Multifaceted Partnership Shares Knowledge, Reduces Cost and Effort
As part of a company that focuses its efforts on feeding a growing population, Monsanto's legal department is focused on helping the company achieve its business goals. Money spent defending litigation is money that is not being spent advancing those goals, explains Molly Jones, Senior Assistant General Counsel, Litigation. As part of its effort to meet those goals, the legal department has adopted a refined approach to managing asbestos litigation. The Monsanto legal team has partnered with Husch Blackwell, which had been working with Monsanto for many years, and which has had success in toxic tort litigation management nationwide.
"We were looking for an approach that would reduce our costs and risk; allowing our internal team to focus on other litigation priorities while staying fully informed about the asbestos docket to make key strategic decisions," Jones says. Before they began the project, she was getting bills from 17 law firms on 8,700 cases.
Husch Blackwell was ready to step up to the challenge, having restructured the firm along industry lines in 2012. "This allows us to be a true business partner through alignment of purpose," says partner J.Y. Miller. "We get better results if we understand the 'Why?'" Husch Blackwell's team had more than a decade of experience with legal process management (LPM) techniques to manage litigation on a regional and national basis.
Jen Dlugosz, Molly Jones, Michelle Weber, J.Y. Miller
In selecting Husch Blackwell as national coordinating counsel for its asbestos litigation, Monsanto's legal team wanted not only to establish consistency in approach and process, but also to capture and preserve the history and knowledge of long-time local counsel all over the country. Under a fixed-fee arrangement with Monsanto, Husch Blackwell oversees the work of other firms, and manages the overall fixed fee budget. The firm's IT experts built a new electronic billing platform that enables invoice reviewers to ensure that specific activities are within the scope of individual case plans.
"I think Monsanto may have been a little skeptical at the outset," Miller says. "Monsanto's legal team has a very hands-on approach to all litigation impacting the Company, and they understandably did not want to lose that focus on each individual case. Fortunately, we were able to create a model that provides Monsanto's legal team with clear visibility to important issues in its asbestos cases, so they can continue making the key strategic decisions."
The team implemented a strategy of comprehensively evaluating cases and the projected consequences of different courses of action to ensure that resources are directed where they have the greatest impact. Using a proprietary algorithm, a robust analysis and assessment based on more than 100 variables, Husch attorneys assess the risk profile, likely outcomes and alternative paths to resolution of each case. The case is then put on one of several tracks that have clearly defined associated tasks to move it forward, Miller explains. "Every action taken is intentional in an effort to have zero waste," he says. Critical resources are allocated to such higher-value activities as refining trial presentations, building and reinforcing key defenses and responding to novel claims. As a result, the number of active asbestos cases has been reduced by 53 percent, and settlement costs were reduced by 30 percent.
Husch Blackwell's IT team also designed an electronic knowledge management platform to harness and share the expertise and work product gained over decades of experience by local law firms. They spent months collecting historical information, which is compiled into examples and summaries and made freely available to the entire outside counsel network. "It has been really helpful to Monsanto's legal team in evaluating cases," Jones says.
If they were to go back and do things over, Jones and Miller say, they would devote more resources initially to reconciling their different accounting and communications systems. But they also say they learned from the challenges:
"My best advice," Jones said, "is for internal and outside counsel to be open with each other in communications about expectations and deliverables. It's key to pushing through early challenges."