Some people think that litigation PR is simply writing a statement or some sort of press release as a response to a lawsuit that an individual or an organization is involved with. Or perhaps even a press conference outside the courthouse, where someone announces that they would be filing a lawsuit.
However, while all of these things can occur during a legal dispute between two parties, litigation PR is something bigger than all of these situations put together. Additionally, specifically for the lawyers that are involved in such cases, litigation PR is a broad strategic discipline.
What is Litigation PR?
Litigation PR is the management of the communication process during litigation, or any other court proceeding, in a way that either affects the outcome of the lawsuit itself or that has an impact on the public reputation of the client.
In a crisis situation, it’s very important for the parties involved, whether an individual or an organization, to communicate properly. This is because most of the time, a case doesn’t even get to reach a courtroom – most legal actions tend to be settled before a trial or any other type of formal adjudication.
Why is Litigation PR important?
However, that doesn’t mean that the public doesn’t hear about the legal proceedings from traditional media outlets, or even through social media platforms. The court of public opinion is where the verdict ultimately lies, in terms of the future public image of the organization or individual that’s involved in a legal case.
Additionally, the way that a legal case is publicly managed tends to have a bigger impact on the perspectives as well as the negotiating positions of the involved parties, when they do end up on the settlement table.
For example, if one of the parties involved in a legal case ends up getting a negative coverage in news outlets, or the public has a negative opinion of the party on social media platforms, this party’s settlement posture is going to be a lot different compared to cases where there has been no public condemnation.
In other scenarios, if one involved party can show the lawyers that they have excellent skills and abilities in handling all of the communication aspects of a case, it’s a lot harder for the other party to share the details surrounding the case with the media, as a way to avert any public attention to their possible missteps.
With the current state of the 24-hour news cycle and the prevalence of social media platforms and smartphones, lawsuits are delivered faster than ever, and then, they end up in front of the public even quicker.
With a successful litigation PR strategy, any damage that a lawsuit can cause is going to be mitigated. This is what makes the difference between a small portion of media coverage surrounding a lawsuit and a full-blown legal – as well as reputational – disaster. The key is to effectively communicate with the right audiences – both internally and externally, and having a litigation PR plan is a valuable defense mechanism against any type of damage to one’s reputation.
Meet the Family: Litigation PR
Litigation public relations refers to the broad range of communications strategies available in the midst of a legal dispute, typically used to affect the outcome of legal proceedings or to manage the impact of a dispute on a clients’ reputation. In this sense, litigation public relations strategies differ from other PR strategies, in that they are essentially bound to a specific legal dispute rather than a broad bid to raise the profile of an organization or individual.
Indeed, there are several key differences between litigation PR and general PR practices. Here are four of the main points of convergence between the two:
1. Media Dependence
Litigation PR practices are highly dependent on media reporting. While the general practice of PR strategies today go beyond mere media management, litigation PR strategists cannot afford to ignore daily news outlets.
This is due to the rise in media attention given to lawsuits in recent years, especially in the case of high-profile clients. While general PR strategists can afford to keep media outlets as a side consideration, then, litigation PR strategists must devote serious attention to how a legal case will be perceived by public outlets.
2. Strategy, Strategy, Strategy
When it comes to most public relations campaigns and strategies, communications teams can likely afford to take some risk in pushing the envelope: strategies considered risky on day one can often appear like marketing genius by day ten. When it comes to litigation PR strategies, however, the playing field is remarkably changed: legal disputes rarely – if ever – allow room for risk, and litigation PR strategies must follow step with existing legal strategies.
3. Legal Implications
The field of litigation PR is a highly regulated one, in that communications teams have the potential to influence the outcome of a legal process. In court terms, this amounts to prejudice: any wrong outside the courtroom can still provide devastating results when inside it.
Litigation PR practitioners, then, are in a unique position in the communications world. Before giving the final green light to a project, litigation PR professionals must first check that their work does not violate any Contempt of Court laws in the regions and areas in which they work.
4. Winner Takes All
It goes without saying that the structure of legal disputes is inherently adversarial: each case is a win-lose situation, with very few exceptions. Where other communications professionals may seek to build common ground with competitors, then, litigation PR specialists must maintain a combative stance: asymmetrical, one-way communication is key, and the ultimate goal is to bolster the legal strategy and theory of a case.
In this event, litigation PR is typically used to reduce potential damage done to a person or organisation, while also working to skew public debate in the direction of an overall strategy or theory. Far from projecting a common narrative, then, litigation PR specialists must be focussed on one-upping their opponents, setting them apart from their other public relations counterparts.