When a lawsuit comes to the attention of General Electric Co.’s litigation group, the Early Case Assessment (ECA) process springs into action. The matter gets logged into the legal department’s tracking system. Within 60 days to 90 days, lawyers assigned to the case identify and interview witnesses; collect, review, and report on relevant documents; and assess the risks. The attorneys can also tap into a system designed by the legal department’s technology team and pull up any legislation or case law that could affect the dispute. Ultimately, the litigation team can decide, early on, whether it’s best to settle or take the case to trial.

The ECA is quintessential GE Legal, combining legal know-how with state-of-the art tech (and a geeky name) to make the lawyers’ jobs more efficient. It’s also part of a core philosophy at the Fairfield, Conn.-based company — a belief in the power of preventive law. Early case assessment, tracking cases’ cycle time (how quickly they are resolved), and using alternative dispute resolution methods (such as arbitration and mediation) have resulted in a dramatic drop in litigation and fees over the last four years. GE says its litigation costs fell from $120.5 million in 2002 to $69.3 in 2005. “We spend a lot of money right up front [analyzing cases], but I can’t imagine an instance where knowledge of a case doesn’t pay for itself,” says Alexander Dimitrief, vice president and senior counsel-litigation and legal policy.

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