The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio will surely be most remembered for Ryan Lochte’s infamous drunken escapade. The exposure of Lochte’s lies overshadowed the games as the world watched in awe. Shortly thereafter, his reputation went down in flames and may never fully recover.
This incident is a reminder to everyone, including law firms and attorneys, that lying will get you nowhere, especially when facing a potentially salacious situation. A great example is the lawyer and her husband who were charged with scheming to defraud firms out of millions of dollars. According to the suit, she and her husband billed firms and clients for work that never actually happened. Unfortunately, headline news like these examples still happen far too often.
Here’s how to avoid becoming the next Ryan Lochte.
Think Before Acting
Did Lochte really think he would get away with this? Like celebrities, sports figures and politicians, attorneys are held to the highest standards – in fact, perhaps even more so. Law firms are involved in high-stakes issues, so what some might see as harmless behavior can become a big deal. It takes just one inexcusable or controversial act to ruin your reputation. For attorneys and law firms, it is important to pause and consider the long-term impact when faced with a potential dangerous situation.
Honesty Is the Best Policy
Had Lochte told the truth at the onset, the fallout might have been different. Sure, his sponsors probably still would have dropped him, but he might have had a chance to save his reputation. Let’s not forget the downfall of Dewey & LeBoeuf, where former partners were charged with lying to investors before the firm filed for bankruptcy protection.
Lochte’s apology was too little, too late, and his attitude only prolonged the media coverage of the saga. Admit your mistake, take ownership and don’t make excuses. A genuine apology goes a long way.
Communication Is Key
You never know when you might end up in hot water. However, having a crisis communications plan in place will ease the pain and ensure you have your bases covered. Law firms can use this step-by-step guide for developing a crisis communication plan.
It is imperative to have all of the facts straight at the onset. Be sure all of the details add up, because the last thing you want to do is provide incorrect information. Communicating with all relevant audiences during a crisis is also important. Since you never know when an internal document may be leaked externally, messaging for these audiences should be the same.
Trust Is Hard to Regain
Lochte has lost our trust and has a long road ahead – but we all love a comeback story. Michael Phelps is a great example, demonstrating that it’s possible to rebuild trust even after misconduct.
Lochte has been banned from swimming through next June and will forfeit $100,000 in bonus income for his drunken encounter in Brazil.
The moral of the story: Misbehaving may be embarrassing, but lying will get you nowhere, especially within the legal community.
Are you facing a crisis or want to prep in case one comes up? Contact me, Lisa Altman, at firstname.lastname@example.org.