When it comes to taking on litigation in the UK, Russian and CIS clients’ concerns may be stopping them from approaching your firm, or even pursuing litigation altogether. But not only is there often a central theme to these concerns – there are also ways of showing clients you understand them.
Litigants from the CIS and former-Soviet Union states, including Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Belarus, Lithuania and Tajikistan, inhabit radically different legal systems. The upcoming oligarch divorce case set for the High Court – in which Natalia Potanina is suing her husband for a third of his £15bn fortune having previously failed in Moscow – reveals how attractive the UK can be for heavy-weight litigations.
Yet many potential litigants wait tentatively on the brink of pursuing legal action in a country they nonetheless deem an attractive place to do so. Why? For some, concerns of the potential outcomes of litigation – particularly in terms of creating a media spectacle – outweigh the advantages of the UK legal system.
One primary concern comes as a result of such potential clients not wanting to commit to a lengthy, costly and stressful process when it will be conducted in a language they may not be fluent in, and in a country whose modus operandi they may not feel fully comfortable with, either. Pursuing litigation even for natives in the UK comes attached with the same set of negatives (about its lengthiness, its costliness, its stressfulness) but add the feeling of not fully understanding the process to the mix and the negatives may just outweigh the positives.
So how can integrating your litigation strategy with your PR strategy turn these concerns into your, and your client’s, advantage?
Control the fear of media interest
As is commonly the case with litigation, potential media interest remains a primary concern among a range of possible consequences of the process. For example, the case of Azerbaijani national Zamira Hajiyeva – who spent £16m in Harrods using credit cards linked to her jailed banker husband and then lost a legal battle to the BBC in the High Court to remain anonymous – is an elucidating example of the lengths people will go to avoid media interest and also the risks of using alternative methods in order to do so. Litigants from the CIS region, especially if they seek justice in the UK rather than home jurisdictions, may be particularly disposed to this concern. Your client might want to avoid additional reporting at all cost for business or political reasons. Having the ability to show your client you already fully understand their concern for media interest will demonstrate that you are able to anticipate other concerns they may have.
Create a first-mover (communications) advantage
In some cases, your client might want to be the first to gain media coverage on a litigation to gain a first-mover advantage and build a narrative. One reason for doing this is to avoid having to respond to the narratives of others involved in the litigation. For example, clients stand at a disadvantage when they are forced to respond to the media. Leading the narrative means avoiding an uphill struggle against a negative image, in which litigants will seem as though they constantly have to explain themselves. Having a fully mapped communications strategy, dovetailed with the legal strategy, can ensure that you engage with the media to create an advantage.
Put pressure on your client’s opponent
In certain litigation cases, clients may want to gain an upper hand in the media by putting pressure on their opponent and creating unwanted publicity. While this can be an effective strategy for managing the PR element of a litigation, it also involves risk. Done the wrong way, and your strategy can backfire, and in some cases even into a news-worthy story in itself. For this reason, clients want to be sure that they can trust the validity of their claims in a litigation and have a strategic partner working on the communications element of a dispute.
The added dimension of language barrier or legal unfamiliarity may exacerbate the concerns of your clients. Though litigants may well be attracted to the UK judicial system, they still nonetheless have key concerns that they often want to be addressed throughout the entire litigation process, particularly when it comes to the media risk (and opportunities) inherent in any litigation. Sometimes, all you need to be able to show is “I’ve been in both worlds; I can guide you.”
For more information about our international capabilities, please contact Eugenia Verenko