Matt Cairns on Why a Closed File is a Good File

Textron’s Matt Cairns is leveraging more than thirty years of defense work to bring fresh eyes to the in-house counsel role

Matt Cairns, Associate General Counsel, Textron

Matt Cairns spent thirty-one years in private practice in New Hampshire, defending corporations, insurers, and individuals in civil litigation. “I was trying cases at all levels of state and federal court as well as administrative agencies,” Cairns says. “Those cases ranged from the absurd to the mundane to the complex.” Working out of a smaller jurisdiction like New Hampshire meant that specialization wasn’t necessarily a possibility; instead, the variety of products, defendants, and plaintiffs offered a more holistic view of litigation. Now associate general counsel for litigation at Textron, Cairns has a chance to put more than three decades of compiled client knowledge into serving just one client.

Since coming to Textron in January of 2018, Cairns says he’s tried to provide a new set of eyes on a role that his predecessor spent sixteen years in. “It’s tough to come in and replace someone who has been here that long,” Cairns admits. “My goal has been to identify the things that have worked really well and keep doing those while also looking for opportunities to adapt to new expectations and new environments.”

Matt Cairns, Associate General Counsel, Textron

Going in-house meant venturing into a new environment for Cairns, who says he’s already learned a big lesson about big data. “One of the things you don’t appreciate when you’re in private practice is just how data driven your clients are,” Cairns says. “From this perspective, I have certainly started to appreciate the importance of the outside law firms we work with having data to support their evaluations of cases and jurisdictions.” Cairns is working to educate Textron’s outside counsel on the need to provide that data and to be ready to report on key statistics—such as average settlement costs or product liability claims in a given county in a given time period—that can help Textron’s legal team assemble and assess its own strategy.

Cairns has also endeavored to improve Textron’s legal processes. That has included helping to revise billing guidelines, working to redefine the roles of paralegals and assistants, and using technology to better connect with outside counsel. Internally, he has strived to better collect, maintain, and evaluate information. “A closed file is a good file,” Cairns says of the product liability work he oversees. “What we’re trying to do is figure out more efficient ways to get from the notice of claim to the closed file.”

“One of the things you don’t appreciate when you’re in private practice is just how data driven your clients are.”

Getting to a closed file might mean early resolution—or it may mean going to trial. “We’re always looking for an exit ramp off the [trial] highway, but sometimes you wind up having to just barrel down the road,” Cairns says.

While improving litigation processes is certainly aided by Cairns’s extensive experience, when it comes to the business of Textron, the lawyer says there is a learning curve. “I’m learning from the finance and insurance departments all the time,” Cairns says. “Just learning about the business is so important because litigation is just a small part of it. You have to figure out how it fits into the overall company objective, particularly with a company as diversified as Textron.”

And while it seems that after thirty years of private practice work, old habits would die hard, Cairns says he learned a long time ago that defining a win is a lot more than winning a case. “I once lost a case where the plaintiff was asking for a million dollars and they got three thousand instead,” Cairns illustrates. “In all objective measures, even though it says we lost, we won.” Developing his own success metrics at Textron means learning to be more agile, gain familiarity with the organization, and continue to find ways to put his thirty-one years of defense experience to work at Textron.

An Organized Defense

Matt Cairns says being involved in legal organizations has offered him the chance to work with the finest minds from around the world. “I have the distinct privilege and honor to have been the president of the largest of those defense-oriented organizations, DRI,” Cairns says. From that organization along with the Federation of Defense & Corporate Counsel, the International Association of Defense Counsel, and a host of other groups, Cairns has not only been able to learn from others but also mentor the next generation of lawyers.

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Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP:

“I’ve known Matt for over 20 years—his approach to litigation is strategic, collaborative, and innovative. He’s always available to mentor young lawyers and does so graciously. It’s an honor to work with Matt.”

—Chuck Stewart, Partner

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Nelson Mullins:

“Matt brings an intellectual curiosity to his work, but he also focuses on practical solutions. He manages his outside counsel team to maximize their specific strengths and deliver efficient and effective results for Textron.”

—John Kuppens, Partner