Q&A with Daniel Cherrin, attorney, lobbyist and PR executive
High-profile litigation involves not just the defense of the legal claim but also the protection of the client’s public image. Where a case has aroused public or media interest or has the potential, it is vital that attorneys are prepared to face the media. After all,
In today’s 24/7 news cycle, attorney’s through their public relations counsel, can clients, by blending
As an attorney, lobbyist and public relations executive, Daniel Cherrin has counseled a wide range of clients during crisis situations providing critical insight and recommendations to deal with situations and how to communicate effectively under less than the best conditions. In the following interview, Daniel draws on his experience in responding to questions about using public relations as an effective part of a legal strategy.
Q: Why do lawyers need to be concerned about public relations?
A: Today’s business environment demands an aggressive strategy to resolve issues legally while protecting one’s reputation publicly. Unfortunately, most people do not realize they need PR until they get a call from a reporter, subpoena from Congress or it is otherwise too late. As a result, lawyers need to be more than legal counselors or advocates. They need to be familiar enough with how perception is created within the public eye and how to use the media effectively to manage that perception. Therefore, the potential impact any litigation will have on a client’s image, reputation, investor relations and future business must be considered in creating a legal strategy.
In preparing for litigation or creating a legal strategy to meet a client’s objectives attorneys must consider the impact on their client’s business and reputation. Reputations take years to create and only seconds to destroy. Engaging public relations counsel early can create a comprehensive strategy that will help clients succeed.
Q. Why is it important to have relationships with public relations experts?
A. In today’s economy decisions are made based upon perception and reputation. Therefore, it is important to have the necessary relationships to make sure a client’s reputation is protected should any litigation become public or even to help position the client to remain out of the public eye. But in establishing relationships with public relations firms, it is important that the PR counsel be sensitive to the legal ramifications of their actions as it relates to protecting the company’s reputation.
To protect a client’s legal interests and also to preserve the client’s reputation publicly, counsel should consider engaging public relations counsel early in the process, so as to develop a complementary strategy and get advice on how to deal with the media and protect the client’s public relations interests. In developing a broad legal strategy that embraces both legal and public relations concerns, lawyers need to look beyond the facts and include public relations concerns as a comprehensive strategy. Public relations counsel can assist attorneys by managing the public relations issues while the attorneys focus on the traditional elements of mounting a case. If both the legal and the public relations components are to succeed, it is essential that both legal counsel and public relations counsel coordinate their efforts.
Q. How can lawyers protect their client’s reputation?
A. A lawyer who is going to represent a client outside the courtroom must become more comfortable in talking freely about their client’s case. Lawyers, trained to protect client confidences and to control information, have a natural tendency to answer only the questions that are asked and to give no more information than is necessary to resolve the issue. In the view of the public, however, information and communication are the two factors that build trust and go a long way toward preserving one’s reputation.
A PR firm can train attorneys in media relations and crisis management so they can feel more comfortable in talking with the media or dealing with the immediate concerns of a crisis. A public relations counselor can employ specific tactics to protect the reputation of a company or an individual leading a company while reinforcing issues legally. For example, in the public eye, we are presumed guilty if we respond to a reporter’s question with “no comment.” A better way to respond to a question you do not want to answer or are not ready to answer is to deflect it, by saying something like: “That is a very good question, one that we are looking into at the moment. As soon as we learn something new, we will get back to you promptly.” Lawyers must be more diligent in looking at the big picture in protecting their clients’ interests in the court of law as well as in the court of public opinion.
Q. Can attorneys handle the PR directly?
A. Given the stakes in today’s litigation environment, attorneys may find it helpful to develop a relationship with a public relations firm, so that it can be ready to assist on short notice if and when it is needed. For example, some public relations firms are known for their expertise in crisis and reputation management while others focus more on soft promotions and publicist work. Some public relations firms focus specifically on litigation communications practice, and even have attorneys and registered lobbyists on staff. Regardless of the case, it helps to establish those relationships early.
Q: If a company would like to learn more about protecting their reputation when faced with potential litigation, how can they reach you?
A: I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at (313) 300-0932.