Navigating the Digital Storm: A Guide to Crisis Management for Law Firms

July 5, 2023

Decoding the Blueprint for Effective Crisis Management in Law Firms

Infinite Global president Zach Olsen and digital strategist Alexis Sikorski examine digital-forward crisis management strategies for law firms in the following article published in New York Law Journal. In the aftermath of the reputational fallout at Barber Ranen (now known as Daugherty Lordan LLP), it is crucial that firm leaders familiarize themselves with the strategic tools available that will enable them to navigate, manage and mitigate unforeseen crises, particularly in today’s fast-paced digital news landscape. Read more to learn how law firms can equip themselves early against potential reputational disasters.

Navigating the Digital Storm: A Guide to Crisis Management for Law Firms

It’s crucial to remember that law firms are not defenseless against these crises. They possess a potent arsenal of tools and strategies designed to navigate, manage and often successfully mitigate the impacts of unforeseen events.

In a digital age where news travels at the speed of a click, law firms can’t simply react to crises. They must plan for and get ahead of them. While newly launched Barber Ranen made headlines recently for crumbling after the despicable behavior of its leaders came to light, it doesn’t take a full-blown scandal to damage the brand equity firms spend decades building. A single share, comment or even an inadvertent like can spark a reputation crisis with potentially severe repercussions.

Yet, it’s crucial to remember that law firms are not defenseless against these crises. They possess a potent arsenal of tools and strategies designed to navigate, manage and often successfully mitigate the impacts of unforeseen events. Leveraging these resources properly can make all the difference between a well-managed response and a potential reputational disaster.

Strategic Agility: Proactive Reputation Management and Dynamic Crisis Planning

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, a proactive approach to reputation management and crisis readiness is beneficial and necessary for law firms. The rapid dissemination of information and the amplifying effects of social media make it essential for firms to anticipate, address and navigate potential crises effectively.

Proactive reputation management equips firms to assert control over their narrative. Law firms can minimize defensive responses and enhance their credibility by anticipating potential issues and crafting a powerful online image. Proactively delivering consistent, high-quality content, showcasing positive client feedback and demonstrating community engagement fortifies a firm’s reputation against potential crises.

Consider a law firm accused of malpractice that stirs public criticism on social media. Instead of reacting defensively, the firm leverages social listening tools like Hootsuite or Sprout Social, identifying the rising issue early and gaining valuable sentiment insights. This proactive approach enables them to craft a well-informed, sensitive response before the situation escalates into a crisis.

However, proactivity must complement a comprehensive and adaptive crisis management plan. Much like a ship’s navigational blueprint amidst stormy seas, this plan is essential for surviving and thriving in the ever-evolving digital landscape. The plan should encompass dedicated social media strategies, crisis management team assignments and well-defined communication protocols.

Let’s return to our malpractice accusation example. The situation could further intensify, requiring a broader crisis management plan. A designated spokesperson or team, well-versed in crisis protocols, can efficiently address stakeholder concerns, maintain consistent updates and provide empathetic responses. The firm can leverage strategic hashtags to amplify its messages and conduct regular online audits to handle negative feedback promptly.

The crisis plan also guides the firm’s use of social media channels for direct communication with the audience, even if that means pointing them back to a prepared statement. This approach demystifies the complexities of the malpractice accusation, informs the public and reinforces the firm’s expertise, fostering trust in challenging times. In certain instances, the firm can tailor its content to maintain effective engagement and an informed audience by monitoring audience demographics and interests.

The digital age necessitates a combination of proactive reputation management with thoughtful crisis planning. By asserting control over their narrative and strategically addressing potential crises, law firms can project a positive image, nurture stronger relationships and reinforce their reputation amid digital turbulence.

Harnessing the Power of Search Engines

Managing a law firm’s online reputation is necessary in today’s interconnected digital sphere. The Search Engine Results Page (SERP) is central to this effort—a vital tool that shapes the first impressions of those seeking legal services online. The SERP, a complex mix of organic search results, paid advertisements, knowledge panels, featured snippets, and online reviews, can significantly sway perceptions and decisions to engage a law firm’s services.

