Author: Kerry Jack

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Black Letter Communications Blog

Expert pr advice for the legal sector

The recent news that the wrong couple were granted a divorce after a lawyer at Vardags accidently opened a different couple’s file when making the application was a sobering reminder that mistakes happen, but it’s how you react to them that really matters. This could have gone one of two ways and to be honest, having seen some law firm howlers when it comes to managing embarrassing incidents, I was pleasantly surprised that Vardags did the right thing.

I was fortunate enough to attend the First4Lawyers 15th anniversary celebration in Leeds earlier this month. As I sat listening to the presentations from the First4Lawyers’ board about their journey over the past 15 years, it got me thinking about the role that PR has played in their story, and what makes a successful PR partnership.

Inspiration for our latest blog this month comes from Simon English, financial editor at the Evening Standard writing for Roxhill. His recent article, A doomed PR tactic, reminded me how, despite the myriad of so-called communications specialists in government, they often get it so spectacularly wrong. English wrote about Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s visit to Rwanda, accompanied by “friendly” journalists only. The chosen few were: The Times, Daily Mail, Express, Telegraph and GB News. Clearly this was an attempt to punish those outlets not in support of the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, and to secure only positive coverage. But, as English pointed out, social media was out in force to hold the government to account.

What makes a good news story? Good question. And one that has become increasingly difficult to answer in recent years. Major events such as Brexit, the Covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis have dominated the headlines, leaving little room for anything else. The political circus could, at times, have filled a rolling news channel by itself. All these have changed the mainstream news landscape immeasurably, legal media to a lesser extent, but the bar for both remains high. With more than 25 years’ experience working in legal PR and with the media, theses are my top tips for achieving coverage.

Legal journalist Catherine Baksi (@legalhackette) raised a few eyebrows this week with her tweet about a law firm press office. It read: Absurd that @lathamwatkins will not give me, a journalist, the email address of the person at the firm who deals with enquiries from the press. I point out the absurdity and am told that they can’t give the address to me because it would breach privacy!
Aside from hoping a law firm would have a basic understanding of privacy law, it highlights a not uncommon problem amongst law firms which seems to have got worse since the pandemic.

Law firms are constantly looking for ways in which they can differentiate themselves in a hugely competitive market. Plenty of firms will state that they are innovative, forward thinking and client-centred, but to stand out enough to win and retain clients, firms have to go much further. Those responsible for driving much of this work are the marketing and business development (BD) directors. Their position in the firm is quite unique, working across all functions, practice areas and sector groups they provide a 360° view of the firm.

West Ham coach David Moyes found himself in the spotlight last week for all the wrong reasons. In going ahead with choosing a player (Kurt Zouma) who was filmed kicking his pet cat in front of his children, Moyes gave the following defence: “My job is to try and win for West Ham and to put out the best team for that. My job is to pick the best team for West Ham and Kurt was part of that team”. For a man of Moyes’ experience, and for a club the size of West Ham, both really should have anticipated what happened next.

Recent research has revealed just how much the media landscape has changed over the past five years, with brands having to compete harder than ever before for shrinking press opportunities. Research from Brands2Life and Media Measurement found that there were 21% fewer articles published by top UK media compared to five years ago. During the same period brand-led stories fell by 28%, with ‘big issues’ dominating, accounting for 44% of all media coverage. For all brands, from supermarkets to law firms, it means having to fight harder than ever to secure coverage.

Handling a communications crisis is always something you hope won’t happen, but it can be more valuable in the learnings it brings than any text book. I now specialise in legal and litigation PR, but in a different life I had a very wide-ranging career in PR and corporate communications both in agency and in-house, working in a government department, a charitable foundation and a university. I am not sure whether you could call me unlucky or I’ve just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I have worked through plenty of crises during my career, ranging from small-scale and local to large and global.

is it worth law firms entering awards and if so, which ones? What are the benefits from a PR perspective and what makes for a winning entry? Over the past 10 years, the team at Black Letter have worked with clients to secure a wide range of award wins for chambers, law firms, individuals and teams and these are questions we have been asked many times.

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