Leveraging Your Reputation: Conflict management

Tom Ciesielka is president of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has over 25 years of marketing and public relations experience, working with individual lawyers and midsized law firms. He is also a former board member of the Legal Marketing Association in Chicago and has spoken at Chicago Bar Associations CLE programs.  Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

Some people might think that “preparing for the worst” is a pessimistic way of living. Why should we constantly think about the things that could go wrong? Why can’t we focus on the positive and happily go about our business? The reality is that preparing for the worst doesn’t reflect a half-empty outlook on life; rather, it is a smart business move, especially in the legal industry. Problems arise, and when they do, you and your firm will be much better of if you are prepared and know what to do if and when a problem occurs.

The trick is to be proactive instead of reactive, and the following outlines a number of suggestions on how to prepare for and handle the worst of times, because it can’t always be the best of times.

Have a Plan

Being prepared and understanding the possibilities for crises can help your firm handle them when they arise. Think about the way military trains even when not engaged in war. They are planning and practicing for specific situations so that they will be victorious. Proper preparation involves identifying and analyzing trends, issues and threats in the environment that could affect your firm, creating a strategy and an action plan for implementation and evaluating the effectiveness of this plan. Make sure your attorneys know who is in charge of what, and communicate the delegation of tasks clearly.

Keep Your Cool

When a major problem comes up, the worst thing to do is break down, which has the potential to create a negative ripple effect both inside and outside your firm. A few basic things to remember: be completely honest about everything you say, frequently provide information that is accurate and readily accessible to the public and the media, have a spokesperson available at all times to answer questions and dissolve speculation, and constantly monitor news coverage about your firm so that you can quickly respond to what the public and media are saying.

“No Comment” No-No

Sometimes attorneys are wary of making comments on an unfortunate situation or legal complication due to the fear that something will be said to make the situation worse. Of course there are times when you should postpone making a robust statement about an event or crisis, but always avoid “no comment.” For example, if reporters contact you about a certain situation that you have yet to know about, it is perfectly appropriate to say you will get back to them as soon as you learn more and get your facts straight. However not saying anything at all can actually be worse than saying something due to the lingering possibility for assumptions of guilt or responsibility. Take charge of the situation and be prepared to explain how it will be resolved.

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