Some of the most serious mistakes in crisis situations response have one, some or all of four root causes:
This is my advice to clients regarding legal strategies and lawyers:
Attorneys, often by the score, will be involved in this crisis situation. What I’ll describe and suggest in this note is sensible, constructive, actually quite helpful, and will lead to far more prompt and appropriate resolution of the controversies, confrontations, contention and the victimization crisis situations will likely generate.
Legal work in crisis is different. It’s the creation and presence of your victims that makes legal work different in crisis. Wage peace first. That’s because job one in litigation, when you are the defendant, is to settle the case. Stop hiring outside attorneys who are as angry as the boss. Hire separate counsel to start work on settlement immediately. Control and detoxify all legal language and behavior.
Specific behaviors and language to detect and prevent:
Read more: “Destructive Language Decimates Trust”
The only audiences for negative behaviors and language are other attorneys, reporters, bloggers, bloviators, belly-achers, and back-bench-bickerers who need these behaviors to keep their stories going. Act to heal the victims created and prevent more from being created. Victims always win. The more victims there are the faster they win. Victims control the outcome.
Remember, the odds of your case going to trial, civil or criminal, are about 100 to 1 against. Prepare for settlement or other settlement options such as mediation, arbitration, letting cases fall by their own weight, from the start.
Communicators are the ones that are going to save your bacon. Have the attorneys find a way to include them rather than shun them. The vast majority of cases are going to be settled, mediated, arbitrated or dropped. Remember, from the client’s perspective, crisis provides often the greatest opportunity to tell the story of the client’s circumstance, as well as their messages and ideas. Every tough question they gat asked is an opportunity to say more. Communicators can help from the start. This is counterintuitive to attorneys who feel defendants need to be quiet. Why? What for? The case will be settled anyway. The longer it takes to get to settlement the more negative stuff gets into the conversation because that’s the tone generally set by both sides. Be relentlessly positive and you deny your opposition their usual platform of hostility and negativity.
Keep lawyers away from the media. In civil cases let communicators or leaders do the talking. In criminal cases, however, experienced criminal lawyers are generally the spokespeople.
Speed of action and communication beats smart but time consuming cogitation every time. Always let settlement talks drive litigation preparation. The two are actually quite unrelated, as it turns out.
You’re going to be pushed by social media. The most significant change in the crisis communication environment is the speed of social media. The benefit of social media is the ability to say a few important things very briefly, very quickly.
Social media, also, has eliminated any reason why an organization, alleged perpetrator, or potential victim-creator remains silent. No matter how smart, potent, or creative standard legal approaches are, the fact is silence destroys reputations and trust goes right down the drain with the reputation. The reason that so many senior, and top executives are fired during or immediately after a crisis situation is because they cannot explain why (because there is no explanation) they remain silent for even a brief period of time while victims are being created, counted or recovered. There simply is no reasonable or logical explanation for remaining silent. Silence breeds only one question: What are your hiding?
Those who fail to speak, including the innocent, will always be suspect and un-trustable.
Believe it or not, even if all of these ideas are taken to heart by your attorneys, and by-in-large obeyed or carried out, you still must remain watchful. Attorneys are trained to punch whenever they get the chance, to jab whenever the opportunity presents itself, and this means at the very end, as well. Read every legal document and purge those documents of negativity, accusations, intimidation, and whiney excuses.
Really examine carefully every legal correspondence, especially those at the end of the process. You can wage peace the entire time; you can be nice; you can be friendly; you can be helpful to the victims. But then at the very end, the lawyer drafts a turgid, humiliating closure letter that reopens all the old wounds. The attorneys always want to have the last word by reminding everyone that, “Our willingness to settle this matter is neither an admission nor a denial of responsibility.” Yeah, sure.
James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, Fellow IABC; APR, Fellow PRSA, BEPS Emeritus
If you have questions, or would like to dive more deeply into the subject of this blog, you can reach me 24/7 at firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-948-7029 (voicemail, email, text). I look forward, as a friend and colleague, to helping you achieve the objectives you’ve set for yourself for having a happier, more influential, successful and meaningful career.
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