In some communications and legal circles there is the perception that public relations and legal services are always at odds with each other. The classic cliché is a PR person proposing crazy idea after crazy idea to only be shut down by the lawyer in the room because it could open the organization up to a huge liability.
This might happen in some cases, but more often than not the goals of public relations firms and law firms are aligned. At the heart of it, both are interested in protecting the reputation of the organization.
There’s no case where this is more prominent than in a crisis communications situation. At The Fearey Group, our crisis communications practice is built on strong relationships with law firms. One of the first questions we ask when a client reaches out for crisis communications needs is whether inside or outside counsel is in the room. The main reason is that we want to make sure everything we do from a communications perspective is focused on reputation management and repair, while also being aware of current and future litigation risks.
What our client says in the media through press conferences, statements or even social media has the potential to be used in legal proceedings. That means every internal or external document should go through legal review, even if it has been approved by the public relations team and executives.
Outside crisis communications situations, law firms and public relations can go hand in hand to raise awareness of the expertise areas of that firm. Lawyers are some of the best subject matter experts to put in front of media to explain a complex issue. They understand the law at hand, or how the law is going to change, and the impact that could have on different constituencies. The key for lawyers is to remember in these situations that they’re not in the courtroom and to speak directly to the average individual. But, regular media training and message rehearsals with the public relations team can help address that.
While the relationship between PR and law firms might bring up the idea that there could be tension, the opposite tends to be the truth. Law firms that regularly work with PR firms and visa-versa quickly realize the value that each brings to the table to help a client achieve its goals. Together they have the best interests of the client at hand. It’s a relationship that is necessary to help organizations through both good and bad times.