“Justice delayed is justice denied,” is a mantra of our law firm, as evidenced by a landmark case Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield has been involved in for nearly 20 years.
In 1989, when Casey Gerry took on the representation of 1,000 fishermen involved in the Exxon Valdez oil spill, attorneys at the firm had no idea that the case would endure for 18 years.
We also never imagined when the catastrophe occurred that the victims would have to wait this long to be compensated. In fact, in Casey Gerry's more than 60-year history -- the firm dates back to 1947, when my late father, David Casey Sr., founded a small law firm to provide quality service for plaintiffs in civil litigation and personal injury cases -- no case has lasted longer or had more appeals.
In addition to justice delayed by a major corporation, the Exxon Valdez case demonstrates something that marketing-astute firms have known for years: continuity and longevity are important for any type of business, but are especially critical to law firms.
Unfortunately, with a trend toward mergers, takeovers and closures, the heyday of the locally based decades-old firm is diminishing. When large local law firms dissolve, merge or simply collapse, it is truly a loss to the civic and professional community -- such firms are often tireless community contributors and leaders in the local bar. It is also a loss to multigenerational clients, and a true detriment to cases in which there are countless appeals, which often endure for years.
In an increasing PR and marketing savvy business environment, many law firms wisely focus on their history and longevity to demonstrate continuity, reliability and consistency. History provides substance, and enables firms to stand out from their competitors. But in addition to the marketing value, there are other important benefits to longevity in a law firm.
An enduring relationship with the judiciary is an important outcome of any law firm with history. Judges get to know the firm's reputation over the years, and become familiar with its attorneys and their work, which ultimately benefits the clients.
Law firms with longevity also have the benefit of a veritable hall of fame -- past partners with decades of expertise. For example, T. Michael Reed, a former Casey Gerry partner and renowned trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience -- still serves of counsel to our firm, providing invaluable expertise and acting on a consultative basis with firm lawyers in preparation for trial, developing trial tactics and during trials.
Firms with a past often have a long list of accomplishments and have played an important role in events with historical significance. A colorful, illustrious past instills a sense of pride in both partners and employees -- a boon to all. As examples, the Exxon case; the pro bono program for families of Sept. 11 victims and California's high profile $25 billion settlement with the tobacco companies, are all high profile cases to which Casey Gerry has contributed.
In addition to boosting employee morale and pride in the firm, longevity is most importantly an asset to clients, in particular those who have long-term needs. In the Exxon Valdez case, because of the continuity of our firm, we are still actively involved in an all aspects of the ongoing litigation. Although many of the fishermen have since passed away, we have continued to represent the interests of their spouses and children.
Five years after the catastrophe, a jury awarded a class of 32,000 plaintiffs -- among them fishermen, business, processors, natives and others -- a verdict in excess of $5 billion as retribution for the massive oil spill, which followed the crash of the oil tanker.
Numerous appeals have ensued, but Casey Gerry has continued to be instrumental in the resolution of this case, remaining committed to the fishermen's cause -- despite numerous delays by Exxon.
In a long-awaited move for many, in 2007 a federal district judge in Anchorage, AK, ordered Exxon to pay nearly $4.5 billion in damages. Not surprisingly, the case is still on appeal, and has recently been submitted for consideration to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If our firm had been of short duration, these clients may have given up. A law firm lacking longevity could not have been involved in this case. We have been able to help support the rights and the dignity of these fishermen, despite the passing of the years.
The bottom line? When hiring a law firm, one needs to ask: “Will this relationship last? Will this firm be able to see my case through?”
History is an important asset for any law firm, despite its size or specialty. It demonstrates that clients -- and employees and past partners -- appreciate your services and expertise and are willing to continue enduring partnerships throughout the years.
Casey Jr. is a Senior Partner at Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield LLP.