Public Relations Guards Reputation of Lawyers, Law Firms

Attorney Public RelationsMany lawyers and law firms regularly talk to the media, to get quoted in articles or interviewed television. Opportunities that are engineered by media relations are just one aspect of public relations.

For lawyers and law firms, here’s a guide to “Public Relations 101.”

1.  Public Relations is the keeper of your reputation.

Although the field of PR is more than 100 years old, many business people confuse it with marketing, advertising, and even publicity stunts. Public relations has 4 goals: to establish, promote, protect, and (rarely) salvage the reputations of their law firms. Your reputation is your most important business asset.

2.  The most senior PR person sits at the right-hand of the managing partner.

The most senior PR person has input on all major strategic decisions a business makes, and has the authority to interact (and sometimes over-ride) other business functions like Operations, Finance, IT, HR, and so on.

When you hire a PR person, you’re hiring the “eyes and ears” of an organization—your firm’s conscience—preventing a PR crisis. PR frequently plays the role of “devil’s advocate.”

On the surface, many operational issues don’t seem to have any PR component to them until the CRM system crashes and is out for days. Or a partner has embezzled money from a client’s trust account. Or, a group of partners leaves and sets up a competitor firm.

Effective PR can provide not only a crisis plan should it be needed, but more importantly try to prevent the crisis from happening in the first place by giving wise counsel to the managing partner.

3.  PR is the “Bank of Good Will.”

I also tell my clients that they should think of PR as the “Bank of Good Will.” Law firms make “deposits” in the Bank of Good Will by doing the right thing toward their employees, their clients, their suppliers, and their regulators.

4.  As with investing, regular deposits in the “Bank of Goodwill” are needed.

Firms are wise to make regular “deposits” to the “Bank of Good Will” because some day, they may need a very, very large “withdrawal,” a.k.a. a crisis.

5.  Firm culture is everything.

Is there a culture of protecting your “turf?” Are clients “firm clients” or do they belong to specific partners? Are different practice areas “silos” that don’t communicate with each other? Is lip-service paid to cross-selling? Who are the real internal power brokers? What behavior gets rewarded? What behavior gets punished?

When I was director of marketing at McCarthy Tetrault (1993 to 95), I established a speaker training program for lawyers who wanted to improve their public speaking. I established a monthly newsletter called “Marketing News” rather than the then-current “business development” used in the firm.

6.  Internal communication in large firms is difficult.

The more partners, associates, articling students, employees, the more management layers, and the more worldwide locations, the more difficult communication is to coordinate. Even in the age of the smartphones and social media, message sent does not equal message delivered (or understood). Lots of people don’t read all their email let alone respond.

A good internal communication program will keep everyone informed on the firm’s priorities, challenges, and successes.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

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Jana Schilder

About Jana Schilder

Jana Schilder is a co-founding partner of, a full service marketing, branding, coaching, training, public relations, and social media agency for lawyers. We have small firm focus and big firm experience. Jana was a director of marketing and communications at McCarthy Tetrault, Canada’s largest law firm with 640 lawyers, from 1993 to 1995. She was a manager of change communication at KPMG in the early 2000s where she worked with partners to reduce the turnover of junior accountants. She is also managing partner of First Principles Communication, a public relations agency she started in February 2004 with like-minded, very seasoned associates. She writes for The Huffington Post on public relations and reputation issues in Canada and occasionally writes for The Law Times, The Lawyers Weekly, and on cyber-security, marketing and public relations.

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