Managing Litigation Inside and Out

August 4, 2016

How an in-house team of lawyers can benefit your company

The word “litigation” conjures up the image of courtroom battles — polished lawyers in smart suits with expandable briefcases going head-to-head. While the actual battle can, and generally must, be assigned to outside counsel, you should never discount the need to staff litigation with in-house lawyers who work behind the scenes on the less dazzling but absolutely critical aspects of litigation. Without expert in-house counsel, important details can be overlooked, escalating costs and possibly jeopardizing case outcomes. If your company’s litigation docket is significant, and the topics below seem like Greek to you, then consider adding an in-house litigation team to the budget.

While outside lawyers battle in court, the in-house lawyers are often battling the insurance company for coverage. In-house lawyers are best positioned to pursue coverage simply because of their knowledge of the case facts and applicable insurance policies, history of insurance coverage, and, quite frankly, the fiduciary responsibility to mitigate costs where possible and fight weak coverage opinions with often indecipherable reservation of rights clauses. No company should assume outside counsel will undertake this responsibility.

Similarly, when coverage is afforded, it is critical that in-house lawyers assure that competent panel counsel is assigned to the case, be vocal when inadequate counsel is assigned, and assure that outside panel counsel is keeping you informed and remembering that you, not the insurance company, are the client. Perhaps the most important role for in-house counsel in these situations is intervening at the settlement juncture to make sure that panel counsel is considering the best interests of the company, which may not always align with those of the insurance company, particularly when ugly words like “class action” and “punitive damages” are being bandied about.

Managing internal communications and preventing employees from destroying privilege, which can happen simply by including individuals outside the company on communications that are privileged, is one of the most critical aspects of litigation management. Most employees have no clue how to identify and protect privileged information. In-house counsel acts as the gatekeeper and protector of such sensitive information, the improper disclosure of which, either at the time of the communication or by forwarding a communication at a later date, can single-handedly destroy an otherwise winnable case.

If you are relying solely on your outside counsel to communicate to your employees regarding legal holds, you may not be serving your company well. Legal holds are tricky – in part because drafting a good legal hold letter is dependent on intricate knowledge of the company. In-house counsel is best suited to select the relevant employees to be subject to the hold – because being either over-broad or under-broad creates unwanted risk.

Additionally, in-house counsel is your best bet for drafting a sufficient litigation hold letter that your employees can actually understand and appreciate. Getting your IT department on board with every litigation hold is critical, and no one is better suited to align that aspect than in-house staff.

In many corporate cases, the company’s employees will be deposed and provide testimony. Electing who can and should provide that testimony for a company requires knowledge best held by in-house counsel. Testimony makes and breaks cases and selecting and preparing employees for the task requires inside knowledge.

Keep in mind, your employee witnesses have other full-time duties, and determining who constitutes the best deponents, and rotating them appropriately, is based case by case on the facts and generally best managed in-house. Similarly, while lawyers are the legal experts, the business folks are . . . well . . . the business experts, and clearly best suited to review and verify complicated discovery responses.

In-house lawyers have great feel for which operational staff can best review and verify responses. In many complex cases, multiple business lines are involved, further necessitating an insider to quarterback the full legal defense or offense.

Unfortunately, and particularly in the mortgage servicing space, you and your client may both be targeted in litigation, and your positions are not always aligned and free of conflict. Even when your client is not involved, the client may want regular updates on your litigation docket, despite your need to keep certain information privileged, to satisfy regulators enforcing client oversight of third-party providers. Add in client indemnity requests and all of these issues can create a tangled web between you and your client.

Managing your client and your client’s outside counsel can be sticky when there is an ongoing and successful business relationship between you. Your in-house counsel often acts as the mediator that keeps that relationship healthy, while also protecting the company’s best interest in the ongoing litigation — something outside counsel simply is not as well-positioned to balance for you.

Approximately 95% of all lawsuits settle before trial commences, but determining when to settle and under what terms requires a critical and strategic weighing of the pros and cons, beyond economic cost/benefit analysis.

Knowing when to fight and when to cut losses often requires detailed and intricate knowledge of business operations and overall company risk, along with an expert knowledge of the litigation process in general.

The adage of being penny-wise and pound-foolish can apply to a myriad of litigation, and it is critical that in-house counsel not only analyzes and appreciates the risk and benefits associated with each settlement offer, but also communicates and educates senior management in the decision-making process.

If you want an accurate budget, you must include litigation. If your litigation docket is significant and spans multiple venues then likely so is the number of outside firms you are retaining to handle your cases. The only constant among them is your in-house litigation staff, the only counsel who can best project costs and cost timing on an annual basis and level-set management’s expectations.

Even when you hand-select your own outside counsel, managing that relationship is critical and can be tedious. Extensive effort must be made by in-house counsel to ensure that outside counsel understands the business and the company’s objectives and risks — both case-specific and big picture.

