Don’t Let a Winning Legal Strategy Lose in the Court of Public Opinion

Allow us a moment of personal privilege: We were thrilled last week to be inducted into The National Law Journal’s Hall of Fame for Crisis Management and Overall PR.

So we thought we’d share a little about how we approach a legal crisis in partnership with attorneys. When facing these issues, even the most sensible legal strategy can inadvertently damage a company’s reputation if it does not adequately account for public reaction. We believe communications strategy foremost must support the legal case, but here are a few ways strategic communications can avoid common reputational pitfalls:

  • Avoid “no comment.” Many lawyers instinctively want to say as little as possible publicly, but silence can come with reputational risk. To avoid perceptions of evasiveness, guilt or lack of control – and to help prevent adversaries and allegations from driving the public narrative – there are legally safe ways to build trust or reassure stakeholders. Don’t underestimate the value of communicating corporate values, reaffirming guiding principles or making a commitment to remediate or better understand the situation.
  • Don’t just pass the buck. Pointing the finger at other responsible parties often makes sense to minimize legal liability. But the “others” often are your clients, customers, business partners or employees. Carefully consider the potential impact of such strategies on important stakeholder relationships before hanging others out to dry.

  • Don’t deny the obvious. There’s nothing wrong with a vigorous legal defense. But obstinate refusals to concede widely accepted facts can look disingenuous and damage public trust. When determining how to preserve important legal positions, consider whether the approach undermines your credibility or if a strategic concession might win points for reasonableness.