In the wake of Bridgegate (the scandal over members of the New Jersey Governor Chris Christie administration apparently causing a traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge into New York City), we are reminded that it is important to have a law firm crisis communications plan prepared should an incident arise. A mishandled crisis can have far-reaching consequences for a person or firm.
To use the Bridgegate scandal as an example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had to respond immediately to allegations of deliberately causing a traffic jam as a political ploy. The fallout has caused reputational damage, with many pundits questioning whether the scandal could have implications for Christie’s anticipated presidential run in 2016.
While we can’t always anticipate the nature of a crisis, we can have a communications plan in place. Here is a step-by-step law firm crisis communications process to follow should a crisis arise.
- Interview all pertinent parties involved.
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.
- Identify a firm spokesperson.
One firm representative should respond to all media inquiries. Be sure all firm employees know whom to contact should they receive a reporter request.
- Develop messaging for internal, external and media audiences.
Communicating with all relevant audiences during a crisis is important. Since you never know when an internal document may be leaked externally, messaging for these audiences should be the same.
- Develop potential Q&As for media inquiries.
This exercise will prepare your law firm spokesperson for any questions that might be thrown at them.
- Prepare a reactive media statement.
In some cases, it is appropriate to provide a written statement in response to the media. This should be a short paragraph that touches on all the key messages you are trying to convey.
- Review and approve messaging with firm management.
Have all communications reviewed and approved internally to ensure everyone is comfortable with the messaging and tone.
- Determine appropriate channels of distribution.
Review the situation at hand and determine if it makes sense to use tools like social media, press releases, etc., to distribute your message.
- Media-train and prepare the spokesperson before interviews.
Be sure your law firm spokesperson knows the facts and is comfortable with the messaging and tone before arranging interviews.
- Coordinate interviews with media.
All inquiries should receive timely responses.
- Evaluate and debrief results, and consider ongoing steps.
Once the crisis has passed, review what worked and what could have been handled differently. Use lessons learned to update the plan and prepare for the next crisis.