TALK TO ATTORNEYS (SPARINGLY)
Attorneys are important to keep you out of jail, but they can also gum up the system and make it impossible for you to respond quickly enough.
So what should you do? Read on.
For starters, please note that this is NOT an anti-attorney piece. OK, it kind of is. But you need to realize the way attorneys look at an issue and the way YOU look at an issue could be (and probably are) two COMPLETELY different things.
It can take a long time to fully understand this. It can be frustrating and painful. So do yourself a favor—learn from our mistakes.
Attorneys are risk averse. By nature, they are. “Should we take a risk, or should we NOT take a risk?” “Not.” The only way to be close to 100% certainty or safety is NOT to try skiing, or walking across a rickety old footbridge, or buying property, or responding to a news story.
What you are really looking for is an evaluation of the risk, not a total avoidance of it. Because, ultimately, you will have to make the call if you are in charge. In court, the attorneys speak. When the reporters come around, you do.
Attorneys will generally advise you to say as little as possible. This can seem to be at cross purposes with you or your company’s desire to be open and transparent. The attorneys aren’t wrong. Smart business leaders know what to say. Remember our post on getting the facts? Start there. “Here’s what we know.” That may not be much. But if it’s a fact, you could share it.
Attorneys will also generally advise you NOT to issue an apology. They see an apology as an admission of guilt. It is not. But think of it this way: Attorneys are trying to keep you (and/or your company) out of trouble. That is something you want as well.
Two key points: (1) our headline on the blog actually offers two tips in one. Talk to attorneys. Before you sign. Before you buy. Before you agree. Before you announce. (Sparingly) Attorneys have their own way of doing things. Fine. And you have yours. Keep it that way. Don’t become weak-kneed. Attorneys don’t need to hold your hand through everything. (2) This topic underscores once again the importance of having a crisis communications plan and team in place BEFORE A CRISIS HITS. Attorneys should be an important part of that.
One last point: some of our best friends are attorneys. Really and truly. Many of the politicians we know and have represented and many of our lobbyist friends are lawyers. They know things that you don’t. They can do things that you can’t. Good people to have in your corner.