Navigate Crisis with a Communication Plan


[author: Martha Newman, J.D.]

Coaching for LawyersEmergencies Happen. Is Your Firm or Client Prepared?

Crises - both natural and man-made - often pop up out of nowhere. People are caught off guard. There's panic. There's turmoil. There's total chaos.

That is why it is so important to have a crisis management plan in place. When an emergency strikes, everyone will look to management for a reaction. Partners have to know how to respond quickly and promptly. Without a response, the firm may plunge deeper into crisis mode, left to deal with embarrassment, humiliation, and perhaps unnecessary litigation. The same can be said for attorneys' clients. Lawyers must also know how to properly advise their clients when they are faced with adversity.

Crisis communication plans provide an organizational framework of who will be responsible for which specific task. It should outline in detail operational procedures, including contact systems, a point person who is coordinating with press and spokesperson. It will also include how and what to communicate to any other organization, stakeholder or community that is impacted by the crisis. The plan must be fluid, applicable to any kind of situation.

Here are some basic components of a crisis communication plan:

  1. Determine the management team. This will include all key individuals and roles assigned to them. All the individuals must have contact details of all the team members.
  2. Designate a spokesperson with the press. This is the individual who will be the face of organization to the public. The Spokesperson, usually has had a fair amount of media training, or comes from a journalism background.
  3. Assign individual/public relations agency to be responsible for all needs and queries of the press. 
  4. Communicate key messages for all your audiences in a consistent manner, whether they are within the organization or external audiences. The messages must address questions and concerns in language that different stakeholders understand. In other words, leave out legal jargon. The public wants to hear and sense that you understand the gravity and depth of the circumstances.
  5. Maintaining several back up plans, point personal, and other details relating to the particular crisis is a must.

Finally, all crisis circumstances need a human face. Take great care to reach out and connect with all the key stakeholders impacted by the situation.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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