|Clients can win in court, and lose much more -- in terms of reputation -- in the court of public opinion. Plaintiffs’ lawyers have learned how to feed the media’s appetite and use negative publicity to pressure deep pocket defendants to settle quickly on their terms. They know that the public often cares less about whether a company’s actions were legal than whether they were fair. And they know that a company under a media onslaught can rarely wait for the truth to win out. That’s where litigation communication can help.
A good example is the breast-implant litigation that made implants synonymous in the public mind with pain and disfigurement -- and drove Dow Corning into bankruptcy. An epidemiological study (the first of many) found no link between implants and disease. But by the time that study was released, Dow Corning had already been forced to settle -- to the tune of $4.25 billion -- the massive class-action suits by trial lawyers who falsely claimed there was a connection.
Could litigation communication have saved Dow Corning from bankruptcy? Perhaps not. But it would certainly have better insulated the company from a barrage of press and television stories that sensationalized the story and demonized the product.
Another good example is the Alar scare. "60 Minutes" ran an "expose" claiming that the chemical, which is used in apple production, causes disease. Not surprisingly, mothers panicked and apple sales fell precipitously. It didn’t seem to matter that the study on which "60 Minutes" based the whole story turned out to be dead wrong.
At the moment there is no legal or public policy vaccine to protect against the negative publicity that plaintiffs’ lawyers use against their adversaries. But companies feeling that negative sting can take a leaf from the trial lawyers’ book and use litigation communication to counter the poison and convey their own positive, truthful, messages to the public.