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July 23, 2012 / Admin

Keep Close Contact with Class Members

When litigating class actions it’s sometimes easy to get distracted and consumed by lofty legal issues and briefing. However, I try to never lose sight of the fact that my case affects real people who have been injured, many of whom want to be apprised of the status of the case and to play an active role in its successful outcome. Moreover, when I talk with class members, I’m energized and become a better advocate for them. Class members help me focus on the right issues, assure me that I’m on the right track and frequently offer words of thanks and encouragement. These conversations reinforce that I’m striving to make a difference in the lives of real people.

There are many opportunities to keep in touch with class members during the case. When clients are first retained, I ask them whether they know of other people that have been similarly affected and ask that those persons contact me. Then, I know that the case truly impacts more than just my client. One of my first goals as class counsel is to obtain a list of possible class members. In California, the law is now clear that Plaintiff’s counsel is entitled to equal access to the putative class as defense counsel. Better defense counsel no longer waste their client’s money fighting to disclose this information, Rather, they either provide a class list directly to Plaintiff’s counsel or agree to the send out a notice to the class from a third party administrator which gives putative class members the opportunity to opt-out of having their contact information disclosed to Plaintiff’s counsel. Typically, very few people opt-out and virtually the entire class list is produced. Often I’ll get calls directly from some class members upon receipt of this initial notice. I have a questionnaire prepared and begin setting up a database of information for those persons who call.

Immediately after getting a class list, I send a letter to those persons who may fall within the class to inform them of the allegations being made in the case and claims of recovery requested on their behalves. I also ask them to contact me to discuss their experience with the defendant. My letter tells them who to contact at the firm and provides phone numbers and email addresses. In some cases, a toll-free number and separate email address is established just for that for the case. However, when communicating in writing to class members, I always keep in mind that my written communications will almost certainly fall into the hands of defense counsel because some class members (particularly in cases where the class includes current employees) either are not sympathetic to my efforts or they feel an obligation to disclose the communication to their employer.  Accordingly, I strive to make my communications accurate, neutral and ensure that they do not disclose work product.

Maintaining contact with class members also helps me gather declarations to show to the court why the case should be certified and has merit and how it impacts lives. It also allows me to line up those witnesses who can best tell our case at trial. Once the case certified as a class action, I request that the court issue notice promptly to the class and follow-up with another letter after the opt-out period expires. This strengthens my bond with my new clients. When speaking with class members, I ask for their email addresses to allow me to update them on the case inexpensively via email.  Class members who have taken the effort to contact me about the case tell me they appreciate my efforts to reach them and like to receive updates about the status of their case.

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