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Reputation management practices will have to change focus if Leveson’s recommendations are imposed, according to a number of leading media lawyers.
Lord Justice Leveson
They claim that the establishment of a low-cost arbitration system to solve civil disputes such as libel will drastically reduce the number of large money-spinning pieces of litigation.
And a post-Leveson climate of increased responsibility, public accountability and transparency – as well as a new independent self-regulatory body – could mean less contentious work for those lawyers with major media clients.
Christopher Hutchings, media lawyer at Hamlins, said: “There’s been an incredible shake-up in the last five years and some firms have moved out of media work completely. However, this has left the door open for smaller, leaner practices who don’t necessarily charge huge rates.”
Hutchings said the amount of complaints may not necessarily decrease under a new regulatory system, but that a low-cost arbitration system could reduce the major single pieces of litigation for the magic and silver circle firms.
Schillings partner Chris Scott said: “We’ve been calling for a change like this for several years to look at quicker and more cost effective ways of solving disputes for our clients.”
Schillings is a firm with a reputation for representing high-profile individuals and taking action against the media, but much of its recent growth has been protecting the reputations of major corporate clients and their owners.
Scott added: “We’ve got a very pro-active reputation protection approach for our corporate clients already. The changes recommended by Leveson would be positive for our business.”
However, those who represented the victims of press intrusion at The Leveson Inquiry fear that the proposals will not be enforced after Prime Minster David Cameron backed away from legislation as a ‘backstop’ (29 November 2012).
Collyer Bristow reputation management partner Dominic Crossley said that if the “unsatisfactory” status quo remains after April 2013, when conditional fee arrangements (CFAs) end with the Jackson reforms, many individual clients will have “great difficulty in accessing justice”.
Crossley said: “When CFAs are removed inevitably there will be fewer claims. People cannot afford to bring them and without Leveson’s recommendations being implemented in full, there’s no sign of an alternative.
“Of course some solicitors will take cases on risk, but it becomes an enormous risk because libel is an uncertain business.”
Crossley said that if the regulation of the press is left to editors, reputation management lawyers will not be advising their clients to litigate. He said Leveson’s proposals for an arbitration system to settle disputes would “bridge the gap to access to justice”.
If there is no underpinning legislation, Crossley added, “reputation management lawyers, or those that act for victims of press inaccuracy or intrusion, see no improvement in the way clients can be compensated or protected”.