Law firms planning for success in 2010 would do well to consider how their external communications are impacting their reputation and bottom line.
That’s why I recommend that law firms address these three areas:
1) Layoff Announcements — Many firms tried to hide the bad news of mass layoffs during 2009 only to get burned later by the media and influential bloggers through leaked memos and the firm’s inability to develop key media messages that protected the firm’s reputation. Firms should have a media strategy in place before announcing layoffs internally or to the world. Without a media strategy, firms are left with ill-advised statements like “no comment” or “we don’t discuss personnel decisions” — and other media statements that do a poor job of hiding the truth. A simple statement acknowledging that there were layoffs (without confirming exact numbers), that they were due to the downturn in the global economy (or real estate, etc.) , and that the firm’s OTHER practice areas (e.g., bankruptcy and employment law) remain strong (or are even doing better), is a good place to start.
2) Crisis Communications — Aside from the more obvious crisis situations, law firms are increasingly targets of malpractice suits filed by former clients and discrimination suits filed by employees. These kinds of stories often receive more media attention than they deserve but they can still do harm. There’s plenty that law firms can do to prepare for a crisis, respond to the crisis and to rebuild the firm’s reputation once the crisis subsides. Check out my two articles on this subject from Law.com (October 2009) and The National Law Journal (September 2006) or at http://www.LawFirmsPR.com.
3) Social Media – Lawyers need to get over the myth that social media is limited to boring status updates about people’s lives. Those law firms still sitting on the social media sidelines will have a harder time catching up. What I don’t understand is how many law firms spend so much money and time updating their websites but do not see the value of linking those same articles, white papers, speaking engagements, and new releases to LinkedIn, blogs, Twitter and Facebook, to name a few. These are often the same law firms that complain that they are not getting top search engine results. Social media for law firms is about sharing good professional content to build business relationships. But think of it another way. Let’s say there’s someone at a networking event you’d like to meet face-to face. Wouldn’t it be advantageous to research them FIRST on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook before meeting in person? Instead of thinking of social media as something that other people do to waste your time, think of it as a way to do more efficient research on a person or company that could increase your likeability factor — and your ability to get their business.