The Internal/External Comms Illusion

As law firm leaders feel more pressure than ever before to speak out on social issues, marketing directors and CMOs are rightly spending time weighing whether a firm statement should be limited to an internal audience or be made public. In a world where you can select the audience for your communications and tailor your message to suit that group’s frame of reference and common language, it makes sense to think of internal and external communications as mutually exclusive categories.

The problem is that we do not live in that world. A firmwide memo, or even an email intended for a small internal group can easily become a public document, either by accident or through an intentional leak to a reporter or a social media post. The American Lawyer recently wrote about the “memeification” of internal firm documents through Instagram accounts like NonequityPartner and BigLawBoiz, where information intended for a limited in-group can be quickly shared and skewered for comedic effect.

Most law firm communications professionals know this cardinal rule, but it’s surprising to see how often firms fail to follow it: Draft every memo, email and statement as if it will be published in the New York Times — or on Twitter. Choose your words carefully, and think about what a reporter might infer from what you say and how you say it. Is this statement consistent with communications that have come before? Would it be easy for someone to prove that what it contains is not true or contradicts the experience of people at the firm?

Not sure how to set up a vetting process for firm statements? Call us — we’d be glad to help.