More and more, as public relations practitioners, especially if you work with clients on crisis communication, you will work with attorneys – either the client’s in-house attorneys or outside counsel. Bill Ojile, an attorney and partner at Armstrong Teasdale and former GFM client, recently met with the GFM team to share his insights on how to effectively work with legal counsel.
According to Bill, lawyers’ jobs are to make people uncomfortable, to ask a lot of questions and to be skeptical. He also noted that lawyers don’t write for everyday people, and they don’t write for the media; they write for every contingency. With that said, how do PR people and lawyers co-exist and together create the very best communications and outcomes for their mutual clients? Bill provided the following tips for how to navigate the legal waters:
Read more after the jump…
During a crisis, it is important to engage legal counsel early in the process both for strategy and to preserve attorney-client privilege.
Many crises start out as legal issues or will lead to legal issues, and it is important to protect your strategy and communications from the other side. Here are a couple of quick tips to help, but remember that everything you say in an email or write down is likely discoverable.
Quick Legal Checklist
- Include legal counsel in strategy calls
- Include legal counsel in all
correspondence, particularly when developing strategy and content documents
- Get sign-off on strategy and communications from legal counsel
- Get regular updates from the legal team on case developments, particularly on upcoming legal events that may garner media coverage
Read more after the jump…
Managing a crisis and a company’s reputation is much easier and more effective when the PR team and legal counsel are on the same page.
To help this relationship work, here is a list of qualities that each side need from the other.
Qualities An In-House Lawyer Values In An External PR Firm:
- Experience: Having a member of the PR team whose worked as a reporter was invaluable in translating the process. What was the reporter looking for? What would he accept from us?
- Resilient: Working with a reporter on background takes persistence and the willingness to go back repeatedly if necessary on issues. They can’t give up and provide the reporter with an excuse to report an inaccurate or unbalanced fact.
- Responsive: A media crisis is a 24/7 grind. Media appreciate getting immediate responses to questions and issues. (It is also a two-way street.)
- Tough: Someone you would want with you in a bar fight.
- Teachable: Work with someone who will get beyond sound bites and wants to understand the details and background. This will involve a desire to dig in and learn about the company and how it does business.
Qualities a PR firm values in Corporate Legal Counsel
- No schadenfreude: leave the legal language for pleadings, not the media or communications to non-lawyers. In a crisis, a good lawyer will know less is more for messaging.
- Value PR: Understanding the proactive and reactive role of public relations, particularly during a crisis, is valuable, and counsel knows it can preserve or help rebuild a company’s reputation. The court of public opinion is just as valuable as the actual courtroom.
- Cool-headed: A crisis can have many different lifecycles, and keeping calm with a focus on the end goal is appreciated.
- Open-minded: A PR response can be much different than a legal response in a crisis, while both have similar goals.
- Backbone: During a crisis, an executive may want to either go out swinging or say absolutely nothing. A good legal counsel will offer a better perspective, and a more moderate and effective approach. Remember: you want to win the war, not the battle.
PR qualities courtesy of Bill Ojile, Partner, Armstrong Teasdale, Denver office; former Chief Legal Officer Alta Colleges