Microattacks, Media and the Rule of Anything:
Litigation Challenges in the Cosmos
Fulton County Daily Report 10.05.09
Once upon a time there really were lawyers who said “No comment” from the courthouse steps.
This was about the same time that publicity in the legal profession was poison. “We’re not going to try this case in the newspapers,” said attorneys from Wall Street to College Avenue.
In the days before Johnnie Cochran and Bill Gates, news coverage meant mostly criminal matters. Court coverage was almost all about criminals. Civil matters were rarely reported outside of the occasional hometown divorce.
But time, intensifying Mergers and Acquisitions, regulatory activism and, above all, the Internet, have ended those quaint days. More and more attorneys call in public relations. The primary role in the rising practice of Litigation Communications: “Expect Anything.” And be sure you:
- Draft an interim statement that will allow you to answer any media inquiry about anything related to a suit whenever one comes up.
- Under no circumstances say “no comment.” Or “we haven’t seen the suit.” Or “we don’t comment on any matter under litigation.” That first lost its power when spats lost their market share, and the latter two work only in tandem with other remarks that demonstrate confidence and a willingness to cooperate with all interested parties.
- Take charge of your story. If you don’t, someone else will. The fortunate team is called in months ahead on a preventive basis to work up a general crisis plan. Most of us arrive only slightly before the shouting starts.
- Take care of the boss. The wounded client needs special attention in any litigation planning. Communication of his personal positives can offset the hounding a defendant takes when the attack packets from the plaintiff firm start arriving at the family home.
- Never let the CEO run any crisis. He has a company to run.
- Realize that fundamental to the entire work of the communications team is research. Research used to mean two days in the library producing five good news clips. Now it translates into two hours on the Internet producing five hundred clips of unknown worth. That requires good judgment to know which clips are gold. (Clue: word counts count. Another clue: the price of a subscription is a key indicator of information quality.)
- Progress still requires review by that unbeatable team of young researchers and experienced minds every day; gathered at the same table to pore over the daily results, they keep the larger Joint Defense Team abreast of events.
The transforming power of technology shows no signs of hibernation. The bench may have something to say about how it interacts with life inside the courtroom someday, but probably not too much. The curbside and the courthouse steps of yesterday are now the cosmos.