Law Firm Communications: Three Suggestions for 2010

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 (October 2009) and The National Law Journal (September 2006) or at

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.

New Study: Corporate Lawyers Can No Longer Separate Legal Strategy from PR Activities

Here’s Part 1 of a new study on corporate counsel and litigation public relations, courtesy of Michele DeStefano Beardslee, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Miami School of Law.

Her project “investigates the emerging trend of general counsels acting as legal PR managers for legal issues facing large publicly traded corporations and the potential impact that the eroding distinction between legal advice and PR management could have on the legal profession.”

In the opening, Professor Beardslee writes:

“Today legal controversies are tried in the “court” of public opinion as much as in any court of law. Corporate lawyers’ traditional tendency, however, has been to attempt to compartmentalize legal activities from public relations activities. Accordingly, they have viewed media considerations as separate from those involved in providing legal advice, and corporate lawyers’ typical media strategy often has consisted of no more than “no comment.” Given today’s saturated media culture, this is no longer a viable strategy. Indeed, there are indications that some corporate lawyers are adapting to the new media environment and attempting to help their clients manage the public relations impact of legal
controversies. ”

I could not agree more with Professor Beardslee’s summary and hope this study stimulates wider discussion among corporate attorneys, outside law firms and those in marketing and public relations who advise corporate clients and the law firms.

The full study will appear in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics.