Revised June 2024
Jaffe

Law Firm Crisis Communications Policy Template

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When a crisis strikes, the reputation of your law firm and attorneys is at stake. Whether you are faced with layoffs, malpractice charges, attorney departures or bad financials, it can be devastating to underestimate the potential hard and soft costs associated with a crisis, including the speed at which it can escalate online. To help you prepare and implement a crisis communications strategy that protects your firm’s public reputation, we offer this Crisis Communications Policy template that you may modify to meet your firm’s particular needs. 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, contact Vivian Hood, Jaffe’s CEO, Public Relations, at vhood@jaffepr.com.


[Firm Name]’s Crisis Communications Policy

Law firms regularly face crisis situations that can affect their reputations, so having a plan already in place to follow is critical for the firm. Potential crises can include:

  • Firm cybersecurity breach
  • Inappropriate behavior or misconduct within the firm
  • Attorney or group departures
  • Death of a firm leader
  • Natural disaster
  • Security incident
  • Claims of malpractice, fraud or other suit against the firm or its lawyers
  • Employment issues, including reduction in workforce
  • Negative financial information
  • Arrest or other public inappropriate behavior of partner, outside the firm
  • Government investigation

During a crisis, it is essential to have and follow a plan that will help organize and manage communications, key contacts, public and internal perceptions, and other actions to minimize negative impact and reduce vulnerabilities. Print, broadcast and online media, as well as other social media influencers and audiences, 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 provides procedures and guidance for how and when to share information when we are faced with sensitive situations. If you have any questions about this policy, contact [Name, title] at [e-mail and phone number].

The Core Crisis Team

When a situation occurs, establish a core crisis communications team, which should include:

  • Firm leadership (Managing Partner and/or selected Executive Committee member/s)
  • Legal counsel, who will advise about legal implications and guide about what can or cannot be disclosed
  • Public relations counsel — internal and an external consultant if necessary
  • Others as necessary

Once formed, this team shall develop a comprehensive plan for managing all crisis communications — both internal and external, per the situation.

Strategic Crisis Communications Process

  • Gather all the facts and create a summary of basic crisis details with names of individuals, dates and events.
  • Identify audiences: clients, attorneys and staff, and others as relevant.
  • Determine any legal considerations.
  • Identify the spokesperson who will communicate with media and other audiences. That person must be calm and confident, be able to take criticism, remain factual and eloquent, and handle being under pressure.
  • Remind attorneys/staff of who is the spokesperson and that no one else should discuss the crisis in any manner with the press, with clients or in social media.
  • Refer to the firm’s Media Policy for established procedures and additional guidance (see the last page for additional reference to this policy).
  • Prepare a list of media contacts and firm’s social media channels where news might be disseminated.
  • Consider other resources, departments or individuals that may need to be involved, such as from HR, IT, financial, social media or others who may be relevant per the crisis.

Key Messages and Press Materials

  • Work with public relations counsel to decide what is necessary to prepare, such as a brief media holding statement, press release, Q&A with succinct talking points for the spokesperson, bios, and photos.
  • Establish whether a compassionate public apology is needed.
  • Align messages with internal communications and social media posts.
  • Determine what elements of the crisis the firm will comment about and what elements will be left for commentary by others. In the event of a crime, for example, there may be individuals outside of the firm who will act as the spokesperson in relation to the crisis.

Media Relations Strategy

  • Prepare the plan to work with the media, considering all options and potential implications.
  • Plan timing of all communications and next steps. Information should be provided internally before being shared externally to media or other audiences.
  • Train the spokesperson to ensure comfort with the interview process, consistency with messaging and the ability to form compelling responses to challenging interview questions.
  • Distribute statement/press materials to key media outlets/reporters as needed, proactively as the situation warrants or in response to specific media queries. Realize that sometimes not responding to a media inquiry might be in the best interest of the firm.
  • Determine whether these materials also should be on the firm’s website.
  • Manage and follow up on interviews as needed, monitor for news coverage about the situation, and share resulting news stories with the core crisis team.

Online Monitoring

  • Assign an individual to monitor all social media and online publications for mentions of the crisis matter in real time. Consider Google and other search engines, LinkedIn, Facebook, X (Twitter), etc.
  • Determine whether it is appropriate for the prepared statement to be shared online as a comment.

Post-Crisis Assessment

  • Have the core crisis team meet to review how the crisis response was managed and provide feedback and recommendations that could be relevant for future firm crises.
  • Identify online reputation damage control steps that might be needed to promote the firm and the overall thought leadership from the attorneys continuously and positively to affect and improve SEO results.

Important!

Be aware that many outside factors may influence timing and the communications strategy. Stick to the original plan but understand that we may need to be flexible and adapt as the situation changes. Timing will be a significant element that we cannot control, but we can control our response and strategy. Rumors and false information can spread virally within hours and continue for days or weeks. Remaining silent until we are ready may give the wrong impression or further damage the firm’s credibility. However, consistency with messaging is imperative, whether shared online or in a verbal discussion, even if timing of the original plan needs to change. Remember that how we handle the crisis is as important as the crisis itself.

Media Policy

(Include direction specific to the firm’s Media Policy or provide a link to the firm’s document location.) At the very least, include these instructions:

No attorney or staff member outside the core crisis team who is contacted by a reporter or other individual seeking information related to the crisis is authorized to speak about the crisis matter. Attorneys and staff must not answer any questions in any manner. Follow these steps 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. Do not otherwise engage in conversation or idle chatter.
  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 spokesperson to address the reporter’s needs, and the best approach for a response.

Download a Word version of the Crisis Communication Policy Template.