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Fulbright’s 2011 Litigation Trends Report Predicts a Constant Litigation Pace and a Swell of Regulatory Investigations

by Dean Gonsowski on November 7th, 2011

Fulbright & Jaworski has conducted their Litigation Trends survey for nearly the past decade and the results are always interesting since they tend to capture the mindset of inside counsel and litigators as they anticipate the upcoming year.  In their 8th Annual Litigation Trends Survey, Fulbright noted that 92% of U.S. respondents predict that litigation will either increase or stay the same in the upcoming year.  This trend bodes well for players in the litigation services and eDiscovery sectors, and confirms the counter cyclical nature of the industry.  Breaking down the perceived increases across industry verticals, the Survey noted that the biggest anticipated jumps were in the technology, financial services, healthcare and insurance sectors.  Meanwhile energy (the leading sector from the prior year) was one of the few that predicted a decrease.

Going behind the scenes, there were a number of factors that caused respondents to predict litigation increases.  First and foremost, respondents indicated that “stricter regulation was the number one reason” for the increases, particularly with insurance, financial services, health care and retail sectors.  These concerns around regulatory compliance have been increasingly keeping GCs and corporate boards awake as the governance climate continues to heat up.  This regulation driver showed a demonstrable increase with 46% of all respondents having retained outside counsel to assist with regulatory proceedings, up from 37% in the prior year.  The Survey noted that U.S. companies facing a regulatory investigation were most likely to be under pressure from the DOJ (27%), State Attorney General (24%), OSHA (18%), the EPA (16%) and U.S. Attorney (13%).  Also on the regulatory front, U.S. respondents have increasingly begun to recognize the potential jurisdictional reach of the U.K. Bribery Act, with 25% of U.S. companies stating that they have already conducted a review of existing procedures in preparation for implementation.

In addition to managing risk, most in-house counsel are keenly concerned with controlling litigation costs.  The good news here is that associated costs are predicted to be generally flat.  Yet, eDiscovery remained the largest category targeted for increased spending, with 18% of respondents making this their top priority.  Interestingly, though, large enterprises seem to have been doing a good job of getting eDiscovery expenses under control (likely by taking expensive elements of the EDRM in-house), with these expenses declining among the largest companies, from 42% last year to 24% this year.

The Survey noted that the use of cloud computing has gained speed, with 34% of all public companies using the cloud.  And yet, only 40% of those companies using cloud computing have had “to preserve and/or collect data from the cloud in connection with actual or threatened litigation, disputes or investigations.”  This number appears curiously light, and it should definitely rise during the upcoming year as the plaintiff’s bar gets more savvy about this relatively new source of responsive electronically stored information (ESI).

On the narrower eDiscovery front, the Survey honed in on newer issues like cooperation.  Here, the Survey noted that this Sedona-sponsored concept still hasn’t completely taken hold, with nearly 40% of all respondents claiming that “their company has not made the effort to be more transparent or cooperative” due to a litigation strategy of “defending on all fronts.”  This area appears particularly muddled, with one third saying their previous attempts haven’t been reciprocated and another quarter feeling that their company was already transparent.

All in all,  the 2011 Fulbright Litigation Trends Survey notes trends that appear to be largely in line with the primary drivers of (1) managing risk and (2) lowering litigation costs.  On the risk side, compliance with an increasingly complex regulatory environment is offsetting any potential lull in the litigation environment.  And, on the cost side, eDiscovery continues to be a hot button issue, particularly with the relatively new challenges associated with ESI distributed on social media, cloud computing and mobile sources.

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