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 mid-sized 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
At some point in your legal career, you will experience a problem. Why do I say that? Because it’s inevitable. The seriousness of that problem can vary, of course — whether it involves a client who spoke out-of-line or an attorney who secretly leaked information to the media or the entire firm being in the midst of a scandal.
Thinking about such potential problems begs the question: What can you and your firm do reactively when a problem arises?
Tell your own bad news
If a crisis strikes at your firm, always be the first to tell your own bad news. Setting up a separate website page addressing the crisis or problem creates a simple way for concerned clients and media to get in touch with you and receive information about what has happened or is happening – in your own words. Assure your current clients that they are still in good hands. If you don’t want to create an entire webpage, the least you should do is issue a statement and send it to local and potentially national media. Make the crisis your primary concern and clearly communicate what you are doing to resolve it.
Take the high road
In the fast-paced world of internet communication, it’s likely there will be at least one reporter, one blogger, one website, or one Twitter user that seeks to tarnish your image, especially in the face of a crisis. When this happens, stay true to the legal brand you’ve built and assure your clients, followers, supporters and friends that you are taking steps to make it right (even letting them in on what those steps are). Resist the urge to attack your attackers, because THAT will truly tarnish your image. Instead, reach out to those reporters and ask them what information they would like to know. Helping them understand will help you ease tension and criticism.
Get by with a little help from your friends
As you work to solve the problem(s) and find that your plans A and B are not working, ask for help. Gather teams internally to think of potential workable solutions and resolutions that you might not have thought of yet. Additionally, being open with the entire firm about the problem reinforces a “we’re-all-in-this-together” team mentality which will help keep employee morale steady. Before you know it, your firm will have overcome the crisis and you will be participating as an expert in a panel titled “Responding to Legal Crises: the Do’s & Don’ts.”