Why You Shouldn’t Rely on Lawyers to Guide You During a Public Relations Crisis

Why You Shouldn’t Rely on Lawyers to Guide You During a Public Relations Crisis

For as long as I’ve been in the crisis management industry, I’ve told people, “you hire a lawyer to make sure you don’t get sued. You hire me (or someone like me) to make sure people still like you when your controversy is over.”  

Most leaders have no problem hiring lawyers—they quickly see their value when a crisis ensues and rarely question their recommendations. Yet lawyers are the least qualified group of professionals to truly help you navigate and, most importantly, recover from a public crisis.

Here’s why:

# 1: Lawyers are rarely focused on preserving your reputation. 

They simply care about winning or worse—not losing. Whether you’ve made a misstep or are the victim of a smear campaign, their primary concern is keeping you out of prison or preventing you from paying a giant settlement. 

Important and necessary? Absolutely. However, this also means you’re putting the fate of your company’s future livelihood into the hands of law experts who have a laser-like, tunnel-vision focus on the bottom line—not how your brand or you as a professional will be perceived after the dust settles.

It’s too easy for lawyers to forget the human factor in the equation and how their positioning will resonate with the public. Not only is the reputation of your company at stake when a crisis hits, but your personal and professional reputation is at risk of being dragged through the mud as well.

#2: Lawyers are trained to uncover every aspect of the law and argue it well. 

They’re rarely equipped to consider the nuances of your brand or make recommendations in the context of your audience’s most pressing concerns. 

Because their goal is to avoid guilty verdicts or judgements against you, they use their skills accordingly. Even if they have good intentions, the language of lawyers is historically riddled with corporate speak and legalese, which more often than not results in completely tone-deaf responses.  

Yes, they are human, and they know how to be real. But let’s face it: Lawyers spend their days talking to judges and citing precedents, not crafting carefully worded messages to irate customers or constituents. 

#3 Lawyers are simply too fact and rule based. 

Lawyers defend for a living. Defending equates to defensiveness, which is the last thing you want to be perceived as when handling a public crisis.

The facts are important, and lawyers can help you craft them in a way that limits liability. However, if your only goal is to not look guilty, you could end up looking cold, disingenuous, and causing long term damage to your (and your company’s) reputation. 

To guard against this, the best thing you can do when addressing the public with a statement is to start with the elephant in the room. 

Forget about setting any kind of stage or background—that can come later. Even if the background facts prove you did nothing wrong, you need to offer them in the context of your audience’s concerns first—not yours. 

The bottom line: Let your lawyers focus on the law while you (and hopefully your skilled communications team) focus on public relations.

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Melissa DeLayRead all author posts