Legal Communications Specialist

Rory's legal and media expertise dovetail to give him a unique insight into the field of legal communications.

 

He worked as communications manager for a large international law firm, with offices in London, Dublin, New York and Silicon Valley. He gained experience in all aspects of legal communications in the US, the UK, Ireland and Europe. He has drafted legislation for the Irish government. He has also written legal numerous legal articles on a wide range of topics. 

 

He is an advocate of plain legal English. This is the idea that simplicity leads to clarity. This is true for legal advice, legal pleadings and legislation. Simple, clear language makes for clear advice, and effective communications.

Explaining complex legal issues in clear, concise language is an art in itself. It makes for better legal advice. Lawyers should take pride in clarity. Too often, in the past, lawyers took pride in obfuscation. Hence the urban legend that lawyers are paid by the word. Clear writing reflects clear thinking, and clients appreciate it.

Legal communication skills are vital for any law firm. There are three primary aspects to legal communications. These are professional communications, crisis communications and profile building.

Professional communications 

Professional communications are the bread and butter of legal work. They include letters of advice, contracts and court pleadings.  Some lawyers still think that long words and complex sentences are the hallmark of good legal drafting. The oppposite is true. Legal documents should be clear and succinct. If a consumer contract is drafted in plain English, it will result in fewer customer complaints will be subject to less litigation.

 

Being a good lawyer does not make you a good communicator. They are different skills.  Lawyers spend years learning about law, but are often untrained in how to communicate their knowledge. Simple techniques can transform obscure legal communications into models of clarity.

Crisis communications

A court case is often a public relations crisis for a client. That is especially the case when clients are defendants in criminal cases.

 

A lawyer who can help clients to win both the legal argument - and the public relations battle - is best placed to achieve their client's objectives. A case can be conducted effectively, even with one eye on the press gallery.

 

Both winning a case and protecting their client's reputation should be a lawyer's aim. However, often lawyers are focused solely on the legal aspects of the case.  Communications professionals, meanwhile, are not in a position to advise lawyers how best to conduct litigation to minimise reputational damage. This disjoin can result in poor outcomes.

 

Even after a judgment is delivered, lawyers can play a key role. They can assist in communicating the nuances of a judgment in a way that is accurate, but also protects reputations and brands.

 

Profile building​

This is how a law firm stakes out its own reputation. Perhaps the best way is to have the firm's lawyers insights appear in influential publications. 

 

Journalists are hungry for insightful, expert comments from lawyers when new legislation is published or a controversial judgment is delivered. However, many lawyers are simply too afraid to put comments out there. Others just don't have the contacts. Most are too busy.

 

A law firm needs smart, efficient proactive and reactive media strategies. Effective client communications, as well as talks, conferences, social events and sponsorships also play a role in building a reputation. Thought leadership initiatives can help.  However, there is little substitute for a lawyer's insights being regularly quoted in the pages of the Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal.

 

Thoughts on Legal Communications

Lawyers and communications experts often find themselves at loggerheads. A lawyer will want a published statement to be precise, safe and accurate. Conversely, a communications expert will want a satement to be as adventurous and media-friendly as possible. This oppositional dynamic often results in poor communications.

 

It is possible to write communications that are both legally precise and compelling. However, writing interesting, yet scrupulously accurate legal communications is not easy. It requires an understanding of both the intricacies of the law, and the appetites of the media.

  

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© 2018 Rory Fitzgerald