Securities class action filings rise slightly in 2011 compared to the prior year but remained below historical averages according to the annual study of Cornerstone Research, prepared in conjunction with the Stanford Law School Securities Class Action Clearinghouse, which was released today. A copy of the report can be found here, and Cornerstone Research’s January 19, 2012 press release can be found here. My own analysis of the 2011 securities class action lawsuit filings can be found here.


According to the report, there were 188 securities class action lawsuit filings in 2011, compared to 176 in 2010, and compared to the 1997 to 2010 average annual average number of filings of 194. The two largest factors in the number of 2011 filings were the heightened number of M&A-related filings (43) and the elevated number of filings involving U.S.-listed Chinese companies. (33).


The Cornerstone Research report contains a number of insights about the 2011 filings beyond those that have appeared in previously published analysis of the filings. Among other things, the report notes that three percent of companies listed on the three major U.S. exchanges (NYSE, NASDAQ and Amex) were sued in securities suits in 2011. This represents the highest annual percentage since 2004 and is above the 1997 to 2010 annual average percentage of 2.4 percent.


On the other hand, in 2011 only 3.2 percent of S&P 500 companies were sued, “making it the least litigious year for S&P 500 companies since 2000.” Historically, larger companies have been more likely to be sued in a securities class action lawsuit, and that trend continued in 2001. Thus, while only 3.2 percent of the S&P 500 companies were sued in 2011, those companies represented 5.1% of the S&P 500 market capitalization.


This year’s Cornerstone Research report also contains a number of new analyses, including an analysis of the number of private securities class action lawsuits filed between 1996 and 2011 involving Foreign Corrupt Practices Act allegations. The report shows that there were four such filings in 2011, the highest annual number of filings since 2006 (when there were also four filings).


The report also contains a new analysis of the experience of the judges handling securities class action lawsuits during the period 1996 to 2011. The analysis shows that while there are a relatively small number of judges that handled more than ten cases during that period (65), a much larger number of judges (329) handled only one case, and the vast majority of judges (582) handled only three or fewer cases. The inference is that many securities cases are being handled by judges who are relatively inexperienced with securities cases – although there is also a smaller number of judges that are very experienced with these types of cases.


The report also reflects some interesting insight about the plaintiffs’ law firms’ involvement in these cases. The report sets out which law firms are selected most often as lead counsel in securities class action cases that do not involve M&A related allegations and then separately lists the firms most often selected as lead counsel in the M&A cases. The interesting thins is that the lineup of law firms leading the M&A cases looks very different than the lineup for the other cases. These differences shed some light on the changing mix of corporate and securities lawsuits and the growth in the number of M&A cases, suggesting that among other things the rising M&A related litigation activity may reflect dynamics within the securities’ plaintiffs’ bar.


Speaking of M&A related cases, Cornerstone Research has also recently released a separate companion report specifically focused on M&A related litigation, which can be found here.