As with any other organization, law firms also face disasters but the way in which they handle them requires similar skills and preparation to any other organization in crisis.
A recent conference at the Legal Marketing Association had an address from Nancy G Newman, who was the national director of marketing and business development at Dreier LLP, the firm that was run by the infamous Marc Dreier and from which he ran a ponzi scheme.
Dreier’s shenanigans have been well documented – see here. A documentary has also been made about
the man and his unravelling.
So when someone with Nancy Newman’s experience talks about how firms should handle a crisis lawyers
should sit up and listen.
And one who did the listening was AbovetheLaw’s David Lat who distilled six key rules from
Take yourself back to December 2008. The financial markets were crashing. Nancy Newman was boarding a plane at LAX to fly out to New York for the Dreier holiday party. Her cellphone rang literally as she was boarding the plane. It was a Dreier partner based in Santa Monica (the office that Newman worked out of). The partner asked her — never a good sign — “Are you sitting?”
The partner informed her that Marc Dreier — founding partner of Dreier, and the only equity partner in the firm, as some of you may recall — just got arrested in Canada. The partner told her she needed to go back to the office. She called her husband and asked him to pick her up at the airport and take her back to the office.
At the office, she discussed the situation with two of the partners, and they soon realized she needed to be back in New York — where the real crisis was unfolding. So she summoned her ever-patient husband and asked him to take her back to LAX.
As she got ready to take off for New York (again), she checked her phone. It was a voicemail from a legal journalist seeking comment on Marc Dreier’s arrest. And then, right after she heard the message, the pilot directed the passengers to shut down all mobile devices.
This may seem a tough one in a case like Marc Dreier’s where dishonesty was the central hallmark, but Nancy Newman said it was imperative that the firm’s employees knew exactly what was happening. There was no concealing facts, which were going to emerge anyway.
“Your employees,” she said “are your first line of defence.”
3. Be Prepared
She also suggested being prepared before crisis strikes, which means retaining an outside PR team to provide not just help with overwhelming demands upon time and the like, but also to ensure that the firm has good, objective advice from outside the tent.
So hire someone who can handle crisis management and prepare a plan.
4. Don’t Take it Personally
Many can take the endless demands personally and it will take its toll on both you and your firm.
When you start getting hounded — by angry or anxious colleagues, by journalists hungry for a scoop, by vendors wondering if they’re going to get paid — remember that it’s not personal. It’s not about you, and it’s not about “you versus them.” It’s just a complicated, perhaps unfortunate situation that everyone is trying to navigate, each in their own way.
You’re being paid to be calm and professional. That’s your job — so do it.
“Strengthen your spiritual muscles,” Newman recommended. To quote the oldantiperspirant commercial, “Never let them see you sweat.”
5. Meditate, or Pat a Pet?
Really. She suggests having meditation sessions or getting a pet to calm yourself and your nerves. It’s proven to work on both counts.
6. Embrace the Crisis
Learn from bad experiences and keep your head held high. It won’t destroy you unless you let it. In Nancy Newman’s case it certainly did not.
Surround yourself with supportive people in tough times. And don’t forget to thank them when it’s all over.
You will survive, and even thrive — just as Nancy Newman did. After Dreier’s demise, she worked at a great law firm, Robins Kaplan, for six years. She now has her own firm offering marketing, business development, and communications advice — advice that’s informed, of course, by her own experience in the trenches of crisis management.
So put the tips aside for a rainy day which may well never come. But if it does – take them to heart.