PR For Lawyers
About The Author
Following several years in journalism, Emily has spent the last 10 years leading comms projects for FTSE 100 and 250 brands, after starting off in the charity sector — working with organisations such as The Big Issue and Oxfam. Emily now leads our Law PR and consultancy teams, and is the executive contact on all our customer accounts.
This is a comprehensive guide to PR for Lawyers.
In this guide guide on PR for Law Firms you will learn:
- How Important PR is for Lawyers
- Reputation Management for Lawyers
- The Threat of Bad Coverage on Social Media
- What The Law Says
- Discretion in Legal PR
- How To Handle Social Media as a Legal Firm
- Specialist Legal Media Training & How it Works
- How to Engage a Legal PR Agency
- Finding Your Tone of Voice
- What Happens if You Say The Wrong Thing
- …and much more.
How important is PR for lawyers?
Like most organisations, a law firm or barristers chambers’ continued success lies in its reputation, and in today’s digital age, where the news cycle moves at an ever faster pace, keeping on top of it can feel like a never ending task.
The right stories, appearing in the right media, at the right time, gives a firm or chambers the gravitas needed for clients to trust them in their hour of need. But, with the various strains involved with working in an industry that is so stretched, who has got time to write a press release once a month or produce an insightful, pithy daily tweet?
PR is an essential tool for legal professionals who want to further boost their image and, thus, incoming enquiries. Being ranked in prestigious directories such as the Legal 500 and Chambers is important but, to reach a wider demographic, media coverage will add to a firm’s general public image. However, such a task needs careful, expert management.
Reputation management for Legal firms
As a Legal PR agency, we deal with both the proactive side of legal PR – gaining our clients valuable column inches and air time – and also the reactive. This means responding to negative media stories or reputational matters on our clients’ behalf, and ensuring that their reputation remains intact when things don’t go to plan (because they don’t always).
On the scales of reputation, a negative comment outweighs a positive one by a somewhat unfair margin and, even when media appearance after media appearance has gone beautifully, a bad slip-up can sometimes send the scales clattering clean over.
Nonetheless, there are steps lawyers can take to minimise damage, and steps that have the potential to cause yet more harm: consider the London chambers whose barrister was stripped of his QC status, disbarred and disgraced, who had still not taken that barrister off their website some three years later.
No doubt the chambers in question felt some loyalty to the QC in question, but, as disloyal as they may have felt, a statement distancing themselves from the QC would have allowed them to retain their otherwise exemplary public image and avoided them getting dragged into a damaging scandal.
Law Firm PR - Case Study
We started working with a well-respected set in London some years ago. Our brief was to boost their reputation outside of Temple with the ultimate aim of increasing enquiries from both direct access clients and solicitors.
Although the set was involved in a number of high profile and important cases, and had an outstanding reputation among their peers, their public image was not as high as it deserved to be. Uprise Legal developed a PR strategy to position them as the go-to set for the areas of law they specialise in, raise and leverage the profiles of leading individuals within the set and build their profile in practice areas where was less well known.
Our ultimate objective was to develop long-term positive association, gravitas and trust, so we started by mapping their target demographic and developing messaging that would speak directly to them before securing media coverage opportunities.
We took control of their social media channels which had few followers and virtually no engagement. Within the first four weeks, we had increased their followers by 21% and were reaching accounts belonging to influential legal correspondents and commentators.
The impact of this work has been seismic; the set now regularly appear in the news, and are frequently contacted by the media to ask for their expert input, rather than the other way around. By laying the groundwork and positioning them as thought leaders in their field, the opportunities for valuable coverage now come directly to them.
On the social media side, they find their followers are growing month-on-month, and each post they put up gains likes and comments from accounts with a much higher reach. They have also received a number of enquiries via social media, which have been sent to the clerks to follow up and convert into paid work for their members.
The growing threat of ‘bad’ coverage on social media
As we know, PR for law firms comes with its own unique set of challenges, but one thing that scares many is social media. While no stranger to the printed press, or indeed broadcast, the legal industry has been among the last to fully understand the opportunities – and the risks – posed by social media, and among that group, it is fair to say that barristers are bringing up the rear.
Utilised correctly, social media has the potential to catapult a solicitors firm of barristers chambers from a name discussed from time to time, to a set recognised outside of the legal echo chamber as one to engage with. Used incorrectly, and they can become a name known by outsiders for all the wrong reasons.
This delicate balancing act is why so few barristers chambers have used social media to its fullest potential – generally using it to post bland statements about the areas they practice in, rather than engaging in a meaningful way with industry peers, the media, and potential clients. Social media can often appear to lawyers a minefield to be tiptoed across or, as often, not ventured into at all.
What the law says
The Supreme Court has noted that social media, and more broadly the internet in general, is not controllable, nor is there the precedent or regulation that exists elsewhere and asserts that the courts must adapt their approach in order to deal effectively with it. The internet is a new phenomenon, relatively speaking, and has not had the regulation and governance applied to it that it perhaps will in the future.
