are other options for dealing with the problem that are infinitely more cost-effective and efficient.

For years now we have been working with corporate clients on how best to tackle some of the more costly aspects of litigation in the most cost-effective and efficient manner. That being said, there’s little question that most changes or strategic shifts regarding litigation policies are reactive; there is usually something on the front end that demands a change. After all, in our profession the tried-and-true path gets worn bare unless a giant boulder is thrown across it. The recession certainly has provided the needed incentive for many to produce a new course of action.

But for many of our clients, that boulder was placed in front of them long ago, during better economic times, whether it was with rising outside counsel costs, new company standards or policies, or simply an early recognition that e-discovery was going to become more difficult to deal with in the future. So they started looking working with regional law firms instead of the AmLaw 100, or enacted procedures when dealing with specific types of litigation, or they expanded their in-house litigation teams and created strict e-discovery and data storing policies. Collectively, these changes meant there was a new approach to litigation, how and when to respond, and how to manage it. These clients were the early adopters of this shift and forged the path for others to follow. Once the recession set in, the shift accelerated somewhat uniformly throughout the profession.

Sure, we haven’t had a surge in lawsuits like has happened in other challenging economic times. There are many positives to this fact, though. The practices that have been developed during the good times are playing a role in decisions whether or not to sue (or to enact procedures when one is sued). They are certainly playing a big role in how to conduct a piece of litigation.
 

Holding (E-Discovery) Hands In Public

News of the O’Melveny-H5 partnership was heralded by some -- and likely lost among a list of news blurbs for many in the industry. For those who missed it, the partnership means that one of the globe’s leading law firms has partnered with a legal information retrieval (or “search”) company to offer a uniform litigation support service to clients.

The benefits of this partnership have been outlined by industry bloggers Chris Dale and Ron Friedmann, among others. But moving beyond the deal’s strategy-and-search foundations of service, the partnership is good news for all companies providing litigation support/review services and supplies another indication that law firms are moving towards a different business model. Coming out with a news release is particularly noteworthy, as partnerships like this one have previously been seen as damaging to a law firm’s reputation. Not anymore.

What we consistently discuss with our in-house clients is how to take advantage of the resources they have. In litigation, they have outside counsel to handle and shape the strategy. That’s what law firms do best and why their partners’ hourly rates are often justified (and many of our clients agree with this). That expertise is invaluable and the strategic decisions they recommend can save millions of dollars immediately and on future matters. That is a resource.

Litigation Support providers are another resource. We know how to run an efficient discovery process with strict quality control measures. We have teams of experienced attorneys that can be dedicated to only one client. We have the proven protocols and know how to benchmark and track data. We design our services to save money now and in the future. This is all contained in our value proposition for litigation support services; that's not traditionally the case for a law firm.

So while our methods and costs of actually conducting the review of documents differ from a company like H5, and without knowing how O’Melveny will package and bill its clients for this service, the messages that this partnership sends are 1) some law firms are accepting the need for and creating new business models, 2) they recognize exactly how they are a resource to clients in litigation, and 3) They aren’t afraid to tell the world about it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our Litigation Support Division has seen increased interest from law firm clients in recent months.

Ultimately, these are all good signs for the profession (and especially clients).
 

An E-Discovery Event With Substance

We're not in the habit of event promotion, especially with the sheer number of e-discovery-related conferences in the marketplace, but one in particular has us excited. If you're looking for good, substantive programming and a great line-up of speakers, consider:

ACI’s 7th Annual Advanced Forum on E-Discovery & Document Management

We don't have a dog in the hunt, so to speak, but know and respect many of the panelists involved. Collectively, the in-house counsel on these panels have experienced most, if not all, conceivable challenges related to e-discovery and have developed and/or overseen many efficient and cost-saving solutions. 

If you're weighing different conference options -- and your 2010 legal budget-planning process is fast-approaching or will be in-progress -- it would be hard to go wrong with this event. And if you're planning to attend, drop us an e-mail so we can introduce ourselves while on the same plot of South Broad Street space.

The Forum is Sept. 22-23 in Philadelphia.  

Is 'Project Manager' The Next Big Legal Job Title?

Once upon a time, there were really only a handful of titles in the legal profession: Associate, Partner, Paralegal; General Counsel, Associate General Counsel; or simply Attorney. Sure, there were mini-steps between these positions and other classifications, but for the most part these titles offered a good snapshot of the profession – especially the way business was done. Everything that couldn’t be handled in-house was sent to the law firm. There were no Account Executives, no Client Liaisons, no Information Systems Administrators ... no other business partners to lean on.

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