General commercial litigation involves virtually every type of dispute that can arise in the business context, including breach of contract cases, partnership/joint venture disputes, class actions, business torts, civil RICO claims, breach of fiduciary duty allegations, and shareholder issues. Successful commercial litigators need to be able to assess the merits of a dispute and scale either a prosecution or defense that fits the legal and business needs of the client. Efficiency, creativity, and sound judgment are critical for intelligently positioning these disputes, whether they are “bet-the-company” cases or more discrete matters. In addition, while all cases must be litigated with an eye toward ultimately trying them, seasoned commercial litigators understand that at all times they must strive to achieve the best possible result at a reasonable cost.
Litigation increasingly occurs in various venues, from state and federal courts to private arbitrations and administrative hearings. Proceedings can involve business-to-business disputes or any number of government agencies. Understanding the motivations and outlook of each of the litigation participants is important for determining weak points to exploit and strong points that will persuade the audience in question. During the past decade, commercial litigators have seen a dramatic uptick in multidistrict and inter-disciplinary litigation, making the stakes higher, the cases more complex, the parties more numerous and the discovery more complicated and unwieldy. Firms that are able to develop and implement a creative legal approach to each individual problem, efficiently focus on the key legal and factual issues, and master and manage the various aspects of these complex matters will be the busiest in the years to come.
In the current challenging economic climate, commercial litigators are under increasing client pressure to keep costs in check, which has both sides testing the efficacy of alternative fee arrangements and the scope of reasonable discovery. Whether the “death of the billable hour” is ultimately realized, the keys to a commercial litigator’s success will continue to be strong client relationships, thought leadership, practical management skills, deep experience, and personal commitment.
Brad D. Brian