The University of Calgary has introduced a new law subject, ‘Crisis Communications for Lawyers’, which educates students about the nexus between law and public relations, especially in the context of protecting the interests of clients.
Mercer PR managing director Lyall Mercer argued such education and training is “long overdue” in Australia, because there are still far too many lawyers who provide advice that ignores, or is naïve to, the evolving media landscape, and the end result can be that that advice adversely affects the client’s interests.
“During a crisis, a company or organisation usually engages with two key outside consultants, being lawyers and public relations companies,” he explained.
“The ideal situation is for both to be working together to assist their mutual client to achieve the best possible outcome from both legal and reputational perspectives.”
But, too often, the focus of lawyers is narrowed to merely the legal outcomes, ignoring the very real damage that ongoing negative publicity can do to a client’s reputation, he said.
“It’s very frustrating for me to deal with lawyers who don’t understand this, and I have had some clients instruct me to completely ignore the legal advice because they also realise it’s not meeting their needs,” he said.
“When lawyers understand the world of PR — and I have worked with some who do — the benefit to the client is significant.”
The Calgary tertiary course teaches students to “speak effectively to the media in order to serve your client’s best interest”, and features simulations based on real world events.
“What’s the point of achieving a favourable legal outcome but losing in the court of public opinion and damaging your overall reputation, which can cost far more?” Mr Mercer questioned.
“Issues and crises are best resolved when lawyers and PR practitioners work together and understand the importance of the other’s role.”