In an interview published this week in Counsel Magazine, our Chief Executive, Tim Maltin, discusses the role of litigation PR and explains how barristers can win in the court of public opinion.
“What is litigation PR and what does it have to do with barristers anyway? Q&A with Tim Maltin, Chief Executive of Maltin PR
Q: What is the role of litigation PR both inside and outside the courtroom?
A: The value of a good reputation is increasingly well understood by both high net worth individuals and corporates, and the damage that can be caused during hard-fought litigation is well known. Effective litigation PR protects client reputations during litigation, whilst neutralising media attacks from the other side, in a way that supports the legal strategy. Inside the courtroom this means making the most media-friendly points at the beginning of your opening statement, when most press are present and briefing press as documents and testimony become public during the hearing. Afterwards, this means being the first to the metaphorical microphone post-judgment, shaping the media narrative.
Q: Given how fast legal stories play out in the media, can winning in the court of public opinion be just as important as winning in the courtroom?
A: Yes, it is very possible to win inside the courtroom but still lose in the court of public opinion. Equally, it is possible to lose in the courtroom but keep your media narrative on-track by looking ahead to an appeal or making much of the points in your favour in an otherwise negative judgment, or highlighting new evidence which came to light during the hearing. Often judgments have both positive and negatives for each side and it is the job of litigation PR professionals to optimise the public perception before, during and after litigations.
Q: Is litigation PR only applicable in complex, cross-border international commercial cases, or for high-profile brands and celebrity figures?
A: Good litigation PR is expensive, typically equalling 10% of the overall legal spend. It therefore tends to be deployed only where the stakes – and consequently the budgets – are very high. Often these litigations do involve complexity and multi-jurisdictional aspects. Major brands and celebrity figures understand the value of their reputations, but sometimes the parties in major commercial disputes underestimate the importance of reputation during litigation. Managing this is particularly important if the other side is seeking a PR advantage, or if certain aspects of the case may be of interest to the media. Knowing what makes a story in litigation is a key skill.
Q: Often pure legal advice will be at odds with pure PR advice – how do legal and litigation PR teams work together?
A: While an ongoing legal case is of course highly important, barristers and solicitors must be aware that a victory must not come at the cost of a client’s reputation. Litigation PR practitioners will be aware that there are additional restrictions on their activity during a litigation than otherwise during a typical PR campaign. If both the legal and litigation PR teams acknowledge and respect the work of the other, acting in concert for the client’s best interest, better results can be achieved for the client. For example, when considering a settlement or the launch of a claim, the potential reputational damage to the client during litigation may outweigh the potential of a legal victory, even if the latter is predicted.
Q: What words of advice would you give to barristers talking directly to the media?
A: Keep to big picture points. Don’t get bogged down in the technicalities of the law. Instead, try and explain these in an everyman way which is clear, simple and easily understandable to a general audience. Broadening the particular case out to what it means to the public and for future cases is a good way to secure coverage, as is using word pictures. Journalists will tend to respect off the record commentary, but if in doubt speak in sound bites suitable for publication. Journalists are trying to understand and report on complex cases; by assisting them you will raise your own profile with the media, even if it is on background only most of the time.
Q: How can barristers and their chambers stand out from the crowd in this increasingly competitive and diverse legal services market?
A: Showing an awareness of a client’s wider commercial objectives, concerns and weak points is absolutely key. Many clients will be unaware of the growing market for litigation support firms of various varieties, so recommending these where appropriate can add additional value throughout the litigation process, and enhance your client relationship. In particular, working with a litigation PR firm will carry you and your instructing solicitors with the client between litigations.”
Counsel Magazine is the official monthly magazine of the Bar of England and Wales, published by LexisNexis on behalf of the Bar Council.