Proactive crisis management: a formula for legal marketers.

Author:Burnett, John

Lawyers are experts on crisis resolution. From creating simple wills to dealing with major felonies, lawyers apply their expertise to create relief for their clients. Some law firms proudly list their specialty as "crisis management." In turn, lawyers and their firms also face a broad spectrum of their own crises, nowadays appearing more often along with the slowly recovering economy. The recent bankruptcy of Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP exemplifies the ultimate crisis penalty faced by law firms.

Crises are inevitable. While few firms ever fully prepare to deal with all crises, more often than not, crisis warning signs--or patterns of activity that suggest something is amiss--precede the event. Unfortunately, firms often disregard red flags as perfectly explainable anomalies easily ignored. If such warnings do not resolve on their own, firms will often turn to stress-based reactive guidelines to mitigate or resolve the resulting crisis. Such reactive strategies are well-documented in the failed strategies of the east coast law firm, Pennie & Edmonds, and Arter & Hadden, among others.


Given the frequency and rapid communication of crises today, a reactive strategy does not suffice. Poor crisis management jeopardizes the core values of a law firm. Crises call into question the fundamental hallmark traits of a lawyer's and law firm's good reputation--competence and trustworthiness. Having a reactive-only crisis strategy risks compromising these foundational attributes. How can legal marketing professionals help their law firms effectively manage crises?

Crisis Planning for Law Firms

Four propositions offer guidance for effective crisis planning. First, balance crisis planning with both proactive and reactive components. Second, make crisis plans contingent upon important situational variables associated with your firm. Third, have a proactive crisis assessment tool that takes into account those differences. Fourth, use this tool to categorize your firm's potential crises according to level of severity.

The remainder of this article elaborates these propositions.

Proactive Crises Management

As surprising as it may sound, 50-70 percent of the largest profit-making organizations in the world have not made any disaster plans. Many organizations believe that they have identified all the severe crises likely to happen and have response mechanisms in place. On occasion, this is adequate, but more often, crisis procrastination...

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