Crisis Questions: Working With Attorneys (Part 1)
What is the best way to handle a crisis when you’re involved in impending litigation? That is, you’re not allowed to speak to the press and they’re writing negative articles about your company, because the other company involved is being interviewed and they talk. I’m actually being told to say, “No comment.”
First, tell the boss he or she may need to hire better attorneys. Today’s defense lawyers must know how to operate in an environment of openness and almost constant chatter. The bigger profile a case has, the more people are communicating (especially insiders), and the more quickly one’s reputation and, perhaps, one’s career is defined by silence. Silence is the most toxic strategy in communications. Things happening outside the courtroom can affect what goes on in the courtroom. This is one of the reasons attorneys want so much control. Increasingly, though, these external communications and situational factors must be managed as well. Failure to respond or inform creates a perception of guilt. In this era where, increasingly, everyone is connected, many are journalizing. Failure to speak can be a very toxic strategy indeed.
Second, my attitude with all non practitioners, including lawyers, is that one of my most important responsibilities is to transfer what I know about how communications works in these special circumstances to those who have key roles to play in the scenario. I am teaching constantly. And, of course, the lawyers play an extraordinarily crucial role. What I’m saying is, ditch the attitude. Instead, gain some significant altitude. Look at the value you bring to the entire transaction and all the players, and work to make it work. Attorneys are used to being in control of everything in litigation. It’s pretty hard to challenge that. You have to be pretty good, pretty smart, and ready with some really useful, helpful, new information and approaches to have significant impact.
My goal is that everyone, especially attorneys, learn from what I recommend and talk about. During a recent meeting discussing a complex Web site for a defendant client, as the discussion ended, the lead attorney looked up and somewhat surprised said, “I think I have my opening argument ready now.” My response was, “Before we’re done you’ll have your closing argument, as well.” Arrogance? No, I knew I would help him; and so can you.
More later . . . .