Law Firm Reputation Management in a Crisis

When you are in the middle of a crisis there’s a lot to manage and there’s also a lot that can go wrong. One area that can be impacted during a crisis is your law firm’s reputation. 


Lawyers don’t often think about how the relationships you develop as a natural part of your profession, good and bad, develop into your reputation. And since your law firm is an extension of you, your reputation becomes your law firm’s reputation.


What People Say Can Hurt You


Brand and reputation are not the same. Brand is how you want your clients and prospects to perceive your law firm. Your law firm’s reputation is how everyone, even if they aren’t a client or will never work with you, actually perceive you and your firm. Your firm’s reputation can hurt your business, no matter how much marketing or branding you may do. Alternatively, a positive reputation can help you, even if you or someone in your firm makes a mistake.


BP vs Starbucks


A good example of how reputation impacts all businesses, including law firms, is to consider what happened to BP after the oil spill versus what happened to Starbucks after several incidents that occured in 2018.


After the oil spill, BP’s reputation and business took a big hit. Of course, there were customers who steered away from BP gas stations after that, but there were people who weren’t BP customers who also developed a negative opinion of BP because of that crisis and how it was handled. Some of the customer’s the company lost may have come back over time, but the people who weren’t customers and what they had to say about BP negatively impacted others. The negative reputation BP earned from that incident is one they still haven’t been able to overcome.


Starbucks, on the other hand, was able overcome the crisis that occurred when some of their managers were accused of racial bias. The situation was handled immediately, and Starbucks revised their racial-bias training. They even closed over 8,000 stores for a day so that all employees, including management, could take part in the training.


While Starbucks’ reputation did take a hit, the impact wasn’t as bad as what happened to BP. What’s the difference? 


Law Firms Don’t Own Their Reputation


Businesses and law firms don’t own their reputation, the public does. And according to Seth Godin, a reputation is what people expect you to do next. And because expectation is based on past impressions, how people feel about your law firm now will impact how they expect you to behave in the future. 


Law Firm Reputation Management in a Crisis


A basic definition of a crisis is something that takes you away from your business strategy. For law firms you have two areas that can impact your reputation. You have your law firm’s reputation, based on the relationships you have developed over time. And when your law firm is involved in a crisis, hopefully you have a positive reputation that will allow people to understand  something happened, that a mistake occurred, but that your firm will take care of it. This building of goodwill will allow your firm to handle the situation while keeping your reputation intact.


Another potential crisis that can impact your law firm’s reputation is the behavior of your clients. If one of your clients is involved in litigation that negatively impacts their business, it also has the potential to negatively impact your law firm’s reputation. People could potentially think there’s something negative about your firm if your client’s are capable of that type of behavior. It takes a very strong reputation, and a lot of good will to help your firm overcome this type of situation. 


Managing Crisis in Law Firms


How you manage crises in your law firm can also impact reputation management. In this week’s episode of Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor, my special guest Bill Coletti and I discuss all elements of crisis management in law firms, including managing your business reputation. Click here to listen now.


Reputation management for law firms starts before you encounter a crisis. Considering the relationships you develop and understanding how the public perceives your law firm now will help you work to build a positive reputation that can withstand crises that may occur.