By Adrian Ryan - CoFactor Managing Partner; and communication and reputation management specialist
It is vital to have a litigation communication strategy run alongside any legal strategy.
Few things can be as destructive to company or executive reputation as allegations of unlawful conduct made in legal or regulatory actions, such as misleading conduct, sexual harassment, breaches of the Corporations Act, or other wrongdoing. In addition, misinformed or biased media reports of a court case or regulatory investigation can cause more damage at times than the actual outcome. How stakeholders such as shareholders, employees, governments and consumers understand a case, bears directly on reputation and a company’s social license to operate.
It is vital for companies involved in legal disputes to communicate deliberately and in a targeted manner to stakeholders, before and during litigation. An effective litigation communication strategy serves to support a party’s legal position, while providing vital protection to their reputation.
The objectives of effective litigation communications
Litigation Communication is the management of the communication process during the course of any legal dispute or adjudicatory process so as to affect the outcome or its impact on the client's reputation.
Effective litigation communications pursues two key objectives:
- first, to influence the outcome of the legal matter to the advantage of the client by, for example, encouraging early or favorable settlement; and/or
- second, to protect the client's reputation before and during the trial. This may include:
- ensuring balanced media coverage (or counteracting negative publicity);
- making a client’s viewpoint known; and
- helping the media and the public understand complex legal issues.
In this regard, litigation communications is akin to reputation management, i.e. managing public perception of an organisation or individual.
In order to pursue an effective litigation communications strategy, a company or individual (claimant or defendant) that is involved in a civil, criminal or regulatory action can gain a number of benefits from working with a litigation communications specialist.
How a litigation communications specialist helps a client achieve their objectives
A litigation communications specialist serves as a link between a company’s communications and legal teams. A litigation communications specialist will work to ensure mutual understanding of needs and challenges so that communications can help accomplish business goals in light of legal challenges and risks.
A specialist will work in collaboration with legal counsel to create and execute a communications strategy that is aligned with the legal strategy, anticipates major challenges and litigation milestones, and protects a client's reputation.
First, a litigations communications professional will help establish credibility with the media as a trusted information source.
A litigation communications specialist will utilise existing contacts within media organisations, including specialist business, legal affairs and court journalists. They will engage in a meaningful way with the media and have established relationships as a case progresses to trial.
Second, effective litigation communications requires the control of the flow of information to the media so that the right message gets out.
Framing complex legal issues properly and communicating messages quickly and clearly to the public is far from straight forward, and in the digital age, where media coverage often emerges swiftly after any given development in a case, speed and clarity are critical.
Getting ahead of coverage by providing audiences with the documents and facts they need, along with a summary of what you want them to learn from this information, is crucial to controlling public perception of any legal dispute.
Litigation PR specialists are differentiated by their ability to distill the complexities of a particular court case into an easily digestible format for the media and their audience.
An experienced professional understands what makes a story; and how to get it to the right audience at the right time.
Third, a litigation communications specialist will develop a message that supports the client’s position and get that message out to your key stakeholders, including the media.
Integral to effective litigation communications is developing a core message and then targeting specific stakeholders that will be most helpful in reaching target audiences. Considering your target audience first, then communicating what matters about your case to them can significantly impact public perceptions of your legal dispute and the issues at the heart of the case.
Curating and disseminating this message is the craft of a litigation communications professional, and leaving this work to seasoned professionals, allows the legal team to focus on the legal ‘battlegrounds’ and intricate details of the case.
Interested to learn more?
CoFactor helps clients prepare for and manage communications around legal issues, positioning their most persuasive messages for vital audiences. Our specialists work with the client’s legal team and relevant commercial teams, executives or board to resolve a matter on the most favorable legal (and financial) terms, while protecting reputation. Our litigation communications specialists include lawyers who are familiar with complicated legal contexts and sensitivities and understand the media landscape.