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When a crisis strikes, your law firm’s reputation – potentially the lifeblood of your organization – is at stake. Whether you are faced with layoffs, malpractice, attorney departures or bad financials, underestimating the potential hard and soft costs associated with a crisis, including the speed at which it can escalate online, can be devastating. To help you prepare and implement a crisis communications strategy that protects your firm’s public reputation, we offer this Crisis Media Policy template. Please feel free to tailor it to meet your firm’s particular needs. And when you are ready to bring crisis communications to the next level, or if a situation escalates and you have questions about how to handle the media and online influencers during a crisis, please contact us.

[Firm Name]’s Crisis Communications Policy

During a crisis, it is critical to develop and follow a plan. As you know, the traditional and online media, as well as other online influencers, play an important role in how our firm is perceived, both internally and externally by our clients, prospects, laterals and recruits, and the general public. This policy will help us manage our reputation when we are faced with sensitive situations. If you have any questions about this policy, please contact [Name, title] at [e-mail and phone number].

Establishing the Team

The crisis communications team will consist of firm leadership, essential attorneys and appropriate staff. Once formed, this team will develop a comprehensive plan for managing all crisis communications – both internal and external. The plan will include:

  • Selecting and preparing the media representative(s). No one is authorized to speak with the media except for the designated representative(s). No matter how experienced the media representative is, he or she must participate in a prep session on the particular details of – and approved messaging for – the specific crisis.
  • An organizational chart of the team will be prepared with descriptions of the role of each team member.

Firm management will appoint a team leader and alternate team leader.

Developing a Plan

  • Gathering information
    -  Create a summary of basic crisis details
    -  Consider all audiences to be considered in communications planning
    -  Consider the timing of all communications
    -  Consider the media channels of all communications
  • Gather all updated firm information in one place, including: fact sheets pertaining to the specific situation, general firm fact sheets, and documents on the firm itself. These documents should always be kept up to date and ready for any emergency.
  • Determine what elements of the crisis the firm will comment on and what elements will be left for commentary by others. In the event of a crime, for example, there may be others outside of the firm who will act as representatives for certain elements of the crisis.
  • Spell out the plan to work with the media on a specific crisis, deciding all available options and affected audiences and which approach is the best option. Outline the best strategic option in detail. Include a time line for deliverables. (Note: ([Name] in our [marketing/communications] department is the contact person for all media inquiries, but is NOT the spokesman/spokeswoman.)
  • Written communications. Decide what is necessary and prepare media statements or press releases as appropriate, as well as any internal communications.
  • Synchronize internal and external messages. Prepare all internal communications (written or verbal) with the same messaging as the external communications, and announce the news to the media as soon as possible after it is communicated internally.

Developing an Online Strategy/Plan

It should include:

  • Assigning an individual to monitor all social media and online publications for mentions of the crisis issues in real time. Consider Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Defensive search engine optimization – have a resource at the ready to implement DSEO tactics as appropriate.
  • Developing approved online content that can be used to quickly respond, if deemed appropriate, to online commentary.

Important! Stick to the plan, but be aware that there are outside factors that may influence timing. Once a detailed internal and external communications strategy has been developed, stick to it, but understand that we may need to be flexible with our timing. In the past one could not allow media inquiries or rumors to dictate the timing of the plan; however, we now need to be wary that rumors can spread like wildfire via social and other media, and remaining silent until we are ready may only give the rumors a bigger head start. While we may need to adjust timing, the one thing that we should not need to adjust is our messaging. We will determine all possible questions that we might receive ahead of time and be prepared to respond when appropriate with a defined list of messages that will be used to deflect any potential questions that may be asked.

Any attorney or staff member who is contacted by a reporter or blogger must NOT answer any questions, instead:

  1. Say: “Thank you for contacting our firm. Let me take your information and I’ll make sure the right person gets back in touch with you.”
  2. Ask for the reporter’s full name, affiliation and contact information
  3. Refer the reporter to [Name] in our [marketing/communications department] at [phone] or [e-mail]
  4. Immediately alert [Name] in the [marketing/communications] department and pass along all relevant reporter information.
  5. [Name] will evaluate the inquiry and work with the designated firm representative to address the reporter’s needs.

Following the guidelines set forth in this policy will ensure that the firm is prepared if/when a crisis situation occurs.