Law Firm Reputation Management: Who’s Keeping Watch?

A rogue and disgruntled associate in a large Canadian law firm had a bone to pick with a few of its partners. Rather than pull in one of those discrete committees that operates just under the surface of every large firm and deals with sensitive internal matters, this associate opted for an office-wide diatribe sent via e-mail from his home. 

The scandalous statements created shockwaves and went through the local legal community like a missile. Inside 24 hours the first media outlet called the firm and the associate for interviews, with many more to follow, including national print media. Then, it went global.

Blogs were hyperventilating over the news, restaurant lunch tables were a-buzz and the media hounded the law firm for a response – in some instances, relentlessly. That was way back in 2002 when references to blogs were always followed with a definition and were largely published by students and early adopters.

Today, public relations is no longer contained by spokespersons or campaigns guided by professionals. Now, many people get their daily dose of news with a quick scan on twitter or news feeds. As evidence, take the growth of twitter in less than two years and the intense rate of change in which it delivers news (with a nod to Vancouver’s Matt Wilcox for these stats):

  • 20 tweets per hour on Maple Leaf’s Listeria-related recall, August 2008
  • 250 tweets per hour on US Airways Hudson River crash, January 2009
  • 10,000 tweets per hour on H1N1 discovery, April 2009
  • 50,000 tweets per hour on the Tiger Woods scandal, January 2010
  • 180,000 tweets per hour on iPad launch, March 2010

Just a few years ago PR professionals told our own story at our own pace and with a degree of control. We did so for years and without the help of citizen journalists who now regularly break or hijack stories. Your firm’s reputation and story-telling is subject to anyone with access to a keyboard. The playing field is officially levelled. 

Online news is now delivered and received at the speed of sound, anytime and practically anywhere. Now that PDAs are relatively inexpensive and mobile, it guarantees its continued growth. Witness something suspicious, record and YouTube it. See a news-worthy event on the street, it gets a tweet. Get bad service, a blog lambasts the company and names the employee. 

More than ever, major brands and reputations are at risk if they haven’t devised a media plan that monitors, responds to and measures “brand mentions”, whether they are favourable or unfavourable.

Major Canadian law firms are predictably slow on the uptake to monitor or participate in reputation management. And that same rogue associate today would likely ignite a significant and damaging story within an hour, not 24 hours. The firm would be called upon to respond to media enquiries before management even saw the story – they wouldn’t know what hit them. 

Traditional media and methods of public relations, for that matter, are long gone. We turned that corner a while ago. Law firms now need to prepare to protect and advance their firm’s reputation, brand and profitability. Anything short, for a large firm in particular, is risky.

On the flip side, use online PR to your advantage by responding to comments or questions about your firm or area of law. Position yourself or your firm as the expert and encourage interactivity with your clients and prospects. After all, I think we can now, finally, all agree that professional service firms are built on existing relationships.

Don’t leave your most valuable corporate assets—your brand and your reputation—in the hands of anyone with a strong opinion and a keyboard.


  1. Is it worth it to use 3d party services to manage your reputation (like Reputation Defender) or is this something that most law firms can do themselves effectively?

    I’ve heard some organizations say, essentially, that they monitor blogs but do not interact by posting responsive or clarifying comments. Some organizations are also blocking employee access to social media/networking sites, so things like Twitter or Facebook comments don’t even register on their horizon. This doesn’t seem a very effective way to handle your online reputation, although I suppose the firm is at least forewarned in some cases. But is there a risk to participating or responding online that pushes a bit of snark into something more problematic?

  2. David, as I’ve noted here on this site before, many of these 3rd-Party services are not terribly effective.

    And it’s not just law firms, it’s their employees too. Google most lawyers in Canada and you would be surprised with what comes up.

  3. Antonin I. Pribetic

    “A rogue and disgruntled associate in a large Canadian law firm”? Huh?

    First, name names or don’t bother providing anecdotes. I don’t remember what happened back in 2002 and clearly not many others do either.

    Second, if it is a matter of potential defamation against to republish the facts, then either the complaints were factually supported or the associate was not telling the truth. In either case, truth is an absolute defence.

    Third, out of the five tweet examples you provide: two related to public health and safety; one was about airlplane landing heroics; one referred to a certain professional golfer’s penchant for infidelity; and the other was about the latest tech gadget. The virality quotient for social media is less about reputation management and more about loss of privacy. If your reputation is sketchy or you have done something unethical or morally questionable, then you are the author of your own misfortune. Boosting SEO with favourable content or PR releases is backassward. If the statements are defamatory, call me now to find out how to get them removed; operators are standing by.

    Fourth, here’s my media plan gratis: create a Google alert with the name of the company or individual and get regular updates.

    Fifth, disgruntled employees have other means to voice their lack of “gruntleness”. You may have heard of the use of online pseudonyms, email aliases and IP masking software.

    Finally, to paraphrase Scott Greenfield, author of the Simple Justice blawg: “Just because anyone can write a blog, doesn’t mean everyone should.”