Why do lawyers need PR people? Gina Rubel, Founder and CEO of Furia Rubel Communications, breaks down the function of PR for legal clients across B2B and B2C. Gina also discusses examples of when law firms should be speaking to the media.
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HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: GINA RUBEL
DOUG: So, Gina, why do lawyers need PR people?
GINA: It’s a great question. Lawyers need public relations people because we’re trained in the court of public opinion while they’re trained in the court of law.
DOUG: Great. So, what is the function of a PR person for a lawyer? And I should add, you have a legal degree and legal background as well, having practiced before you went into this line of business.
GINA: I do. In fact, I was a litigator for a number of years. And when you ask what is the function of public relations for lawyers, we really help them to understand how, whether it’s a law firm, how their company is perceived in the court of public opinion, or if it happens to be an individual attorney, how they’re perceived, or how messages are perceived as it relates to the type of work they do.
DOUG: Right. Now, there’s also a distinction between corporate attorneys and sort of consumer-facing attorneys. Can you get into that a little bit and maybe some of the different strategies you employ?
GINA: Well, in the PR and marketing arena, we call it, what, B2B and B2C, right? Business-to- business and business-to-consumer. Your corporate law firms are your business-to-business law firms. So, we’ll start there. They’re the firms that work with oftentimes the general counsel or in-house lawyers so that they become what’s called the general counsel or outside counsel. They’re assisting with all of the different things that they don’t handle inside the corporation. So, when we talk about some of our big corporations, they may have, our Fortune 500, they all have pretty big legal departments, but there may be certain things that they don’t handle. Perhaps litigation, for example, they might not have a tax lawyer in-house. They might not have intellectual property lawyers in-house. So, that’s one B2B audience. As it relates to the B2C audience, the business-to-consumer, those are the law firms that provide services to individuals or families. So, think about the darker side–criminal defense. Now, I say darker side because it’s someone has been arrested and they need a lawyer. Personal injury, workers compensation, family and domestic law, and it doesn’t always have to be divorce, we could be talking about something as pleasant as adoption, trusts and estates. So, all of those things have a very different way of communicating the services and the audience is different.
DOUG: Yeah, one of the things you talk about is some cases you’re trying to keep stories out of the media, what are some examples when you would be recommending your clients that they actually be communicating in the public?
GINA: Most of the time. Anything that’s proactive or positive, could be anything from a merger and acquisition or the launch of a new office in a new geographic region. It could be the hiring of a number of attorneys to lead up a new practice group. There’s so many things that you have your everyday public relations, which are, you have speaking engagements and all of those things that PR practitioners put out regularly, we really do try to focus on the bigger stories and then you have even the smaller things—somebody joined a board. So, those are the types of things that are the everyday. And with law firms, it’s also with permission of the client, it’s really important to put out client stories if you had a big win, or a big success, or a Supreme Court decision that was favorable to your client.
DOUG: Obviously, when it gets to speaking about specific cases, you’re under NDA, but you told us you can give us some general information about some juicy cases you’ve been involved with.
GINA: I’m under NDA all the time, and that means that we can’t speak to specifics on the client or the geography. An example would be a law firm being sued for, and this is a true story, a client of ours was sued for discrimination. They had fired a partner. It was an age discrimination case, and it was so scandalous because this attorney had been put on notice three times, was not billing, had actually lied on their application when they joined the firm previously. And so, after that, the attorney contacted the media to say, “oh, I’m filing the lawsuit against this law firm.” Then our client responded in kind, and it wasn’t so kind. Because the facts are the facts, and actually the second day story was that the plaintiff withdrew the complaint and with what’s called with prejudice, in other words, they weren’t going to bring it up again.
DOUG: Very interesting. And that’s something also as a law firm, employment law is an area that’s grown tremendously on that. If you’re a law firm, you’re employing a lot of lawyers who are going to be litigious potentially by nature. How does that affect how employment issues are handled within law firms and how they’re communicated about?
GINA: It’s very rare actually. You don’t see it quite as much as you do in the rest of the world, and part of it is because they are law firms, they protect themselves pretty carefully, and when somebody exits a firm, all of those things are addressed in advance typically. This was, somebody was mad and tried to use the media to disparage their former law firm. That being said, a law firm is a business, and it’s important to note that a law firm is subject to all the same risks as its clients. That could be cybersecurity, that could be negative media coverage because of who they represent, it could be political in nature because somebody in the law firm donated money to a particular political cause. So, it’s no different than any other corporation that has risks and liabilities.
DOUG: Yeah, and we saw some of that in the recent Supreme Court justice hearings held in the Senate. Like most industries, there’s some specific, industry specific stuff that might be technical, might be jargon. How do you go about within the legal industry getting that message out to the public? And the second part of this, does that carry over to maybe people in different types of disciplines within PR?
GINA: So, it depends on what we’re talking about. So, for example, if we’re talking about cybersecurity, we’re going to talk about it in the same terms that everyone else is talking about it. If we’re talking about a case, for example, that affects corporations, we’re going to speak in the language of the trade publications and the legal publications because we’re really speaking to in-house counsel who are educated on those topics. If we’re speaking to a general public, the language has to be such that the general public can understand it. So, you can’t speak in legalese, which a lot of it is actually Latin, and you have to provide the language and examples the same way all of us PR practitioners do, examples that resonate with the listener.
DOUG: Yeah, so, I guess I don’t have to have huge regret that I didn’t take Latin when I got to middle school and went with French instead. Thanks for clarifying all of these points for us. It’s really great to speak with you and congratulations on your continued success.
GINA: Thank you. Thank you. It’s great to be here.