Never assume outside counsel can draft pleadings without close tutelage and review by in-house counsel. Additionally, the task of managing outside counsel’s fees, as touchy as that can be, is critical. Many in-house lawyers began their careers in law firms and can appropriately review legal invoices and billing summaries and have direct and professional conversations with outside counsel to prevent runaway attorney’s fees.

If your company is positioned to receive pre-litigation claims then you have opportunity to avoid costly litigation when claims with merit can be reasonably settled. Use in-house counsel to support the claims resolution process to evaluate both the likelihood that a claim will proceed to litigation if not settled and the likely success of such litigation.

In-house counsel can assist with evaluating whether settlement is an appealing option and crafting appropriate release and settlement agreements in cases where settlement is recommended.

Your best cases are those with the best facts. Your in-house litigation team, particularly those with close working relationships with operational staff, best merge the business operational knowledge with the legal defense or offense, expertly managing a case from start to finish – inside and out.

Source: HousingWire (Managing litigation inside and out [pdf)



Alan Jaffa

Alan Jaffa is the chief executive officer for Safeguard, steering the company as the mortgage field services industry leader. He also serves on the board of advisors for SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Alan joined Safeguard in 1995, learning the business from the ground up. He was promoted to chief operating officer in 2002, and was named CEO in May 2010. His hands-on experience has given him unique insights as a leader to innovate, improve and strengthen Safeguard’s processes to assure that the company adheres to the highest standards of quality and customer service.

Under Alan’s leadership, Safeguard has grown significantly with strategies that have included new and expanded services, technology investments that deliver higher quality and greater efficiency to clients, and strategic acquisitions. He takes a team approach to process improvement, involving staff at all levels of the organization to address issues, brainstorm solutions, and identify new and better ways to serve clients.

In 2008, Alan was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business in its annual “40-Under-40” profile of young leaders. He also was named a NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® finalist in 2013.


Chief Operating Officer

Michael Greenbaum

Michael Greenbaum is the chief operating officer for Safeguard. Mike has been instrumental in aligning operations to become more efficient, effective, and compliant with our ever-changing industry requirements. Mike has a proven track record of excellence, partnership and collaboration at Safeguard. Under Mike’s leadership, all operational departments of Safeguard have reviewed, updated and enhanced their business processes to maximize efficiency and improve quality control.

Mike joined Safeguard in July 2010 as vice president of REO and has continued to take on additional duties and responsibilities within the organization, including the role of vice president of operations in 2013 and then COO in 2015.

Mike built his business career in supply-chain management, operations, finance and marketing. He has held senior management and executive positions with Erico, a manufacturing company in Solon, Ohio; Accel, Inc., a packaging company in Lewis Center, Ohio; and McMaster-Carr, an industrial supply company in Aurora, Ohio.

Before entering the business world, Mike served in the U.S. Army, Ordinance Branch, and specialized in supply chain management. He is a distinguished graduate of West Point (U.S. Military Academy), where he majored in quantitative economics.



George Mehok

George Mehok is the chief information officer for Safeguard. He is responsible for all strategic technology decisions, new systems deployments and data center operations supporting a national network of more than 10,000 mobile workers.

George has more than 20 years of leadership experience dedicated to high-growth companies in the mobile telecommunications and financial services industries, spanning startups to global industry leaders.

George played a senior role in the formation of Verizon Wireless, leading the IT product development and strategic planning team. He led the integration planning for the Verizon merger including: GTE, Vodafone-AirTouch, Bell Atlantic Mobile and PrimeCo.

As chief information officer at Revol Wireless, a VC-backed CDMA wireless communications network operator, George’s team implemented an integrated technology infrastructure and award-winning business intelligence platform.

George holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Eastern Michigan University and an M.B.A. from The Ohio State University. He is a board member of Akron University’s School of Business Center for Information Technology, in addition to an advisory board member for OHTec.

In 2013, George won the Crain’s Cleveland Business CIO of the Year award for his team’s work in completing a major acquisition and technology transformation at Safeguard. In 2015, George’s team was recognized by InformationWeek’s annual Elite 100 ranking of the most innovative U.S.-based users of business technology. The mobile inspection technology developed at Safeguard was selected as InformationWeek’s “One of the top 20 ideas to steal in 2015”.


General Counsel and Executive Vice President

Linda Erkkila, Esq.

Linda Erkkila is the general counsel and executive vice president for Safeguard, with oversight responsibilities for the legal, human resources, training, compliance and audit departments. Linda’s broad scope of oversight covers regulatory issues that impact Safeguard’s operations, pro-active risk mitigation, enterprise strategic planning, human capital and training initiatives, compliance and audit services, litigation and claims management, and counsel related to mergers, acquisition and joint ventures.

Linda’s oversight of the legal department along with multiple compliance and human capital focused departments assures that Safeguard’s strategic initiatives align with its resources, leverage opportunities across the company, and contemplate compliance mandates. Her practice spans almost 20 years, and Linda’s experience, both as outside and in-house counsel, covers a wide range of corporate matters, including regulatory disclosure, corporate governance compliance, risk assessment, executive compensation, litigation management, and merger and acquisition activity. Her experience at a former Fortune 500 financial institution during the subprime crisis helped develop Linda’s pro-active approach to change management during periods of heightened regulatory scrutiny.

