Written by Neil McLeod • Published 9th June 2020 • 5 minute read

The years following the 2008 crash were boom time for litigation.

It is commonly accepted that following economic downturn, courts become busier, with businesses and consumers determined to claw back all they can from broken promises, reneged deals and corporate fall outs.

With litigation neither a quick nor cheap business, actions can roll on for years.

Indeed, it was estimated by city law firm RPC that in 2017, the long-term fallout from the 2008 crash meant the number of High Court cases the world’s 50 largest banks were forced to defend stood at 157, following a sharp rise from the year before.

Twelve years on from the 08 crash and the world is dealing with a new global emergency in the coronavirus pandemic. Multiple economies including the UK face recession, with the US staring down the barrel of a deep downturn with the hallmarks of the 1930s depression.

It is already predicted that the post Coronavirus environment will see a similar litigation rush, potentially tying up courts globally for years to come.

There will be few, if any, sectors unaffected by COVID 19. As well as business v business litigation, experts predict mass consumer action spikes, actions against government, and those targeting other public bodies

As City AM reported, there are also predictions of a class-action surge in post COVID litigation, with the law in the UK more developed than it was in the wake of 2008 and new law firms setting up in London to meet this demand.

Just last month, Wired reported the first wave of litigation, dubbing COVID 19 as “the new asbestos” for mass actions. A group of MPs in the UK have already called on the UK government to form a COVID litigation panel to prepare for any actions taken against medical professionals.

Litigation finance companies are also preparing for increased business. Companies in the sector fund actions being brought for companies in return for a slice of the damages won. Many companies in the sector target higher-value claims of £10million and above and portfolios of cases in larger corporates, although there are some who will fund lower value litigation. The classic model is David v Goliath cases, where a claimant takes on a defendant with much deeper pockets with the assistance of funding. Post COVID, this could be a model more companies turn to so not to tie up balance sheet cash in pricey litigation.

But what happens if your business is involved in a dispute in the economic turmoil of lockdown, and can communications play a role?

Litigation and Public Relations
Businesses large and small can be involved in litigation. With all corners of the globe and every sector hit by COVID, that is even more of a stark fact. Often, a business can find itself embroiled in a dispute without being truly ready for what it means.

Most litigation involves a process that is open to both public view and that of the media. This poses various questions for a company going involved in a legal case.

Having a communications plan in place is key to managing the process. It is vital that your comms team – or an outside agency – works closely with the legal team to ensure all milestones, including the launching of actions, judgments and settlements, are considered.

A good communications professional will know the dos and don’ts of litigation public relations – there are many considerations.

The Case for the Defence
Businesses fighting claims will primarily be concerned with doing so successfully, but should also consider the impact on their reputation.

Leaving it to chance is not an option. Even in the face of a loss, communications can help mitigate damage or even help win the case in the court of public opinion.

Many businesses and brands who have lost cases and had to pay damages have lived to tell the tale as they have managed communications effectively, sometimes winning the case in the Court of Public Opinion.

Once again, planning for eventualities, communicating effectively with media holds great importance. It is also important to remember that the legal process does not just involve days in court – new stories on actions can start months, even years before a Judge has heard any opening speeches. This is arguably even more important in consumer-led cases, which could be of huge interest not only to the UK’s very strong legal press, but also the national media, where consumer writers and not just legal writers could be interested.

PR for the Claimant
Handling litigation from the point of the claimant is just as important. In most cases, there will be a need to manage public relations and control messaging. Operating within the guidelines of the legal action, while still being able to navigate the media landscape, is very important.

As with being on the other side of a claim, handling press, knowing which documents are in the public domain and which are not, issuing press statements, handling social media, communications with press – including the sector press covering your industry – is key. Comms plans are important for the entirety of the action, not least the press strategy around the handling of a judgment, particularly if it a judge does not side with you.

It is important to stress making a claim can carry as much reputational risk as being on the receiving end – particularly with scrutiny set to be high around actions following the pandemic. Among first questions to be asked when deciding on whether to issue proceedings should be how it will impact on the reputation of the business.Ensuring communications professionals are part of your team, know the media landscape and know how to work with your solicitors and barristers, is therefore essential.

The PHA Group has a wealth of experience is dealing with litigation PR, for claimants, defendants and law firms. The company is listed as a leading litigation PR company in Chambers and Partners.
The company was awarded the PRCA’s Issues and Reputation Management National Award for its work for Sir Cliff Richard in his action against the BBC.

If you are looking for support with gaining insight into the UK media landscape or for an ongoing, or upcoming legal case, please get in touch today to see how our passionate team of experts can help you achieve your goals.