The Government recently proposed new measures that would give it more control over the companies that operate social media platforms, provide a framework for regulation and, more specifically, enforce the removal of ‘harmful’ content on pain of large fines and the threat of blocking the service altogether.
The consultation aims to create a legally enforceable ‘duty of care’ towards social media users and is set to run until 1st July 2019. What might be included in such a framework is debatable, but it seems unlikely it will do much to protect the professional reputations of all but the tiniest percentage of users.
And so the industry relies largely on self-governance, the effectiveness of which, by its nature, varies significantly from one social media platform to another: In theory, the terms and conditions of major platforms like Facebook and YouTube already guard, often very effectively, against ‘terrorist propaganda’, ‘revenge pornography’, ‘violent images or content that might incite violence’, but this isn’t the content most likely to harm the professional reputation of your average barrister.
In practice, with each person having an average of seven active social media accounts, it is easy to understand how, in statistical terms, the average user has a carte blanche to post whatever they want. With the sheer volume of content being published, regulation of individual posts that might potentially harm someone’s professional reputation is simply not realistic.
Legal PR and discretion
Clearly, what a barrister can and can’t say in public, whether on social media or otherwise, is not dictated only by their discretion. Nonetheless, as far as reputation is concerned, there is still significant opportunity to say the right thing, and an equally significant opportunity to get it very wrong.
Most commonly, a barrister’s reputational damage isn’t the result of the kind of ‘trolling’ that certain celebrities and public figures are subject to. More often, we are talking about an errant, misguided tweet, failure to respond to a potentially damaging comment, or responding in a way which itself erodes reputation.
A barrister can rely on the reputation of their chambers, but one’s own reputation must be nurtured, not only in the interests of career longevity, but in the pursuit of excellence, not least because barristers move from chambers and chambers, taking their reputation with them.
PR for Lawyers - Case Study
As well as barristers chambers, solicitors firms and paralaws, Uprise Legal have also become more involved in legal tech, an area of the market which is gathering pace seemingly each day.
We were recently assigned to work with a provider of legal tech on a short term project basis, with the sole objective of getting them the exposure they needed to secure further investment.
Before work kicked off, we had to understand the proposition, the competition, and the audience most likely to engage with the content we would produce.
Where legal tech previously referred to fairly basic functions such as online document storage and encrypted emails, a growing number are now looking to disrupt the industry by using technology to digitalise the criminal justice system.
The HMCTS reform programme is likely to lead to similar processes being implemented acrpss the board, so it was vital that we were fully up to speed with the latest developments to ensure we were presenting our client as a leader in their field.
During this project, our client enjoyed eight pieces of coverage across a mix of trade, national and broadcast media, and successfully secured the funding they required to take their proposition to the next level.
How to handle social media as a legal firm
For a barristers chambers or solicitors firm to have a ‘good’ social media account, there must be regular, varied and interesting content posted, which speaks to their followers. Put another way, even at the most basic level, content must not only be interesting, but likely to reach, and preferably stimulate engagement from those to whom one’s professional reputation and activities is of some consequence.
In the case of barristers, this means appropriate solicitor’s firms or potential direct access clients – and this often means specific individuals. For solicitors, it means appearing in the media most read by potential clients, providing insightful content while ensuring the tone remains approachable.
While in legal terms social media is young, in terms of the knowledge and expertise needed to make it an effective professional tool, it is maturing at high speed. Posting about one’s successes in a specific case, while worthwhile in part, is no longer sufficient on its own.
Lawyers and their public image
As a rule, barristers and solicitors are no strangers to the media. Frequently taking up opportunities to provide expert comment or offer expertise in the legal sections of the mainstream press, legal journals and on television, each time with a view to adding a little well-earned gravitas to their professional reputations.
While most are great speakers, adept at giving colour to even the most technical of matters, a lawyer isn’t always at their best in front of a camera or a grim-faced reporter, and suddenly, best intentions notwithstanding, the end result, and the perception of those reading or watching the interview, doesn’t quite match what was hoped for at outset.
PR for barristers is a different game to PR for solicitors. While solicitors are able to comment on ongoing cases in the media, adding colour and context to news reports, barristers are somewhat hamstrung – only able to give generic comment until a case has concluded.
How does specialist legal media training work?
While most lawyers feel comfortable speaking about their area of expertise with friends and colleagues, many clam up when asked a seemingly straightforward question from a member of the press. The common belief is that journalists are ‘out to get you’, giving the impression of asking innocuous questions while secretly trying to trip you up.
One of the most effective ways to combat nerves ahead of an interview with a journalist is specialist media training, in which delegates are trained by journalists and take part in mock media interviews. This will not only allay any concerns you may have about the format of the interview, but provide you with tips on how to handle any curveballs.
