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Litigation Communications

Almost fifty percent of domestic companies have been confronted at least once with legal disputes which caused a public sensation and sparked public discussion. In recent years, an increasing number of civil and criminal proceedings have been followed and commented upon by journalists. Since then the legal system has learned how to deal with media attention and media pressure. Companies must prepare to do the same. For in public perception, what counts is not only the circumstances and facts presented by lawyers and seen as highly complex by outsiders, but the moods and atmospheres that arise during the case. The public can pronounce someone guilty long before any court. But premature condemnation by the media can be counteracted by professional litigation communications. We support companies through professional publicity work before, during and after legal disputes, and always in close coordination with the consultancy team consisting of lawyers, auditors, tax advisors, etc.

Five Topics in Using Litigation Communications

Art. 6 of the European Human Rights Convention contains the right to a fair trial. The right to be presumed innocent is stipulated by paragraph 2 of that article. This means that every accused person must be presumed innocent until their guilt has been proven by legal means. This does not only apply to the legal proceedings themselves, but to their presentation in the media. Premature judgements or biased reports of events and their consequences can cause enormous damage to individuals and companies in the course of a legal trial. When supervising a communicative process, nothing should be left to chance. Rumours, suspicions and other prematurely formed public opinions must be met with rapid, professional and focussed communication.

To protect a person’s (or a company’s) reputation during legal disputes, a mutual process- and communication strategy is required. Affected parties (often the management staff), lawyers and communication leaders must join together with one voice. Two different rules apply before the court and in external communication (e.g., with media), but during proceedings which will affect public opinion it is important to consider all laws equally. In so doing, public prosecutors and experts should in no way be viewed or depicted as adversaries. Rather, your adversaries are instances of polarisation, stereotypes, prejudice and damaging photos. The motto here is “fact vs. emotion”; differentiation is essential.

Only those who communicate proactively contribute to balanced reporting. Beyond this, the use of dialogue-oriented social media can create room for emotions. Which strategy is best to pursue must be individually judged in each case. It often proves effective to address critical topics yourself to keep the upper hand in the discussion. Internal communication also plays a crucial role: clear and speedy information based on facts prevents the emergence of a communicative vacuum which will guarantee every type of interpretative leeway.

When supervising communication during legal proceedings, it is essential that all participants coordinate their content in terms of content, but also tonality and timing. This will succeed only if legal representatives and PR advisors interact as equals and support each other for the sake of the client. In media work, background conversations with selected journalists are often a better choice than large press conferences or personal (and therefore emotional) interviews. Lawyers can be called upon as informants or even used as speakers if they are experienced with PR. Guest commentaries made in specialised media by legal experts have also proven effective.

Litigation communication is often labelled the big sister of crisis communication. And rightly so, if one looks at the chronological issues! The phases of the process with investigations, negotiations, the verdict and often subsequent stages of appeal can take a long time. During the entire time, nothing will be above observation or comment: statements, facial expressions, gestures, clothing, overall impression, etc. One must be prepared for it, and that demands discipline from everyone involved. Moreover, while the proceedings are happening all of a company’s other communicative messages can be overshadowed, so it’s necessary to coordinate all communication measures closely.