December 2014 Bar Bulletin
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December 2014 Bar Bulletin

The Acronym of C-R-I-S-I-S Management

By Mark Firmani

 

The first hint of a problem came when the cell phone of the chief technology officer of a major technology company rang at 4 a.m. on a Wednesday. The caller told him that he was a cretin, stifling innovation by using "jackboot tactics" to crush a small competitor.

The message was followed by dozens of other calls to executives from incensed open-source advocates, followed by a torrent of social media posts to Facebook and Twitter, all aping a similar line of protest. Flatfooted, the company's communications staff tried to determine what sparked the assault that morning, learning that the day before the company performed a routine legal action, enforcing its IP rights in a simple filing it had done dozens of times before.

This time though, the target fought back with a beautifully orchestrated campaign that mobilized its base of users, casting the issue as a classic David v. Goliath battle, giving them tools (along with talking points and phone numbers) to make their voices heard. The company brought in my firm and we were able to staunch the bleeding, but it was a tough lesson for them.

Times have changed. Helping clients manage crisis - legal or otherwise - is dramatically different than it was 10 years ago, and in some ways, even just two years ago. A confluence of forces and influence, ranging from the Balkanization of media to the rise of the citizen journalist, requires that attorneys need to look at how they counsel clients in crisis, recognizing what may have worked before simply won't carry the day today.

Put differently, we've worked with hundreds of smart, savvy attorneys who are eminently capable in managing the legal aspect of a client's crisis, but the truly savvy attorneys recognize that while they may be able to solve their client's legal issue in the courtroom, in some cases the scrutiny of public opinion can be as damaging as a bad legal outcome. They know that they need to provide their clients with a much more robust approach to dealing with the totality of the crisis, not just what transpires within the context of a court brief or the walls of a courtroom.

Here are the six elements for a holistic crisis response, distilled from more than 25 years of experience guiding communications strategies for attorneys and law firms.

C - Certainty


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