Once upon a time, the phrase “global coordinating counsel” was a bluff. It meant that a firm was defending hundreds of cases for a client in the United States and had recently been asked to kibbitz on one little case filed in Belgium. The guys with a marketing bent seized on this opportunity, replacing the phrase “national coordinating counsel” with “global coordinating counsel” to make the role sound bigger and badder.

That’s no longer true.

As we’ve noted before, the world is becoming a more litigious place. Class actions are now a routine feature of Canadian law. American class actions have been exported to Australia. The EU is now considering proposals for “collective actions” of various types. With those changes, the phrase “global coordinating counsel” has taken on new meaning.

For several decades, sophisticated defense counsel have had to have a general sense of the laws of all fifty states, which permitted them to navigate in an environment of slightly inconsistent laws.

Today, sophisticated counsel must increasingly develop a sense of the laws of many countries, to advise clients in a changed world and to minimize the expense of truly global litigation.

Consider just a couple of examples. When a mass tort starts in the United States, counsel is likely to oversee a massive document (and e-document) collection and review process. To minimize costs, that document review should be performed just once, for use in all later cases.

In a global environment, that’s easier said than done. The law of attorney-client privilege, for example, is very different in the United States, Canada, and the European Union. If the junior associates (or staff attorneys, or contract lawyers) performing the privilege review when the first cases are filed are told only the American rules of privilege, then documents may be tagged in a way that’s useful domestically. But when documents must be produced in other countries, big chunks of the review process might have to be re-done to ensure that the production complies with the laws of other countries.

So, too, for the law of trade secrets, which is not uniform around the globe.

And the rule protecting data privacy in some countries may forbid the production of information that American lawyers would routinely produce domestically. Or those rules may forbid producing in American courts data that were generated or maintained in Europe.

We’re not the first to notice that the world is becoming flat. But “global coordinating counsel” must take care to avoid having clients be flattened by the cost of re-doing document reviews that were first conducted only with an eye to American law.