Crisis management

In today’s world of high-stakes litigation, it is not often that the need for effective advocacy is confined to the courtroom. It typically requires advocacy in the court of public opinion.

It is no surprise that businesses, public interest groups and leading entrepreneurs increasingly look to law firms to create multi-dimensional, multi-layered strategies that advocate for them in the public square. Many law firms engineer carefully crafted plans to advance their clients’ interests and protect their most valued asset, their brand.

The regulatory arena, legislative environment and news media are all touchstones of effective advocacy in bet-the-business litigation, working in coordination with one another to help clients achieve successful outcomes.

As many clients realize, crafting a public narrative can no longer fall solely under the purview of public relations agencies or a corporation’s in-house communications department.

According to recent press reports, the legal community has awakened to the “new” normal:  issues and crisis management should be a fundamental component of any high-stakes advocacy plan. There are many advantages for clients when that function is managed by law firms.

The fusion of legal and communications resources can produce more compelling, effective advocacy—enabling clients to favorably posture themselves, mitigate reputational damage and have a voice in the telling of the stories that define them.

What’s more, lawyers who manage issues and crisis management are able to help clients gain strategic advantages in their advocacy and recognize improvements in operational efficiencies, including cost-savings.

When communications professionals are deployed within law firms, the resources are more quickly and readily available. They are unencumbered by the drag of expensive “ramp up” periods often required by PR firms—which often renders the messaging “late” and diminishes its effectiveness.

There is also an inherent advantage in having law, media and politics all directed under the umbrella of the attorney-client relationship. The advocacy can be coordinated and responsive— working in alignment with a client’s legal objectives, elements of which might not be fully appreciated by a siloed PR firm.

Seeing the Vision

A handful of law firms that were early entrants in the world of crisis management practices—specialized work groups that help clients navigate the media landscape, engage in the regulatory arena and advocate in public forums.

In 2001, we launched our practice group—after outsourcing certain elements of the public relations function during much of our firm’s formative years. We often explain that we made the decision because we were driven to do so by the demands of our commercial litigation practice.

In short, we realized that the most significant cases on our docket not only generated media attention, but invited regulatory scrutiny, sparked shareholder inquiries, and were a catalyst for stakeholder engagement. Our clients facing the “all-or-nothing” proposition of bet-the-business litigation often turned to us to navigate them through treacherous waters of news cycle advocacy.

The truth is many CEOs and GCs of major Lone Star corporations—or those from companies with a significant footprint in Texas—know that effective issues and crisis management is key to advancing their interests, managing exposure and positioning their companies for success. They appreciate the importance of public opinion in shaping outcomes, including litigation.

More Than a Call Center

Effective crisis management is about more than media relations. It centers on the ability to assess and manage a client’s most critical elements of public exposure. How do clients protect and advance their position, posture themselves for success, and protect their reputational interests? The answer lies in courtroom and public advocacy that works in concert, not conflict.

Public relations is about more than press engagement. It involves projecting your external voice as a gateway into informing and influencing key audiences. That includes customers, employees, shareholders and other influencers who can impact long-term success.

The aim of the lawyers who operate in high-profile cases is to provide advocacy in all forums.

Advocacy is made more successful by ensuring the legal strategy and messaging are consistent. Crisis experts should manage the immediate issue or concern but with a forward-looking vision that helps clients anticipate challenges, leverage long-term opportunities and protect against reputational harm. They need to see the forest and the trees.

With this in mind, we employ former news reporters, crisis experts and lobbyists to help understand the landscapes in which our clients are involved. These professionals can provide strategic counsel not only in connection with high-profile litigation, but also in anticipating and responding to a wide range of reputational concerns.

They understand that the news cycle is in perpetual motion—with websites and social media driving the need for “rapid response” advocacy that is best understood by those who have firsthand experience confronting its demands.

From Competitive Advantage to Competitive Necessity

Having crisis communications skill sets in-house provides law firms with invaluable expertise, perspective, and insight into the analysis of each client’s circumstances.

When public relations is stitched into the fabric of the advocacy, the practice can efficiently influence and improve the development of each case or crisis.

Put another way, law firms that operate as issues and crisis managers offer an added level of advocacy—one that is uniquely creative, responsive and influential.

What was once a competitive advantage for firms and their clients is quickly becoming a competitive necessity, as valuable as any other weapon in the attorney’s arsenal.

William A. Brewer III is managing partner at Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors, with offices in Dallas. His practice operates at the intersection of law, business and communications. In 2001, Brewer pioneered the development of an Issues & Crisis Management group that specializes in managing reputational issues for a broad range of clients.