Friday, May 22, 2009

Crisis Management Questions: Working With Attorneys (Part 2)

Some things to think about:
  1. Only one in every 100 cases (civil or criminal) ever gets to trial. That means the odds are very high that a case will be settled, arbitrated, or dropped. Failure to communicate until the attorneys discover that the case is not going to trial can cause serious customer, employee, victim, and senior management problems.
  2. In the new world of the citizen journalist, which virtually nowadays includes employees, friends, and self-appointed bloviators and commentators of afflicted companies and organizations, someone is always willing to tell your story when you hesitate to tell it yourself.
  3. Techniques such as crisis Web sites can be very effective in managing much of this extraneous information and activity, ultimately mitigating and often scripting outside chatter.
  4. If there’s a question, take it to the boss. Lawyers are staff advisors just like communicators. The ultimate decision is made by the boss. If the boss allows the attorneys to turn you down, then move on to other serious issues. Make your case to the boss sensibly, based on what you know is going to happen and what you know needs to be done. Once the boss makes the decision, you need to move ahead on that decision until the next opportunity to challenge it or amend it arises. Avoid taking these decisions personally. Be professional.
  5. A trend in legal practice, occurring for some time, involves the addition of lawyers who were formerly communicators to legal teams to preserve the privilege against the vulnerabilities communications can create for litigation. However, from what I’ve seen thus far, there are two problems. First, one is either a lawyer or a communicator. It’s impossible to be both at the same time. Second, I have yet to meet a lawyer-communicator who really worked for the client as much as they worked as a communicator seeking acceptance from fellow attorneys. The vast majority of communications work is not protectable anyway. Having a lawyer-communicator on the legal team involved in non-protectable activities, threatens the privilege for other legal matters, concepts, or ideas that could be protected. I think plaintiffs attorneys, and prosecutors, know this, too.
  6. Lawyers need retraining in external communication skills because they learn a combative vocabulary and verbal style that flows through into all their communications. The real benefit of sensitive, compassionate, positive thinking communication inside and outside is often lost through imposing a “legalistic” style. Generally, a very different vocabulary and strategy is required for public communication. The aggressive, adversarial, negative approaches used in courtrooms create the exact opposite impressions in the Court of Public Opinion. Frankly, I don’t believe the combative and negative approaches work in the courtroom either, but that’s an argument for another day.

There are specific instructions I give clients about working with attorneys. It is currently in revision, but look here for news of this interesting document once it’s ready for distribution.

If you need this document sooner rather than later, contact me directly at

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