On September 6, 2017, Professor Kish Parella presented her work in progress, “Public Relations Litigation,” at the Emory Law Faculty Colloquium. In this draft, Parella explores the comparative advantages of civil litigation as an information mechanism within society. Specifically, she examines the information effects of a particular form of business litigation that she calls “public relations litigation”: the strategic use of lawsuits by corporations against other corporations for reputational repair functions. These corporations turn to litigation when a public scandal arises concerning the behavior of that corporation or, more often, a closely associated organization, such as a contractual partner or affiliated organization. Those organizations associated with the one “in the hot seat” may turn to litigation as a public forum to communicate their side of the story and otherwise distinguish themselves from their discredited associates.
In the draft, Parella explores three main questions: (a) what are the characteristics of this form of public relations litigation, including the relationship between the parties, nature of the dispute, and type of corporate scandal, (b) why do firms invest in this form of public relations communication via litigation when they could accomplish similar objectives through other methods, and (c) is public relations litigation a problem that courts should discourage and, if so, on what basis? The focus of this draft is the second question concerning the unique information advantages that litigation provides compared to alternative sources of the same factual information, including: (a) signaling audience expectations, (b) network advantages, (c) democratic salience, (d) aggregation of information, (e) elevation of information, (f) illustrating “skin in the game,” (g) use of reputational intermediaries, (h) “fake news” and impact on peer information intermediaries, and (i) magnet for media.