Linda previously served as vice president and attorney for National City Corporation, as securities and corporate governance counsel for Agilysys Inc., and as an associate at Thompson Hine LLP. She earned her JD at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Linda holds a degree in economics from Miami University and an MBA. In 2017, Linda was named as both a “Woman of Influence” by HousingWire and as a “Leading Lady” by MReport.


Chief Financial Officer

Joe Iafigliola

Joe Iafigliola is the Chief Financial Officer for Safeguard. Joe is responsible for the Control, Quality Assurance, Business Development, Accounting & Information Security departments, and is a Managing Director of SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Joe has been in a wide variety of roles in finance, supply chain management, information systems development, and sales and marketing. His career includes senior positions with McMaster-Carr Supply Company, Newell/Rubbermaid, and Procter and Gamble.

Joe has an MBA from The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University’s Honors Accounting program.


AVP, Operations

Jennifer Jozity

Jennifer Jozity is the assistant vice president of operations, overseeing inspections, REO and property preservation for Safeguard. Jen ensures quality work is performed in the field and internally, to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations. Jen has demonstrated the ability to deliver consistent results in order audit and order management.  She will build upon these strengths in order to deliver this level of excellence in both REO and property preservation operations.

Jen joined Safeguard in 1997 and was promoted to director of inspections operations in 2009 and assistant vice president of inspections operations in 2012.

She graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in business.


AVP, Finance

Jennifer Anspach

Jennifer Anspach is the assistant vice president of finance for Safeguard. She is responsible for the company’s national workforce of approximately 1,000 employees. She manages recruitment strategies, employee relations, training, personnel policies, retention, payroll and benefits programs. Additionally, Jennifer has oversight of the accounts receivable and loss functions formerly within the accounting department.

Jennifer joined the company in April 2009 as a manager of accounting and finance and a year later was promoted to director. She was named AVP of human capital in 2014. Prior to joining Safeguard, she held several management positions at OfficeMax and InkStop in both operations and finance.

Jennifer is a graduate of Youngstown State University. She was named a Crain’s Cleveland Business Archer Award finalist for HR Executive of the Year in 2017.


AVP, Application Architecture

Rick Moran

Rick Moran is the assistant vice president of application architecture for Safeguard. Rick is responsible for evolving the Safeguard IT systems. He leads the design of Safeguard’s enterprise application architecture. This includes Safeguard’s real-time integration with other systems, vendors and clients; the future upgrade roadmap for systems; and standards designed to meet availability, security, performance and goals.

Rick has been with Safeguard since 2011. During that time, he has led the system upgrades necessary to support Safeguard’s growth. In addition, Rick’s team has designed and implemented several innovative systems.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Rick was director of enterprise architecture at Revol Wireless, a privately held CDMA Wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana, and operated his own consulting firm providing services to the manufacturing, telecommunications, and energy sectors.


AVP, Technology Infrastructure and Cloud Services

Steve Machovina

Steve Machovina is the assistant vice president of technology infrastructure and cloud services for Safeguard. He is responsible for the overall management and design of Safeguard’s hybrid cloud infrastructure. He manages all technology engineering staff who support data centers, telecommunications, network, servers, storage, service monitoring, and disaster recovery.

Steve joined Safeguard in November 2013 as director of information technology operations.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was vice president of information technology at Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana. He also held management positions with Northcoast PCS and Corecomm Communications, and spent nine years as a Coast Guard officer and pilot.

Steve holds a BBA in management information systems from Kent State University in Ohio and an MBA from Wayne State University in Michigan.


AVP, Business Development

Tim Rath

Tim Rath is the AVP of business development for Safeguard. He is responsible for developing innovative growth strategies for Safeguard and developing and overseeing potential partnerships, mergers and acquisitions.

Tim joined Safeguard in 2011 as project director and has filled numerous roles within Vendor Management, most recently serving as director of vendor management, a role he assumed in 2011.

Prior to Safeguard, Tim worked as director of supply chain at PartsSource Inc. in Aurora, Ohio, a provider of medical replacement parts, procurement solutions and healthcare supply chain management technology services. He also has held sales positions with Rexel, ComDoc, and Pier Associates, all based in Ohio.

Tim holds a degree in marketing and sales from The University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. He also earned his FAA Certified Commercial UAS (Drone) Pilot license in 2017.


Assistant Vice president of Application Development

Steve Goberish

Steve Goberish, is the assistant vice president of application development for Safeguard. He is responsible for the maintenance and evolution of Safeguard’s vendor systems ensuring high-availability, security and scalability while advancing the vendor products’ capabilities and enhancing the vendor experience.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was a senior technical architect and development manager at First American Title Insurance, a publicly held title insurance provider based in southern California, in addition to managing and developing applications in multiple sectors from insurance to VOIP.

Steve has a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University in Ohio.