NEW YORK, NY: A federal judge has ruled that attorney-client privilege extends to the legal conversations between PR firms and lawyers whose clients are under investigation.
Unsealed last week, the opinion lends some clarity to a previously murky area that some PR people say limited their involvement in legal matters.
"This decision will give clients and their law firms a greater degree of comfort and incentive to include us in strategy sessions, and include us much earlier in the litigation process - perhaps before court documents are filed," said Harlan Loeb, SVP and US director of litigation support at Hill & Knowlton.
According to the factual outline of the litigation, the government attempted to compel a PR person to testify before a grand jury about client conversations.
US District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan recognized the importance of public opinion
in legal matters. "In some circumstances, the advocacy of a client's case in the public forum will be important to achieve a fair and just result in pending or threatened litigation," he wrote, adding that questions of whether and how to comment to the media "can be decided without careful input only at the client's extreme peril."
"Reputation and perception can have as many consequences as legal proceedings," said Peter Duda, EVP and head of corporate issues at Weber Shandwick.
"It's more evidence of the intersection of law, media, and PR," said James Haggerty, president of The PR Consulting Group, and author of In the Court of Public Opinion. "This case acknowledges that PR strategy is an integral part of modern litigation."