Lawyers are the trickiest clients that reputation management specialists have. Used to advising others, trained to be disputatious and challenging, and invariably the possessors of secure egos, they are often the least receptive to wise counsel.
Admitting fault or even acknowledging distress caused by inadequate service is seen as tantamount to an admission of guilt or liability, and the trigger for financial loss. Even partners in the same firm are often kept in the dark about potential bear traps.
Confidence that lawyers are best placed to advise their clients under media scrutiny is often also fallacious. Increasingly, a lawyer should owe a duty to ensure their clients are protected reputationally as well as legally.
Marialuisa Taddia’s article on crisis management highlights the impact of social media and the immediacy of modern news coverage. Every lawyer is trained to deliberate and not rush to judgement. To take time to reach a reasoned conclusion, supporting their decision with detailed evidence, is the very antithesis of effective reputation management in a time of crisis. Speed, candour and charm work better every time.
Contrast this with the approach adopted in the corporate world where, increasingly, those of us specialising in defending and salvaging business reputations are on speed-dial. Too many partnerships only ring when the story is out. Let us hope this changes as more firms incorporate and learn that, if these skills are not in a law firm’s armoury, they must seek experienced professional help at the first sign of trouble and well before the smelly stuff reaches the ventilating system.
Never lose sight of the truism that a crisis well handled can build client loyalty, not lose it.
Sue Stapely FIPR, solicitor, former head of PR at the Law Society