Litigation Public Relations — Legal PR Campaign Strategies in 2020 that work
What is Litigation PR? How to Build a Strong Legal PR Campaign, and 3 approaches to Litigation Public Relations in 2020
Reputational threats that accompany lawsuits threaten individuals and organizations alike. When information about civil action leaks to the public, damaging rumors and misinformed speculation sprout from different corners of the globe.
Previously, brands would refrain from publicizing their legal matters. In today’s society, however, news spreads globally with just a click, hence organizations cannot afford to let unauthorized parties frame stories around their lawsuits. Consequently, there is need for Litigation PR.
What is litigation PR
Litigation PR is a branch within the Legal PR space that endeavors to manage a client’s reputation during a litigation process. The process involves strategic communication before a claim is issued, before the claim reaches court (if the claim proceeds to court), during the court proceedings, and after a case closes.
How to do litigation PR
To manage litigation PR effectively, PR professionals should adopt unique strategies in the three stages of a lawsuit, namely, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial periods.
During the pre-trial stage, PR professionals should seek to build a narrative. Building a narrative can be accomplished via two processes.
#1. Inviting journalists on key trial dates
PR professionals should plot a timeline that highlights dates that are crucial to a client’s case. Specifically, journalists should be invited on dates when a client could get maximum press coverage to bolster their argument. For example, PR agencies should invite journalists to a client’s opening pleading — the date when witness statements are sworn in — to highlight key aspects of a dispute.
At the same time, PR agencies can invite journalists when a client’s legal team cross-examines the opponent. Not only will this step generate media interest, but it will also attract more public scrutiny on the opponent.
#2. Getting familiarized with court rules
Flouting court rules can land a litigation PR professional and their client in contempt of court. Noting the serious ramifications that accompany a contempt of court verdict, litigation PR professionals must follow the rules of engagement. Knowing when to speak about a lawsuit to the media is a major rule of engagement in litigation PR. At the same time, being acutely aware of when legal documents and the information therein can be publicized is an essential armor in litigation PR.
Considering that the particulars of a claim are publicized before any physical court date, litigation PR professionals can start building a client’s public narrative while waiting for more information.
During the trial stage, distributing factual information about a client’s case is of utmost importance. To shape the narrative around a client’s case, litigation PR professionals should release court documents — after they’ve become public — accompanied by a well-crafted narrative on the contents of the document.
Adhering to the set rules of engagement is also vital at this stage. Given that litigation PR must not try to circumvent court processes, litigation PR professionals stay within the confines of the law. That’s despite what an opponent throws at a client.
Often, lawsuits destroy a client’s reputation, regardless of the verdict. Thus, communicating effectively plays a part in preventing further damage to a client’s reputation. Assessing the extent of damage to a client’s reputation is key to rebuilding their name.
In today’s highly-interconnected society, initiating or responding to a lawsuit draws boatloads of attention and external scrutiny to a brand. Within hours of a lawsuit being initiated, businesses find themselves plastered all over the news.
The resulting publicity can adversely affect a brand’s financial stability as its brand equity is eroded through viral speculations. This requires the adoption of effective communication strategies throughout the litigation period.
Litigation PR pros work with a brand’s legal team to determine the most appropriate PR strategy for the client’s case. To protect the client’s reputation and air their version of the story, in such a way as to reach key stakeholders, selecting an appropriate PR strategy is important.
Thus, PR strategists in a lawsuit can adopt one of the following strategies.
#1. Proactive public relations
With proactive litigation PR, communication experts seek to attract media and public attention to their client’s case. Often, this strategy enables a client to generate public support, putting pressure on the opponent to agree to a quicker resolution.
Since the media keenly follows court cases, it’s important for litigation PR pros to spread their version first; thus, shaping the way in which their client’s case is viewed. Staying ahead of a client’s opponents on mainstream and social media plays a crucial role where readers and thought-leaders require clarifications on the litigations.
Proactive PR in litigation can employ different tools. First, litigation PR can use geographical audiences to shape perceptions around a client’s arguments in a lawsuit. Finding third parties that share a client’s views and who can help turn a narrative in a client’s favor is vital.
At the same time, litigation PR practitioners should adopt background briefings for journalists. This approach provides journalists with a detailed understanding of the case. Background briefings make it possible for journalists to have the full picture of a court case; thus, allowing them to publish in-depth stories once information is made public.
#2. Reactive PR
In the event that opponents in a lawsuit rush to the media, when they have a relatively weak position in the litigation process, waiting for journalists to come seeking comment is tactically better. With the reactive approach, litigation PR pros use a convincing version of the case to highlight weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the opponent’s version.
Whilst the reactive approach can be effective, it requires swift and strategic actions to help a client control the narrative while communicating their views.
#3. Settlement PR
Given the high costs associated with litigation, settlement PR has become the norm. The settlement PR strategy employs two approaches. The first entails a preemptive attack on the opponent’s reputation or court arguments prior to a trial. The preemptive approach forces both parties to settle their differences before the public is alerted about the litigation.
The second approach in settlement PR involves pushing an opponent to settle the terms of a verdict after a client wins a case. A winning client puts reputational pressure on the opponent to encourage them to settle the terms of a verdict or dissuade them from seeking expensive and highly-publicized appeals.