THINKPIECE: With US corporations being sued at alarming rates, a good legal defense is only half the battle

When I talk to colleagues or clients about the need for specialized litigation communication, their first question is usually, 'Why?'

When I talk to colleagues or clients about the need for specialized litigation communication, their first question is usually, 'Why?'

When I talk to colleagues or clients about the need for specialized

litigation communication, their first question is usually, 'Why?'



Any search engine provides a quick answer: just type in the word

'lawsuit' and look at the results. In the month before my search, USA

Today published 100 stories containing the word 'lawsuit.' The AP ran

357 such stories in the previous two weeks.



Lawsuits against corporate America are proliferating, and they are

fought on two fronts: in court and in the headlines. Companies need

expert assistance to ensure that the general public, not just judges and

juries, hears and understands their side of the story. This is why

high-stakes lawsuits don't fit neatly into the traditional practice of

public relations.



In recent years, corporations have learned about the need for crisis

management to cope with accidents, disasters or other unpleasant events

that come without warning. Lawsuits, especially those filed for maximum

publicity, can be a disaster of their own; but damage from a public

drama can be deeper and longer lasting.



One key challenge is that lawsuits sometimes feature emotional or

eloquent plaintiffs - and lawyers who are happy to parade their cases on

prime time. Part of the skill involved in litigation communication is

persuading the public that even when a lawsuit involves 'ordinary'

people as plaintiffs, a multimillion-dollar verdict is not necessarily

fair or desirable.



Another challenge is that lawsuits are run by lawyers. Corporate counsel

frequently lack the time, inclination or expertise to issue statements,

hold press conferences and rebut inflammatory public statements by

opposing counsel. When in doubt, company lawyers tend to say 'no

comment' - a response the public overwhelmingly interprets as

'guilty.'



The fact is that a legal defense and a public relations defense are not

the same thing. A courtroom defense often focuses on small details - of

law, of evidence, of admissibility - while a PR defense must emphasize

the big picture: the integrity of a company's people, products and

services.



Bridging the gap requires a new breed of experienced PR professional,

frequently lawyers themselves, who understand the litigation

process.



American corporations face an unprecedented onslaught of lawsuits - and

of adverse publicity that plaintiff lawyers have become so adept at

stirring up. Litigation communication experts are uniquely qualified to

help a company's counsel and PR professionals deal with today's legal

assaults.





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