High profile media cases have become an increasingly common occurrence. Cases surrounding Amber Heard, Kyle Rittenhouse, Alex Murdaugh and others are recent examples of cultural sensations playing out in the courts that generate enthusiastic followings on social media. In some situations, the attorneys and law firms in these cases have achieved a level of celebrity or infamy.
Johnny Depp’s lawyer Camille Vasquez was extremely popular online throughout the trial for her savvy, skillful cross examination and perceived attractiveness. She has since secured a gig at NBC as a Legal Analyst. On the other side of the case, the lawyers representing Amber Heard, Elaine Bredehoft and Adam Nadelhaft, were criticized routinely on Twitter for their lines of questioning and conduct throughout the trial.
The prosecutor in the Kyle Rittenhouse case, Thomas Binger, was infamously criticized by Judge Bruce Schroeder on live television for ignoring previous rulings and questionable cross-examination.
Michael Avanetti’s well documented downfall and imprisonment for fraud threw into contrast his brief media super stardom, where he made frequent appearances on CNN, The View and was rumored to be considering a presidential campaign.
It is worth asking what your firm would do if it took on a case with a high profile and potentially socially, politically or culturally divisive client. Would you be prepared to handle what comes before, during and after the case concludes?
Consider asking the following three questions pre-emptively to determine the best steps you can take and the long-tail liabilities you may want to be thinking about.
What is Your Media Plan?
- Any case with a highly controversial or high-profile client is going to not only generate media attention, but also social media attention – especially in the age of Twitter, YouTube and TikTok. You need to be prepared to deal with potential reporter inquiries from cable news shows, as well as social media trolls, influencers and activists who will all share their strong opinions or thoughts on the case.
- When developing your media strategy, consider what case you’re trying to make on behalf of your client. The messaging you share online or on television should match what is presented in the courtroom. Be sure to train your spokespersons accordingly. Also ensure you have a social media channel set up to handle criticism and praise quickly and accurately with equally measured and respectful responses.
Do You Have a Crisis Communication Strategy?
- Beyond the initial media plan, you should consider developing a crisis communications strategy designed to help you react quickly, appropriately and confidently in real time. Throughout the case, storylines and narratives can develop in the media and sometimes take on lives of their own online. Those situations make message control much harder.
- You might want to consider whether a professional public relations firm is a worthwhile investment and if your professional liability insurance would cover costs associated with crisis communications services or potential out-of-pocket expenses that can accrue when a high-profile client goes viral.
Will The Case Be a Net Positive for the Firm?
- If your client won, but it was a socially unpopular ruling for a divisive figure or client, what would happen to the reputation of your firm? You may begin to lose existing clients. Regardless of whether you win or lose, reputation management matters – and an effective communications plan can help. Work with your firm to apply your core values and mission when practicing law and be able to express that in a cohesive and relatable way to your clients and followers.
With any potential risks to a law firm, being proactive is critical. Your firm should therefore have adequate lawyer’s professional liability insurance (LPLI) to cover any unforeseen, potential damages or consequences that may arise from controversial or risky cases. Speaking with an insurance specialist who understands your unique risks can help determine the level of coverage needed to confidently proceed with your clients, regardless of the case or client’s status.