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.
 

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