Law: A Spin on the Courts - or the Courts in a Spin? Litigation PR Is a Growth Industry, and Skilful Management of the Media Can Pave the Way for Lucrative Out-of-Court Settlements
Lindsay, Robert, The Independent (London, England)
JUSTICE MUST not only be done, it must be seen to be done - that adage could stand as the motto for Britain's small but growing band of practitioners of the new black craft of litigation PR. But the problem is that the way these people show it being done may not be to everyone's taste.
The general public will not have heard of litigation PR, nor will many high-flying lawyers and executives in the City of London where it is largely practised - because it is of necessity a discreet business.
They will, however, have seen the headlines for which it has been responsible: the legal battle of Tommy Hilfiger and Nike to get Sainsbury's and Tesco to stop selling certain brand-name goods, and the German company suing the British government for dropping it from the contract to build the Millennium Dome.
Behind a majority of those headlines is Cambridge graduate and former bond dealer Stephen Lock. He has acted for the plaintiffs in those cases, behind the scenes and outside the courtroom. Above his desk at City PR firm, Ludgate Communications, is a framed example of his proudest coup - an Evening Standard front page with the headline "Prince in pounds 21m Park Lane sex den". Mr Lock acted for the Manoukian family who in 1998 sued Prince Jefri of Brunei for pounds 18m. The Prince settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, largely, Mr Lock claims, as a result of newspaper coverage of his private life.
"It has never been published what my client received," grins Mr Lock, "suffice to say that it put a broad smile on the client's face, and ours."
This is what is involved in litigation PR - embarrassing the other side into settling. Any press coverage that influences the outcome of a trial could be deemed contempt of court - a criminal offence. For solicitors to talk to the press about their cases on the courtroom steps is still viewed as a little risque in some quarters; and barristers are still forbidden to discuss their cases.
But a handful of the UK's barristers and solicitors are learning that it can often help to tip off journalists about a forthcoming case, particularly in industrial tribunals, where the employer may prefer to settle rather than see embarrassing details spread over newspapers.
In the more litigious US, a whole industry has grown up around litigation PR - recent estimates are that about 20 PR agencies in the US are wholly or mainly devoted to this practice. Ludgate is thought to be the only PR company in the UK to set up a team specifically targeted at winning litigation PR work. …