Author: Justin Penrose

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Black Letter Communications Blog

Expert pr advice for the legal sector

When it comes to good communications timing, tone, and getting the messaging right for your audience are key. While PR professionals know this all too well, it doesn’t prevent countless high profile PR disasters from happening every year. So, it was with a sense of awe – and extreme sadness as I am a lifelong Liverpool fan – that I saw Jurgen Klopp’s resignation video and subsequent outpouring of love towards the Liverpool manager.

Anyone who works in legal PR will be able to tell you the importance of successful judgments for their clients. Such opportunities for positive PR and bountiful coverage do not come along every day, so it is crucial to maximise publicity and get the message out. Historically legal PRs tended to be told the result of the embargoed judgment which allowed them to prepare a press release or statement ready to be sent out the moment the judgment was handed down.

Circus owner Phineas T Barnum is credited as saying the immortal phrase ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’, but he didn’t consider the car crash that is Matt Hancock appearing on I’m a Celebrity. To be fair to Phineas he was speaking in the 19th century and nobody could have ever predicted a reality TV show appearance that was so misjudged and ill thought out. Whilst watching Matt ‘Westminster’s very own Alan Partridge’ Hancock eat the nether regions of a marsupial may on the surface be amusing for most, there is a serious side that makes his appearance not just a PR disaster, but unbelievably cruel.

There’s nothing that gets the press excited more than a good litigation battle. From tabloid heaven like the Wagatha Christie libel trial, to legal and financial press delights like ENRC v Dechert, high-profile litigation nearly always makes the headlines. As a result, the need to have litigation support in place, both for law firms and clients alike, cannot be overstated and could have long-lasting impact in the court of public perception. 

PR is all about perception and in legal PR I always risk assess every announcement or press release I do for a client. Did anybody risk assess allowing Andrew – a shamed royal stripped of all public duties because of his past misdemeanors – to be beside the Queen? If they did it was incredibly badly thought out, but if the Queen was advised of the PR backlash and insisted he was by her side anyway, then it shows unbelievable arrogance. Sure enough, the limelight was stolen by Andy’s appearance and the headlines were about him rather than his father.

You don’t need to be Greta Thunberg to realise that law firms failing to do their bit for the planet just isn’t acceptable, let alone good legal PR, anymore. Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher found this out earlier this month after hitting the headlines when eco law students launched a boycott of the firm for “shielding corporate polluters from climate accountability”. The pledge was made by members of Law Students for Climate Responsibility (LSCA), a US-based group that collates a ‘scorecard’ for law firms on how much they contribute to climate change

One way businesses can prove that they are doing the right thing is to get B Corporation certification. This isn’t the second team of the Avengers but a badge for for-profit businesses that meet “the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose”. The B stands for ‘Benefit’. You may be surprised – or not – to hear that just three law firms in the UK currently have B Corp status. Despite many a law firm heralding their pro bono work or their quest for justice, very few have followed up their press releases about putting the world to rights with actually becoming B Corp.

We all know the importance of PR and how effective it can be at putting brands in the most positive light, but even the best PR agency in the world can’t defend the indefensible. I have written about football clubs and their shocking handling of PR during the pandemic, but the failed European Super League (ESL) trumped – pun intended as the move was almost Trumpesque in its pure arrogance – all of the shambolic decisions that preceded it. In terms of launches it was one of the biggest PR own goals ever witnessed.

No sooner was 2020 and its seemingly never-ending stream of PR crises out of the way than we have seen another Covid-related PR disaster playing out. Unfortunately, it’s one that helps reinforce the much-peddled image of the fat cat lawyer, which is never good PR for law firms.

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