Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom is advising Huntingdon Life Sciences and its backer, Stephens Group, on their US-based action against various animal rights organisations.
Huntingdon is a contract research organisation that tests chemicals on animals on behalf of a variety of manufacturers. It has increasingly been targeted by animal rights activists and has filed the lawsuit in response.
The violence has led some financial backers to sever links with Huntingdon. Earlier this year, the Royal Bank of Scotland decided not to extend a loan to the company for fear of reprisals from extremist groups. Instead, three US backers stepped in, one of which is Stephens, the investment banking subsidiary of Stephens Group.
A source at the Hertfordshire-based company says of Skadden Arps' appointment: "We needed a firm that could cope with the amount of evidence. There's so much work involved here. We believe Skadden Arps has the resources to deal with it."
The source concedes that security could be an issue for the firm, but declines to discuss it further. But it is understood that some extremist groups have vowed to keep campaigning against Huntingdon, including targeting the company's external advisers.
The action is being launched under the Civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisation (Rico) statute, originally aimed at controlling mob activity.
The lawsuit cites conduct such as physical attacks on employees, death threats, harassment, intimidation and bomb threats. There is also a claim for interference with contractual relations and economic advantage.
The suit requests injunctive relief from the defendants, who include Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, Voices For Animals, In Defense of Animals and the Animal Defense League. Both claimants are also seeking undisclosed damages for losses incurred as a result of the groups' activities.
In 1997, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) was involved in a similar lawsuit that led to the group putting an end to its campaign against Huntingdon.
Huntingdon's executive chairman Andrew Baker says: "This suit represents a next step in the company's initiatives to rein in the campaign of a small band of animal rights extremists who are seeking to destroy our company."