Litigation Public Relations

Litigation public relations is the management of the communication process during the course of any legal dispute or adjudicatory processing so as to affect the outcome or its impact on the client’s overall reputation(Haggerty, 2003).

Background

Plaintiffs and prosecutors have long used mass media to get their side of the story out to the public, but the formal practice of litigation PR, a sub-specialty of crisis communication, first emerged in the early 1980s. Since then, the need for litigation PR has grown tremendously as media coverage of court cases and the law has increased. Most parties to a lawsuit have important interests that expand beyond legal concerns. Negative publicity about a litigant can cause damage to an individuals reputation that a courtroom win years later may not salvage. Thus, parties to cases, whether civil or criminal, can not ignore the impact of negative publicity on public opinion (Reber, Gower, & Robinson, 2006).

Definition of Litigation PR

Litigation PR is the management of the communication process during the course of any legal dispute or adjudicatory processing so as to affect the outcome or its impact on the client’s overall reputation (Haggerty, 2003).

Basic Concepts of Litigation Public Relations—

The First Concept—Litigation PR is to influence the outcome of the court case by encouraging early or favorable settlement or by pressuring the prosecution into bringing lesser or no chargers (Haggerty, 2003).

The Second Concept—Litigation PR is to protect the client’s reputation before and during the trail. In this regard, litigation PR is akin to reputation management. Reputation management is about managing public perception of an organization or individual. It is about attitude toward the individual and not knowledge itself. An essential aspect of reputation management is influencing attitude about the individual and corporation, which can encourage positive activation to the benefit of the organization (Haywood, 2002).

Litigation PR and Media Coverage

Litigation PR on the part of defendants is needed, especially in high-profile cases because the media have an inherent bias in favor of plaintiffs and prosecutors. When allegations are made public, the media tend to cast the lawsuit in terms of victim versus villain. News stories frequently lead with the plaintiff or prosecutors’ allegations. If the defendant’s responses are included at all, they appear well into the story. Thus, the defendant is forced on the defensive from the outset. In such situation, “working with the media to create more balanced, accurate, and less sensational coverage of a lawsuit is necessary element in defending high profile defendants" (Hantler, Schwartz, & Goldberg, 2004, p.8).

Fitzpatrick’s Six Objectives of Litigation Public Relations

1.Counteracting negative publicity.

2.Making a client’s viewpoint known.

3.Ensuring balanced media coverage.

4.Helping the media and the public understand complex legal issues.

5.Defusing a hostile environment.

6.Helping resolve the conflict (Fitzpatrick, 1996).

To achieve those objectives, the first step is to establish credibility with the media as an information source. The next step is to control the flow of information to the media so that the right message gets out. The third step is to develop a message that supports the client’s position and get that message out to the media and the public (Fitzpatrick, 1996, Haggerty, 2003, Reber, Gower, & Robinson, 2006).

Differences between Litigation PR and Other PR Practices

1.Litigation PR is highly dependent on the media. Although the practice of PR involves far more than just mediated communication, litigation PR remains dependent on the media. It is because of the media’s increased attention to lawsuits that litigation PR has become a necessity for many high profile clients (Gibson, 1998).

2.Because typical public relations campaign strategies and tactics may not be appropriate and may even be harmful at certain times during a lawsuit, the legal strategy must take procedure (Schweitzer, 2003).

3.Litigation PR is more regulated than regular public relations because of the potential to prejudice the legal process (Gibson, 1998).

4.Litigation PR is directed with the emphasis of one-way, asymmetrical communication. Because the law is adversarial in nature, creating a win-lose situation, the goal of litigation PR is to reinforce the legal strategy and theory of the case to ensure a win and to reduce damage to the organization’s credibility and reputation (Reber, Gower, & Robinson, 2006).

References

Fitzpatrick, K. (1996). Practice management: The court of public opinion. Texas Lawyer, P.30.

Gibson, D. C. (1998). Litigation public relations: Fundamental assumption. Public Relations Quarterly, 43, 19-23

Haggerty, J. F. (2003). In the court of public opinion: Wining your case with public relations. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Hantler, S. B., Schwartz, V. E., & Goldberg, P.S. (2004). Extending the privilege to litigation communication specialties in the age of trail by media. Communication Law Conspectus, 13, 7-34.

Haywood, R. (2002). Managing your reputation: How to plan public relations to build and protect the organization’s most powerful asset (2nd ed.). London: Hogan Page.

Reber, B. H., Gower, K.K., & Robinson, J. A. (2006). The Internet and litigation public relations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 18(1), 23-44.

Schweitzer, M. L. (2003). A matter of judgment. New York Law Journal, p.26.


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