From “Suits” to lawsuit – Caution when there’s no script

Ask a CEO about lawyers and they may see them as a necessary evil, adding clunky phrases into IPO prospectuses and other documents, which might make them legally watertight, but can obscure the message.

However, ask a journalist about lawyers and they will see them as great facilitators, if they are in-house at the newspaper, or a challenge to rise to if they are acting for someone objecting to something they have reported.

When I was a journalist I was often emboldened by my paper’s lawyer working with me on stories to ensure we could pursue the strongest possible line. They challenged me ahead of publication to ensure we were ready for any disputes post-publication.

Given that the almost universal default position of newspapers is to ‘stand by their story’, it was an interesting move for the Duchess of Sussex to sue the publisher of the Mail on Sunday after it published a letter she sent to her father.

The legal merits of the case will be decided in due course, but the decision to take such an action was certainly a brave one, albeit born out of frustration, according to her lawyers, that other attempts to resolve the issue had failed.

The immediate response of the Mail on Sunday was to say it would vigorously defend the case and its secondary response was to splash a Duchess of Sussex story on its next front page.

One ‘rule’ of newspapers is that editors are reluctant to launch campaigns they cannot at least carve out a hollow victory from and at best, win.

The Duchess will have made a similar judgement call before embarking on her action and must be aware of the consequences – including potentially having to herself appear in court, with all the scrutiny that could entail.

Now that would be a story.

Andrew Leach is a former Associate City Editor at the Mail on Sunday

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