What Does Kirkland’s Embrace of Contingency Work Mean for Smaller Firms?

July 22, 2019

Kirkland is the name that launches a thousand articles, and that’s just what happened last week when the firm announced its new plaintiff-side contingent fee litigation practice. Industry experts rushed in to decipher the meaning behind this surprising move (and of course stuck around to talk about the connection some Kirkland attorneys have to the original plea deal at the center of the Epstein sex trafficking case—a day without a Kirkland story is rare indeed!).

Most of the analysis so far has focused on why Kirkland has decided to take on cases like these. Are they really doing it for the reasons they offer in the Bloomberg article, that they want to bet on themselves, their deep bench and their record of wins? Or is it a way for litigators to increase their share of profits in the wake of a 2016 reallocation of partnership shares? With the trend toward arbitration and settlements, does Kirkland simply want to get a share of the shrinking litigation pie and/or increase the suite of services it offers to current clients in order to keep them happy? Maybe all of these factors played a role in the decision.

But we’re equally interested in the impact the behemoth’s entrance to this market will have on the small and mid-size plaintiff firms who currently handle the majority of this work, many of whom are our clients. From a communications standpoint, those firms will need to think carefully about whether to adjust their strategy to account for this game-changing move. After all, Kirkland did not begin taking on this work quietly but instead chose to make a big media splash. Why? And what kind of response does that require from its competitors?

While Kirkland is the biggest kid on the block—with, arguably, the strongest talent and resources—smaller, scrappier firms with a long history of tenacious representation of plaintiffs still may have an advantage when it comes to winning this business. Firms can put that advantage to work by positioning themselves as the superior choice and speaking directly across various channels about what they can provide that Kirkland can’t.

Industry analysts will be watching to see how this pans out, whether Kirkland really pursues as many cases as it claims to have its eyes on. We’ll be watching—and ready to help!—the firms who have built their names on this work and can craft an effective media strategy that helps them guard their business and continue to grow.