By J. Nick Augustine, J.D., strategy consultant and legal publicist
Recently I’ve seen a few PR firms here in Chicago follow my lead in legal public relations and marketing, the only problem is many of them have no idea what they’re doing. The fundamental understanding of the life of litigation and liability are the main reason most attorneys avoid publicity and agents who might inadvertently do more harm than good.
At the very minimum, make sure you’re litigation publicist went to law school and took evidence.
My advice might sound self-serving, but I’ve worked on the plaintiff and defense side, and I have drafted and responded to motions in limine, depositions, and have worked with litigation support professionals who aren’t bound by statutory privilege. When I am approached for litigation publicity work I make sure the law firm hires me, not the client, and that I keep clear of the litigation tent, only “knowing” and having access to what I really need to know. If deposed, I don’t know certain things. This is good.
Social media presents a unique set of challenges and only increases the risk level if the PR leader doesn’t know which snake pits to dodge and how. A friend contacted me some time ago inquiring about the discoverability of plaintiffs’ statements in a closed Facebook group. While many courts have yet to address specific social media issues, the short answer is that it is all discoverable. Sure you might be able to bar some evidence, but why jeopardize your case in chief with dirty laundry?
Some publicists engaged in litigation PR want to change the world – and that’s nice – but sometimes there are short battles in longer wars. Not every case is the one to affect policy and change. Remember, most cases are not intended to proceed through trial. Does your litigation PR agent understand that leveraging for settlement is the goal?
Over time, and with a healthy sense of fear, I’ve developed a proprietary list of question and strategy points I use in litigation public relations. I won’t share my list, because a layperson publicist wouldn’t understand, other than in theory, and that just isn’t good enough.
At the end of the day, I choose to speak out on these points, risking alienation with the other PR people in town, but my primary loyalty resides with my litigation brethren. I am happy to continue this dialogue and often appear at law firms to conduct lunch and learning workshops on point. Knowledge is power in working with digital media and the 24-hour news cycle. In a pinch, call me anytime at (312) 505-2604 if your case appears in print and the crisis management team needs to assemble. Luckily, I have access to arms and legs from the big PR firm here in Chicago, if necessary. Be well my trial lawyer friends and colleagues.