New Survey: Corporate Counsel Fear Regulators, Class Action Filers

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By Michael Greene

May 15 — Regulatory oversight/investigations and class action lawsuits lead corporate counsel's list of concerns, according to a May 14 Norton Rose Fulbright survey.

The “2015 Litigation Trends Annual Survey” found that “Regulatory/Investigations” (39 percent) topped in-house counsel's list of legal disputes of greatest concern.

Nonetheless, “regulatory/investigations” (18 percent) ranked behind “contracts” (38 percent) and “labor/employment” (37 percent) on a list of the most-numerous types of pending litigation during the last 12 months, according to the survey.

“While each country or region surveyed is unique, one common theme comes through loud and clear—corporate counsel around the world see the growing litigiousness of the business environment as an important trend that bears watching,” Gerry Pecht, Norton Rose Fulbright's global head of dispute resolutions and litigation, said in a statement accompanying the survey. “This is especially true with regard to regulatory investigations and class action lawsuits, both of which are increasing in scope and frequency.”

The survey compiled responses from more than 800 corporate counsel from 26 countries between the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015.

U.S. Litigation Trends

According to the survey, more than half (55 percent) of respondents in the U.S. had more than five lawsuits filed against their companies in the last 12 months, whereas only 42 percent of the total sample responded similarly.

However, the survey also indicated that “[t]he number of lawsuits filed against U.S. respondents' companies in the past 12 months is very stable, with no significant changes since 2010.”

Class Actions Trends

Across the entire sample, when corporate counsels were asked “what is the most important issue or trend in litigation impacting your company?” the most cited issue “is an increasing number of class actions.”

“We are seeing class actions brought where there is no harm and we are starting to see courts allow this and it creates substantial potential liability, where there should be none,” said a U.S. technology and innovation company head of litigation cited in the survey.

Class actions also are more likely a top concern among U.S. general counsel, with more U.S. respondents listing it as a top concern (25 percent) than the total sample (18 percent).

“About one-quarter of all respondents report at least one class or group action in the preceding 12 months,” the survey states, noting that U.S. respondents comprise 80 percent of those who have experienced such actions.

In-House Staffing

The survey also found that the average in-house staff size is 16.3 lawyers among all respondents, where as the average in-house staff in the U.S. is 19.8 lawyers.

While one in four respondents expect the number of legal disputes their company will face in the next year to increase, an overwhelming majority (80 percent) expect the number of in-house litigation attorneys at their organization to stay the same over that time frame.

However, “[a]mong the entire pool of respondents, 22% have increased the number of firms on their rosters in the past year. There is no significant variation by geography and results are consistent with last year's findings.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Greene in Washington at mgreene@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ryan Tuck at rtuck@bna.com

The survey is available for download at http://www.nortonrosefulbright.com/news/128691/norton-rose-fulbright-releases-2015-litigation-trends- annual-survey.