March 17, 2005

A comprehensive early assessment of litigation is a key strategy for in-house and outside counsel who wish to control legal costs, according to a panel discussion at today’s Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s CLE Expo.

“You may have been working to resolve cases early on in the process your entire career, but early assessment is about adopting formalized ways to achieve that on nearly every matter,” said Partner Phillip L. Harris, who was among the panelists at the interactive discussion.

The panelists also suggested that one way to formally institute early assessment processes was to collect and utilize metrics to gauge the success of resolving cases quickly.  For instance, Mr. Harris said that he measures settlements in product liability cases against a spreadsheet that tracks settlement dollars paid by type of injury and time of settlement.

However, Mr. Harris and the other panelists pointed out some of the roadblocks to utilizing an early assessment process, such as the venue of the litigation and the attitude of the plaintiff’s bar on the matter, that could hinder gathering needed information to make a critical initial assessment.

In addition to early assessment practices, panelist Jennifer Sender of Hinshaw & Culbertson suggested that alternative dispute resolution (ADR) was a “viable alternative” to keep litigation costs under control.  She said that cases where a company did not want proprietary information to be released to the public were particularly good cases for closed-door ADR sessions.

Panelist Dara Mann of Faegre & Benson addressed the pros and cons of various alternative fee arrangements as a way for in-house counsel to reduce litigation costs.

The discussion was moderated by Wanda Denson-Low, Vice President and Assistant General Counsel at Boeing.