Plan to Protect Your Law Firm’s Brand in 2020

At this point it’s not a matter of whether a crisis will hit your law firm, it’s when. Although it may be impossible to predict exact timing, firm leadership can take steps now to ensure that the situation is managed in the best way possible. From large scale data breaches to professional misconduct and illegal activity, we’ve all seen the varied situations firms have recently found themselves and the diverse responses to each. Smart leaders know that having a proactive plan in place mitigates the long-term negative effects of the firm’s brand and the bottom line.

Prepare for a Potential Negative Situation

Preparation means having a thoughtful and detailed crisis response plan in place. A thorough crisis plan is more than a written process. It is a living document that takes into account all internal and external stakeholders and ensures clear communication with each. It identifies a response “team” and provides a roadmap for that team to manage the message. It has steps in place to mitigate an escalation of the crisis.

Begin by bringing together a diverse group within the firm to brainstorm potential negative situations the firm might find itself. This group should include members of firm leadership, younger firm members, marketing and communications, and any outside communication consultants. By bringing varying perspectives into the conversation the group is likelier to uncover a variety of situations. A bonus in this part of the process is that the group may discover areas where it’s prudent to make adjustments now, potentially eliminating a negative situation all together.

Identify Your Crisis Team

Having a strong response team in place is crucial to successful plan execution. Like the brainstorm team, the crisis response team should include a variety of individuals from leadership, practice groups, and consultants. Once a team is identified, members should be assigned specific roles, with responsibilities for each detailed in the written crisis response plan. Once a role is assigned, the team member should have a clear understanding of what is expected of them and should feel comfortable executing their role, should the need arise. Crisis response team roles typically include:

  • Team Leader – responsible for the management of all aspects of the response operations.
  • Spokesperson – serves as the face of the firm during the crisis situation.
  • Communications officer – responsible for the formation and release of information about the incident to internal and external audiences.
  • Team Coordinator – responsible for keeping communications materials up to date to ensure a seamless response.
  • Media/Social Media/Inquiry Monitor – responsible for receiving all media requests and monitoring all online assets.
  • Subject Matter Expert – responsible for providing specific knowledge related to the situation.
  • Legal Expert – responsible for providing legal advice on all aspects of the response operations.

To be sure, not all crisis situations necessitate all team roles. Rather, establishing roles as part of the plan ensures efficiency in responding to the situation at hand.

Identify Stakeholders and Communications Channel

Once you have a list of potential crisis situations, identify any and all stakeholders who could be affected or would need to be communicated with. Stakeholders may include internal audiences such as the firm’s board, senior leadership, specific practice group heads, committees, or IT. External audiences may include the media, clients, referral sources, bar associations, regulators, vendors, or consultants.

The firm already communications with each of these groups in a particular way and that should generally remain the same in a crisis situation. Ensure that the firm also has in place a way to communication with stakeholders in the event of a cyber attack, where email and the website likely won’t be a communication option.

Start Drafting Communications Now

While it remains unknown what the specific situation will be for the firm, drafting several mock or generic holding statements for both internal and external audiences ensures the most efficient use of time when they’re needed. Generally, a holding statement will include an acknowledgement of the situation, facts around what is currently happening, who specifically is involved or affected, and an estimated timeline for next steps.

Shore up Firm Policies

If the firm does not already have a media and social media policy, ensure that one is in place and shared with all attorneys and staff as soon as possible. During a crisis, if a member of the media contacts someone at the firm, contact information should be collected and shared with the team’s identified media monitor. All employees should be clear that no one should speak with the media outside of the identified spokesperson. All employees should also be clear about what is and isn’t appropriate to post or comment on social media during a crisis situation. Any flagged content should be shared with the team’s social media monitor to determine whether a response or other action is required.

Don’t Let Your Plan Collect Dust

A crisis response plan is useful only if it’s up to date. If a situation occurs and no one from the crisis response team is still with the firm, you’re back to square one. The plan should be a living document that is frequently reviewed and updated with individual roles, responsibilities, and new situations.

Investing the time and resources upfront to protect your law firm’s brand by creating a crisis response plan will pay off should it ever be needed. While we don’t know when a crisis will occur, it’s almost certain that one will, and with a response plan in place, firm leaders can feel confident that they’re prepared to tackle the situation and minimize long-term negative impact.

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