19 May 2022

Reputation and litigation: what the Wagatha Christie trial can teach us

The Wagatha Christie trial has something for us all – a fractured friendship, revelations born to be clickbait and a footballing legend (or two). But in reality litigation is rarely fun for anyone involved.


Whilst the tabloid-style content is entertaining for the casual observer, the darker side to having personal grievances played out in a public arena is currently being highlighted in the bitter and bloody Depp vs Heard trial. And with the court of public opinion still very much out in the Vardy case, there are some key principles that businesses can take from this affair.

1. It’s never only going to be about the issue in question

As Peter Andre learned to his detriment, legal teams will make best use of related issues from the past to demonstrate habitual practices or tendencies towards a certain behaviour, no matter how damaging or long forgotten they might be. Businesses and individuals involved in any litigation must get ready to respond to multiple lines of questioning and for their character or culture to be hauled under the spotlight. The Depp vs Heard trial has seen this play out in a painfully personal fashion, with every aspect of their mental health and the toxic relationship being broadcast in real-time to the world.


2. Keep your friends close

Wayne Rooney’s revelation that the FA reportedly asked that Rebekah Vardy “calm down” coming close on the heels of a former FA employee calling her evidence “simply untrue” in the press, shows the importance of having advocates to support your case. Credible friends who can vouch for your character in public (whether inside or outside the court) offer a valuable reputation boost.


3. Keep the media even closer

The court of public opinion matters almost as much as the actual litigation process. Here in the UK, court proceedings aren’t televised so those involved are reliant on the journalists in attendance to pick a side and tell their story to a captive public audience. It’s much easier to get someone on side when you know them or have taken the time to brief them with interesting content. In short, get to know the relevant media in advance of the trial, be helpful to them and keep them close throughout proceedings.


4. Preparation is the most important thing

Zara vs Prada had its media moment but for the individuals involved in litigation, the most important battle is in the mind. A legal fight can sometimes get ugly – the opposing sides and their legal teams have an interest in making the other’s life as hard as possible. It’s vital to be mentally prepared for this and to have rehearsed all possible lines of questioning and responses to them in advance. A calm, reasoned response will diminish the impact of even the toughest question.


5. The facts don’t always matter 

The media will tell the most attention grabbing and salacious story almost irrespective of the facts and, as we have seen with Depp Vs Heard, many of the technical and detailed facts of the case almost don’t matter. This is especially true of the Judge’s verdict, as there is not always a clear winner in these cases. You may feel you won on many counts, but one impactful finding against you can dramatically shift how the decision is portrayed in the media and throughout the court of public opinion.


While most litigation won’t be front page news for days on end, the long-term reputational impact of legal proceedings can have serious repercussions for the individuals involved, and even call into question a business’s licence to operate. Our specialist litigation communications team provide strategic support and counsel when legal disputes have the potential to impact reputation, working to minimise exposure, control the narrative and protect your reputation. To find out more contact our Head of Crisis and Risk, Barnaby Fry at [email protected] / +44 (0)7768 475 452.

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