Law firms must strategize proactively to manage their online reputation effectively, with the SERP playing a pivotal role in this process. The key is to establish a solid foundation long before a crisis materializes. This involves creating and nurturing a strategic online presence with a carefully curated content strategy. Law firms can showcase their unique strengths and expertise by consistently publishing insightful thought leadership articles, in-depth case studies, and timely blog posts. This content-driven approach doesn’t just enhance the firm’s visibility and credibility in search engine results, it lays the groundwork for an effective response when a crisis strikes.

But what happens when that crisis does occur? Imagine a scenario where a law firm leader is accused of unacceptable behavior. The news spreads, resulting in a wave of critical articles, negative social media comments, and perhaps even unfavorable reviews. This negative chatter climbs the search engine rankings, populating the firm’s SERP.

In such a situation, the groundwork laid by the firm’s ongoing positive content strategy becomes invaluable. While the crisis requires swift, calculated action to mitigate the effects of these negative search results, the existing positive content can help ‘push down’ the adverse results, diluting their impact.

Simultaneously, the law firm should engage with clients and stakeholders on social media and other platforms, addressing the issue professionally and empathetically. This approach helps manage the narrative around the accusation and reinforces the firm’s reputation by demonstrating its commitment to open, transparent communication.

The firm’s established strategic SEO techniques can also come into play. These techniques include optimizing its website with relevant keywords, building high-quality backlinks and regularly updating content to improve its organic search ranking. Again, these actions can help make the firm more visible to prospective clients while lowering negative search results.

Through proactive content creation and strategic SEO tactics, the law firm can effectively leverage the SERP to marginalize the visibility of negative search results, protecting and enhancing its online reputation. Doing so encourages more potential clients to engage with the firm, demonstrating how mastering the SERP can enable a law firm to weather even the stormiest of digital crises. By laying the groundwork well in advance, a law firm can prepare itself to respond to crises effectively and maintain control of its online narrative.

AI: One More Tool in the Arsenal for Digital Crisis Management

Artificial intelligence (AI) is quickly becoming integral to numerous industries, including the legal sector. With its unparalleled ability to swiftly process vast quantities of data, AI is already paving the way in legal research, case management and even predicting case outcomes. But its unique ability to recognize patterns and provide predictive insights will also make AI helpful in times of crisis.

Traditional crisis management within the legal industry has often relied on manual data collection and reactive strategies. AI, however, is helping crisis management professionals, marketers and other practitioners develop more proactive and strategic methods. With the ability to identify potential crises in their nascent stages by monitoring online chatter, AI enables law firms to initiate their crisis response earlier based on tangible data. AI’s role is not just limited to overarching strategies but is integral in managing day-to-day situations in law firms.

As AI’s predictive capabilities continue to advance, its role in crisis management is poised to expand, supporting legal professionals with timely, informed insights. AI can distinguish factual information from misinformation within large data pools and sift through vast amounts of data, including client histories, case documents and public sentiment. This tool can give firms powerful information to incorporate in their crisis response and strategic decision-making. Yet, with all the potential advantages of AI, it is critical firms use these technologies carefully. Tools such as ChatGPT also have the potential to fuel or create a firm crisis, as was the case recently for a pair of New York lawyers who submitted a brief with fake case citations generated by the technology.

Navigating the Future of Digital Crisis Management in Law Firms

While technology continually evolves, law firms must remember the value of human interaction in a crisis. Engaging with audiences, and acting transparently and authentically, are invaluable in forging trust and preserving reputation. The tools mentioned in this article should support that process.

Ultimately, the path forward for digital crisis management is an evolution that balances technological progress and human connection. By embarking on this journey, law firms can effectively respond to crises and turn them into opportunities to strengthen relationships, enhance their reputations and establish their unique presences in the digital world.

Zach Olsen is president and Alexis Sikorski is a digital strategist at the international communications firm Infinite Global.


Reprinted with permission from the June 20 issue of The New York Law Journal. © 2023 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.  All rights reserved.

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