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What is the real purpose of PR in the legal industry?

In our work with law firm leaders, we’ve learned that they recognize the power of PR to trumpet the firm’s achievements to members of the legal industry but often don’t understand how PR can and should function within the firm.

Public relations—engaging professionals to craft media strategy, facilitate thought leadership and brand management, and celebrate the accomplishments of attorneys—can be a powerful firm management tool when leaders understand how it is perceived and valued by the people who work for them. Devoting PR resources to shining a spotlight on lawyers who are doing the kind of work you’d like to see more of becomes a powerful incentive to all members of the firm, as well as a signal about what firm leadership values and where lawyers should be placing their efforts.

Sometimes celebrating the accomplishments of your core practice is simply a matter of communicating about important cases. But certain kinds of practices—including some litigation, white collar criminal defense and deal-making work—involve strict confidentiality. In those cases, figuring out how to highlight those attorneys is more of a challenge. But there are ways (call us—we’d love to talk about them!) to generate positive coverage externally, and dole out those PR rewards internally, while still protecting your clients’ confidentiality. Your most successful lawyers are the ones you need to focus on. Don’t abandon the efforts just because the nature of the work makes things trickier.

On the other hand, if you have a practice that is not core to the firm’s business or does not generate much revenue, you may not want to devote much energy to celebrating this work externally. Again, what message do you want to send, both to the broader world, and within the organization, about what the firm values and wants its attorneys to focus on?

Attorneys—and particularly the younger and more media-savvy attorneys firms are actively recruiting—view PR attention as a valuable form of compensation. Since many of these up-and-coming lawyers know they will not stay with one firm throughout their career, they recognize that PR around their practice and individual achievements will follow them wherever they go. It is currency they can use to build their business in the future. They understand this and firm management should too—and use it to their advantage in terms of recruitment and retention. Salary and benefits will of course continue to be a candidate’s most important concerns, but access to resources for promoting themselves is very much part of their calculation.

Understandably, law firm leaders tend to be opportunistic when it comes to communicating about their firm. “What looks good” is one piece of the puzzle, but communications work is most effective when it’s part of a proactive strategy based on who the firm is and what work it wants to be doing. That strategy takes into account the effect on external factors like reputation, but it also seriously considers the internal impact of PR and how it will mesh with the overall plan for managing the firm.