Courting Public Opinion

Companies today face increased challenges from regulatory and legislative authorities. Likewise, legal issues continue to permeate the headlines, often in inaccurate and oversimplified treatments placing brands, businesses and reputations at risk.

In the past few months alone BJ’s Wholesale Club settled a class action lawsuit with their mid-level managers and class actions were certified against Sprint, Tyson and TJMaxx. Locally, well known Schubot Jewelers filed for bankruptcy, while GM and Chrysler recently emerged from bankruptcy United States and Canadian governments. Social and other web-based media enable citizen journalists, disgruntled employees, and the average consumer to bypass traditional media and take their messages directly to those interested with widely varied levels of accuracy. As a result, corporate, product, and individual reputations are often on the line and increasingly attorneys are being called to defend their client reputations in the public eye.

In today’s economy, clients increasingly call on their lawyer to resolve issues where business, politics and public perceptions intersect and sometimes collide. Many lawyers, however, are uncomfortable offering their clients counsel about dealing with the media and in other realms beyond the courtroom and negotiating table. When the damage is done publicly, however, legal outcomes may become irrelevant.

In protecting a client’s reputation, “an attorney’s duties do not begin inside the courtroom door — he or she cannot ignore the practical implications of a legal proceeding
for the client.” An attorney should take reasonable steps to defend a client’s reputation, in court and out. This is particularly important in an environment where news is reported 24/7 and, at times, is delivered instantaneously, to our cell phones and by our cell phones. Lawyers must be diligent in protecting client interests in the court of public opinion as well as in the court of law.

The propriety of and the procedures for reconsideration vary on whether the court’s initial decision results in an interlocutory order or a final judgment. The grant of summary judgment usually results in a final judgment only if the grant resolves all issues as to all parties.1 An order for summary judgment is interlocutory if it does not entirely end the proceedings before the trial court.2 A summary judgment is interlocutory even if it results in the dismissal of all the claims against one party, so long as other claims against other parties remain in the case.3 Necessarily, the denial of a motion for summary judgment is in all instances an interlocutory determination.4

For more information, please contact, Daniel Cherrin at or 517.377.0865.

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