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How to Protect Your Law Firm in a PR Crisis

— April 29, 2024

When faced with the need for reputation management, it’s key to be proactive, and aim to stay in the news for all the right reasons.

When flipping through TV channels, you may have come across a criminal defense lawyer giving a statement about a client accused of a heinous crime. In such situations, the lawyer usually says something like, “Every person deserves their day in court,” or “The facts will speak for themselves.” Although most Americans recognize the fundamental legal principle of being innocent until proven guilty, this only sometimes protects the law firm’s reputation when it comes to public relations.

It is not just criminal lawyers who risk their reputations in the public eye based on the clients they represent. No matter your area of practice or the size of your firm, if you represent a controversial client or handle a divisive issue, your law firm’s reputation could be impacted.

As a lawyer, you must protect your clients’ interests regardless of your personal views or the public’s perception. However, defending controversial clients may negatively impact your firm’s reputation. Read on to learn more about managing your firm’s reputation in such situations.

Plan in Advance

Creating a thorough crisis management plan with your law firm and PR team is crucial to ensure a timely and effective response to any concern that may warrant such action while avoiding liability. By preparing ahead of time and following guidance from an experienced PR team, your law firm can minimize the impact of the crisis and take quick action to lessen any potential damage. Taking a strategic approach crafted by your PR team is essential, considering all possible scenarios and developing a plan that addresses them accordingly. Speed is critical, but it’s equally important to prioritize accuracy and thoroughness in your law firm’s crisis planning process. With a well-thought-out crisis management plan in place, your law firm can be confident in its ability to navigate any challenging situation that may arise. Below are some helpful tips on staying proactive.

  • Determine your spokesperson. It will be helpful if this person is media-trained, as they will need to respond to the press with consistent and clear messages.
  • Identify your audiences and what or who matters to them. Once you’ve chosen a spokesperson, you need to determine who they’re speaking to. Your audience can be internal or external, such as employees, vendors, clients, customers, or even the general public, depending on who requires information and updates about the crisis in question.
  • List all the questions. Reporters are not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions, so it is a good idea to list any questions you think they’ll ask in preparation; even if you doubt that they will ask a specific question, list it anyway and prepare a way to answer it. 
  • Avoid ‘No Comment.’ In the world of communication, “no comment” is often used to avoid addressing issues, but it can also be interpreted negatively by those reading or listening to the crisis. If your ethical obligations prevent you or your law firm from crafting a well-thought-out statement or comment, it may be best to remain silent until the storm has passed.

Re-building Your Law Firm’s Image

When faced with a controversial client, it may not always be possible to address the issue directly. However, there are still steps that your law firm can take to safeguard its reputation in the long term. Throughout the representation of the controversial client and in the weeks and months after the matter is resolved, it is crucial for your firm to remain involved in positive community outreach and to implement proactive strategies that reflect positively on your brand.

If you notice negative reviews or comments about your firm online, it’s essential to take action by encouraging your clients to share their positive experiences with your practice by leaving reviews on Google, Facebook, or Yelp. Also, highlight your law firm’s community involvement in philanthropic work. For example, if your firm regularly donates to a local organization or participates in a charity event, continue participating in those initiatives. Your law firm may consider hiring an SEO (search engine optimization) agency specializing in law firms to help you optimize positive mentions and help your law firm create content to outrank some less favorable search results. 

Understanding Emotions in Strategic Messaging

During a crisis, attorneys and law firms often prioritize the facts and rules over emotions. However, public relations experts understand that emotions play a crucial role in such situations. While it’s true that the facts are essential, lawyers can work with PR experts to craft messages that limit drawbacks while also conveying empathy and understanding. If your law firm’s only aim is to avoid the media and only provide ‘no comment’ comments, you may come across as cold and insincere, which could cause significant and long-lasting damage to your law firm’s reputation.

Lawyer Suspended for Excessive Filing, Wasting Court's Resources
Photo by Ruthson Zimmerman on Unsplash

Law firms must balance emotion with honesty. When given the opportunity, a good rule of thumb is to address the most pressing issue upfront. Of course, this should occur once your law firm’s ethical obligations are over; providing background facts proves your law firm did nothing wrong but represent a client. 

Instead of focusing on “proving your innocence,” it’s important to prioritize strategic communication in crisis management. Public statements should address concerns and provide reassurance to stakeholders. This can be achieved by emphasizing transparency and accountability while conveying empathy or remaining silent until the issue has passed.

When faced with the need for reputation management, it’s key to be proactive, and aim to stay in the news for all the right reasons.

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