After the 2008 economic crash, London became a hotspot for wealthy international litigants attracted by its world-class legal profession. The litigation boom powered forward London as a disputes centre.
Fast forward a decade and while Brexit may have its implications for London as a legal centre, it remains a thriving disputes centre, home to a vast array of firms from magic circle behemoths – from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer to US claimant firm Quinn Emmanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and litigation boutiques such as Enyo Law and Stewarts.
There is no doubt that this is a tough market. The money to be made from big-ticket litigation can be eye watering – especially if there are billions of dollars in dispute. Such legal battles make for great stories, with each court bout producing a fresh twist in the tale.
Yet, not all litigators get their day in court. For every reported case there are dozens more that are never reported in the mainstream or legal press, however meritorious they are.
I have dedicated many hundreds of hours to reading court papers, from claimant documents to judgments spanning hundreds of pages. I developed a passion for it: reporting on trends and reforms in the disputes market, as well as domestic and international court cases. My skill was being able to spot a good story while under newsroom pressure.
Attracting publicity for your judgment may be a challenge, but it is not impossible. There are many national and regional firms with caseloads that should be of interest to the press. Whether it is a local planning dispute, a medical negligence case or a small commercial spat, it may have an angle that makes a story.
Getting noticed by the media has its rewards, not least raising the profile of your firm and its litigation team, building a market leading reputation and, ultimately, attracting new clients.
If you are in the job of legal marketing and PR, or a lawyer who wants to spark an interest in a case, here are some tips to help your story stand out.
Having a good relationship with the press is important, particularly if you are talking about a complex subject.
It may be that you are talking to someone with no experience of courtrooms or lawyers, so being able to respond quickly and with ease will be essential.
Litigators understandably get passionate about their cases and their clients. They are trained to win and thrive on winning an argument. So, when they are being quizzed by a reporter who has little court knowledge but is armed with a list of basic questions – some of which may dare to question those carefully devised legal arguments - tensions can become frayed.
Be patient and remain professional at all times, rudeness will not get you anywhere.
In litigation PR especially, it is important to remain objective and speak in plain and clear language.
While litigators and barristers cannot talk about live cases (and rightly so), there is nothing to stop support staff such as PRs providing the facts of the case. That said, if you stray from the facts or begin editorialising court documents, you may find yourself in tricky waters.
Remember, never release a judgment to the press before it has been published by the court – to do so will leave you in contempt of court. Fortunately, most legal reporters are highly trained and it is rare, if ever, that a judgment ends up online before the court has released it.
However, in one low profile instance, a divorce lawyer released details of his clients’ apparent ‘win’ to the press on the sly, without alerting the reporter to the fact that the case was yet to be officially handed down.
It is not uncommon for lawyers to alert the press to an upcoming judgment, but to give out an unpublished version can raise all sorts of legal problems. In this instance, the report was published in a national newspaper only to be read by the presiding judge, who was yet to officially deliver his verdict. This was a big money divorce case and the stakes were high, it could have cost the lawyer his job and his client a lot of money. Instead, the lawyer was forced to grovel to the court – saving red faces all round.
If you are alerting a reporter to an upcoming case, make sure they have the details they need to make independent enquiries. Stick to the facts: who the litigants are; who are their lawyers; what is in dispute; what does the judgment mean for the sector; what is the next step – will there be an appeal?
In the modern age of fast news, tight deadlines and skim readers, many reporters simply no longer have the time to read complex judgments, especially if an editor deems it be not newsworthy. This means it is your job to understand and sell the case, tell its story and explain why it is newsworthy.
It is important for a law firm's PR representatives to know their subject, understand the relevance of the story, and clearly answer any questions. Get it wrong and the consequences could be disastrous.
How you communicate your news is essential. If you are bored with your news, how can a reporter be interested in it? I have dealt with PRs who call day after day, week after week, telling me that a lawyer would like their story online, but when asked about its relevance or interest simply do not have a clue or any interest in it. The call is just another box ticking exercise.
Know your news angle: it may be that the dispute itself is vanilla, but the court process is totally different, or lawyers are using cutting edge technology for e disclosure, or that the claim is being funded in an innovative way. Find your news hook and explain why it makes the case a good story.
How to keep a low profile
Of course, not all clients or lawyers will want their disputes played out in the press. Keeping a low profile is not difficult in this tough market, but should you receive an unwelcome call from the press you may want to offer to confirm facts to ensure details are correct.
Offering up a simple ‘no comment’ can lead to editorial assumptions being made, particularly if a judgment has delivered no clear ‘winner’.
Decent reporters don’t want to publish an incorrect story. You can assist them with a quick fact check, preventing inaccuracies that may add a negative slant to your disadvantage.
What if the reporter gets it wrong?
Judgements can be complex. There will be instances when you are dissatisfied with a published story. Save your complaints for when it is necessary. At first instance, speak with the reporter and explain why you are disappointed and follow up with an email.
Journalists will only make changes normally if there are factual or major inaccuracies. Remember most reporters will be required to speak to their editor should a change be made online, and they won’t agree to this lightly. You need back up your complaint with substance.
Simply moaning about a headline because you disagree with the phrasing will not enhance your relationship while achieving little (rebutting requests and threats from lawyers is a badge of honour for most journalists), while making it more likely your firm’s future requests for coverage are rejected.
Of course, when incorrect details are published, an experienced PR adviser should understand how to turn that negative into a positive, helping to build relations with the title and perhaps getting further coverage down the line.
Often the best results come from keeping the iron fist of law firmly inside the velvet glove of diplomacy.