Our media training courses are run by leading journalists and are designed to give delegates practical experience of media interviews, patterns to look out for, and tips for dealing with tricky questions, ensuring you always give your best possible performance.
Our workshops provide tips on how to answer difficult interview questions and teach delegates techniques such as bridging, which prove invaluable when dealing with nerves in the studio. They can be held at a location of your choosing, and we also provide emergency media briefings ahead of last-minute broadcast interviews, which can conducted via Skype if travel or time is an issue.
Engaging a Legal PR agency
The nature of working in the legal sector is that working hours are unpredictable and the work is tough. Whichever area of law you specialise in, it is fair to say that there is rarely a predictable day. While many find this aspect of the job a motivator, it also makes media interviews tricky to schedule and consistent, well-timed social media posts nigh on impossible.
Outsourcing your public image to a third party is an option, but is also an exercise in trust, and if you are considering engaging an agency to represent you or your set in the best possible way, it is crucial that you work with one who understands your field, your target market, and the complexities of the sector.
Securing media coverage is not, in theory, difficult for most lawyers; fulfilling it effectively, to maximum effect and leveraging that effect across social media is an art few have mastered – nor might they want to: already having precious little free time in their diaries.
As the legal sector’s uptake of the digital world increases pace, so too will the competition from other barristers chambers and law firms, each vying for the best run twitter account and the most impactful media presence. In the meantime, though, there is plenty of opportunity to steal a march.
Legal jargon and the power of good communication
Through public relations, complex cases or areas of law can be translated into layman’s terms, making it accessible to the masses who are, after all, the ones likely to engage your services. Features such as this also serve to position you as a true expert in your field – and someone upon whom clients can depend.
As well as promoting your successes, a good PR should also be protecting the reputation that you have worked so hard to build. One negative story in the press or appearing on social media, if not dealt with correctly, could be your undoing.
It is important to remember that, when somebody seeks legal advice or representation, they are generally in the midst of a distressing or demanding situation. This is when your reputation really comes into its own; after all, who would want to engage a lawyer with a tarnished image when they are at their most vulnerable?
As Warren Buffet once put it, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it”.
Finding your tone of voice
Many corporate entities insist upon a tone of voice being established and adhered to by all employees, to ensure consistent messaging across all departments, but in barristers chambers or solicitors firms, this isn’t always so straightforward.
This is mainly because each lawyer has their own practice area or case load, and so are something of an ‘island’. This is especially pronounced for barristers, who rent rooms but tend to work alone on cases.
Agreeing a tone of voice can be tricky, precisely because there are so many individuals and generally a number of practice areas. It is important that your legal PR agency fundamentally gets to grips with the ethos of the firm or set, before developing something that will work across the board.
The next challenge comes with obtaining buy in from all members. Only if you have proved yourself an expert in their field will they entrust you with handling their public image – and rightly so. Trust is not won overnight, or with snazzy presentations, but by really getting under the bonnet at outset and understanding their individual requirements.
Breaking news items are often quite stressful for lawyers not accustomed to leaving court to a media scrum. This is where a good legal PR agency comes into its own. A lawyer may have something important to say publicly on a specific subject, and many may be involved in a high profile case, but may not know how to make the best of the opportunity. At times like this, they will need their PR team’s attention immediately, in order to get the message out quickly and accurately.
It is at times like this that the tone of voice can get lost. A good legal PR firm will be able to extrapolate the key messages from the lawyer involved in the case and translate it into layman’s terms while retaining the agreed tone of voice, before feeding it to the media for maximum exposure.
What if you say the wrong thing?
When the media are pressuring you for a comment, you have to think on your feet. The clichéd “no comment” tactic is not recommended, so what do you do when you know there are things you’re not allowed to say but you’re being pushed for an answer?
The key, as with most things, lies in preparation. Before leaving court, put a call in to your legal PR team and run them through what has happened. If they are nearby, they will come to field questions on your behalf. If not, a lot can be done over the phone.
In some instanced, you may need to engage a crisis comms agency. Our reactive team can be mobilised at any time to assist with any crisis communications issues or questions, and we pride ourselves on being there 24 hours a day.
If you end up saying the wrong thing, it is still possible to salvage things, but you must act fast. Hoping something will go away is a method that only occasionally works, and only if there is a bigger, more interesting story happening at the same time. A good legal PR team will be able to swoop in and help – and one that is linked to a crisis comms agency will be able to reduce the damage done.
The B word
In these uncertain times, many law firms and barristers chambers are – like rest of us – expecting disarray in the case of a no-deal Brexit. Some areas of law, such as Immigration, are likely to have a busy time, while others may be wondering what the impact will be on the number of fee paying clients coming to their door.
It is crucial that in times of chaos, you stand out and are presenting the best possible public image. If you would like to discuss how we can help, please get in touch.
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