There has been discussion recently on our crisis communication team about the balance between legal and crisis counsel. What’s the role of legal counsel? How does that differ from crisis communications counsel? How do the two teams work together?
One of the most important parts of managing a crisis is to make sure our “three-legged stool” does not break. Each leg in the stool plays a role. In the case of a crisis the three legs are:
– The internal client team. This would be a company or organization and its internal marketing or communications teams.
– Crisis counsel. This is usually an external third party that supports a company or organization going through a crisis issue.
– Legal counsel. Legal counsel can be an internal or external team (or both).
All three “legs” help manage and mitigate risk when organizations go through a crisis or critical issue. We have to work together. No one partner (internal, crisis or legal) can be overbearing, otherwise things get out of balance.
We counsel organizations to know early on what the crisis and legal strategy will be. It’s also best practice to bring all three teams together quickly and efficiently during a crisis. When the dust settles in a crisis situation, how will they define success? Legal, crisis and internal organizational teams need to have this discussion early on.
Depending on the crisis issue, organizations get paralyzed worrying about potential litigation. It is a valid concern. Sometimes we see legal teams wanting to “no comment” about the issue in fear of litigation. The crisis team understands the legal ramifications in a crisis, but works to protect the brand and reputation, which usually means releasing an internal or external statement to the public and the organizations’ key stakeholders (employees, board of directors, etc.). In all fairness, legal and crisis sometimes agree with each other’s counsel and sometimes they don’t. It can be a tough balance.
Our team works with lawyers from around the country on a regular basis. In fact, many times it is the lawyer who hires us on behalf of an organization.
Having the right team in place before a crisis hits is the best strategy, but if you are assembling a team in the midst of a crisis make sure to keep your “three-legged stool” in balance.
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