Why Edelson made a (catchy) music video about class-action claims rates - Reuters - 5 minutes read

Most law firms have a narrow notion of “appropriate” marketing and issue advocacy.

And by that I mean: zzzzzz.

Then there’s Edelson PC. The Chicago-based plaintiffs firm just released a six-and-a-half-minute music video entitled “We Don’t Talk About Claims Rates.”

It’s a parody of the song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from the hit Disney movie “Encanto,” and it strikes me as equal parts improbable and fabulous.

I, for one, can only hope children across the land will now sing of the shamefully low percentage of eligible class action members who file to receive compensation from settlements.

“Very few claims are made by the class/Notice goes out, but claims don’t come back en masse” sing villainous lawyers from an unidentified plaintiffs’ firm (never mind some not-so-subtle hints). “Ignore your unease/Just give us our fees.”

I spoke on Wednesday evening with Edelson founder and CEO Jay Edelson about the video.

My number one question: Just … why?

Some context: Music videos are kind of the firm’s thing. For example, Edelson lawyers released previous ones mocking Big Law recruiting as well as a rap focused on the tension between the firm’s legal work and Jay Edelson’s obsession with volleyball.

Still, the “We Don’t Talk About Claims Rates” video was a substantial undertaking. Edelson declined to say how much money it cost but did tell me that more than 100 hours of work went into the project, with a cast that included a mix of professional Chicago stage actors, Edelson partners Ari Scharg and Eli-Wade Scott, and associate Amy Hausmann.

So again, why do it? Because (hello those of you who think law firm culture is all the same) this isn’t exactly a typical move.

Edelson told me that he sees his firm at the forefront of “a wave of reform” on the plaintiffs-side class action bar.

He’s zeroed in on anemic class action claims rates, meaning the percent of the class who submit claims and receive compensation from a class action settlement. He said those rates often hover around 1% to 2% of eligible class members.

By contrast, last year, Edelson and co-counsel won praise from U.S. District Judge James Donato in San Francisco for developing “an innovative notice and claims procedure that generated an impressive claims rate” in a suit against Facebook. The class action, which alleged violations of Illinois’ biometric privacy law, settled for $650 million and garnered a 22% claims rate.

But the lawyers had to work to get there. Donato denied preliminary approval to the original settlement proposal. Instead, the judge wrote, he “challenged the parties to come up with forms of notice that fit the reality of our online lives. The old methods of U.S. Mail and a print ad were not going to cut it in 2020.”

In response, the plaintiffs team contacted potential class members via direct email and Facebook’s newsfeed. They put notices in the leading Illinois newspapers, created a dedicated settlement website and launched an internet ad campaign on non-Facebook platforms. They even consulted a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University on how to maximize the likelihood that class members would file claims.

Since then, Edelson has written op-eds and spoken at conferences criticizing the fellow members of the plaintiffs’ bar for not trying harder to boost claims rates – though to be fair, the Facebook class had the added benefit of rewarding each class member with at least $345. It’s a lot harder to motivate people to respond when the payout is less.

For example, I knew that I could have gotten $6 as a member of a class against Duracell that claimed it deceptively marketed certain batteries, but I couldn't be bothered to send in the form.

Claims rates aren’t the whole story. I believe class actions have value beyond compensating class members by punishing defendants and deterring future misconduct.

Still, I applaud Edelson for calling attention to the issue and using the video to spread the message.

“There’s something different about the medium,” he said. And indeed, it does attract a new level of attention (er, like this column).

It’s also a way to needle competitors who’ve done far less. As a senior associate in the video cynically puts it, “Our newspaper ads reached 71% of the class! We’re in the clear.”

A spokesperson for trial lawyers advocacy group the American Association for Justice did not respond to my request for comment on the video.

The video also takes a dig at the legal press for trumpeting the dollar value of settlements without taking a deeper look at payouts.

The press “will be gaga over the settlement, $250 million in value we created,” the associate brags.

“But our claims rate,” a second associate responds, only to be interrupted by a partner who says, “We don’t talk about claims rates.”

The unseen hero of the video is Ted Frank, founder of the Center for Class Action Fairness and serial objector to class action settlements that don’t meaningfully benefit the members.

As the villain lawyers sing about keeping their “stats buried deep under the sand” and that doing the “bare minimum, you see, and succeed,” the judge warns, “Óye Ted Frank is on his way.”

The lawyers respond, “Ugh that Ted Frank guy’s the worst, he makes us look so bad.” With a sense of rising panic, they sing “I think I hear him now,” then “Oh no, Ted Frank is here! Ask for a recess!”

I asked Frank what he made of the video.

“I haven’t seen it,” he responded by email. “But it’s flattering to be associated with the issue that my attorneys and I have been fighting for for over a decade.”

Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias.

Source: Reuters

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