Originally published in The Journal of South Mississippi Business - November 2012.
Crises occur with increasing frequency these days whether one’s business is large or small. What is a crisis? Typically, it is an event that causes substantial disruption of a business and carries with it coverage by the news media. The prevalence of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, not to mention the 24-hour news cycle, all play a part in rumors and allegations becoming a crisis and bringing news media attention, whether wanted or unwanted. The reputations of company officials and the businesses themselves can be attacked almost instantly when a story goes “viral.” When to seek legal advice on how to address and manage a crisis can be a crucial decision in getting out in front of a crisis.
What role the legal advisor can and should play is important for the company to understand. Those involved need to know who the lawyer represents — is it the company or one or more of its officers or managers? Lawyers have rules of professional responsibility that control how to address conflicts of interest. In some instances, the interests of the company and its officials will be aligned; in others, that will not be the case. An early and clear understanding of who the client is can avoid subsequent misunderstandings.
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