Selecting the best law firm spokespeople
April 19, 2018 • 4 minute read
Every law firm, as part of both its public relations strategy and crisis planning, should identify key individuals to serve as spokespeople when necessary and appropriate. Law firm spokespeople are not only integral to a firm’s marketing, branding and business development efforts, but may also have to serve as the voice of the firm and its clients.
But how does a law firm choose the right spokespeople? In some firms, those responsibilities are automatically assigned based on title — Chair, Managing Partner, Practice Group Leader. While that approach can work, it also stands a very good chance of failing. Not every person is cut out to serve as a spokesperson.
Types of law firm spokespeople
First things first: Not all spokespeople serve the same purpose, and an individual who is an effective spokesperson in one setting many not be equally effective in other roles. A typical large or midsize law firm may divide its spokespeople into several different categories:
The voice of the firm: Typically a member of management, this individual serves as a spokesperson on the highest-profile and highest-stakes matters. Examples include events that could shake the confidence of both clients and those within the firm, such as major upheaval or a data breach, as well as strategic business decisions that affect the entire firm, such as a major merger or mass influx of laterals.
The voice of the firm does not necessarily have to be the firm’s Managing Partner or Chair, but should be someone who will be viewed as an authority figure, such as a member of the management or executive committee. In some instances — particularly when a firm publicly declines to comment on a matter — the Public Relations Director may serve as the voice of the firm.
Local leaders: It is not always practical for the voice of the firm to comment on every aspect of the law firm’s operations, and in many instances it is more appropriate to identify local or regional leaders to promote a firm and speak on its behalf. The firm should identify a leader in each office, such as the Office Managing Partner or Administrative Partner, who can act as the local spokesperson. Depending on the firm’s marketing priorities, individuals from other functions (such as recruiting, diversity and technology) also may be designated as spokespeople.
Practice area subject matter experts (SMEs): These are lawyers within a practice who comment on their particular areas of expertise to raise the profile of the firm and support business development efforts. In most corporate firms, these SMEs primarily offer commentary through media interviews and contributed articles.
While there is a natural tendency to select a practice group’s leader or best-known lawyer as the SME, consider expanding the roster to include lawyers who have leadership potential, as well as other rising stars. It’s an effective way of nurturing that next generation of talent and raising their visibility in the marketplace. Lawyers who have a niche practice area with the potential for growth should also be considered.
Client spokespeople: At times, a client may decide to communicate with the public through its legal team. Because most clients will expect lead counsel on a matter to fulfill this role — regardless of that individual’s experience and comfort level serving as a spokesperson — it’s good practice for the law firm to provide media training to as many of its lawyers as practical, and to provide coaching if a lawyer with little experience needs to act as spokesperson for a client.
Qualities of an effective law firm spokesperson
Effective spokespeople — regardless of what category they fall into — share some key qualities:
- They are willing to take on the role and comfortable serving as a law firm spokesperson. It may take practice, coaching and media training to grow into the role, still not every individual is cut out for the job or interested in being a spokesperson. We never recommend that a reluctant spokesperson be forced into the role.
- They are responsive to media requests. Journalists today operate on deadlines that are tighter than ever, and may not have the luxury of waiting hours or days to speak with a source. If your law firm’s spokesperson is slow to respond, the reporter may ask competing firms to comment.
- They understand the value of preparation. A good spokesperson spends time reading all relevant background materials, thinking about the audience with whom they will be speaking and developing key messages to deliver during an interview.
- They have clearly defined goals and a purpose for commenting. Whether discussing a crisis within the law firm or offering third-person commentary on a lawsuit, a spokesperson should evaluate each interview opportunity and ask himself or herself, “Does this benefit me, my practice, my clients and/or the firm as a whole?” If the spokesperson cannot articulate how the commentary aligns with the law firm’s PR, brand and business development goals, reassess whether it is an opportunity worth pursuing. That said, in the case of crisis communications, remember that the absence of commentary can potentially be damaging.
- They are aware of their own limitations. A good spokesperson knows when to comment and when to stay silent. Arrogant spokespeople — who feel confident wading into topics outside their areas of expertise — are dangerous spokespeople.
Selecting your law firm’s spokespeople requires a candid assessment of each individual’s interest and aptitude, and may require training to help them grow into the role. But this preparation will pay off, particularly when an urgent situation arises and events demand (or a client requests) that the firm make a public statement or sit for an interview.
To learn more about Infinite Global’s public relations services — including crisis communications counseling and media training — contact us today.
Jennifer King is an associate vice president at Infinite Global, based in Chicago. A former legal journalist, she advises clients on successful public relations strategies, including the selection of law firm spokespeople. Jennifer can be reached at email@example.com.