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Whether you are an independent law firm with predominately local clients or a multiple office law firm with a national/international focus, it is vital you have a plan for when crisis strikes. All law firms are vulnerable to crisis, whether it be internal (e.g. a colleague stealing from the client account) or external (e.g. a virus leaking confidential data or a criminal posing as a bank security team).

Simon Bladen, Legal Partner at Hawsons, notes: “Crisis can strike at any point, in a number of different ways. Protecting client money is one of the golden rules of being allowed to practice as a solicitor, and the SRA take a very strict stance to ensure law firms adhere to sound risk management practices. But that isn’t the only crisis law firms need to be thinking about. What if a senior management figure is taken ill and cannot return to work? What impact will the digital age have on a crisis? The importance of crisis planning for law firms cannot be understated.”

Using scenario planning to prepare for the unexpected

Scenario planning is undoubtedly central to successfully managing a crisis, as Simon adds: “It is important to identify the scenarios (ideally around ten) that would create the most damaging internal or external crisis for the firm and then prepare a strategy for dealing with each of these. Through what channel(s) will the firm respond and what will the statement/message be? Who will be the firm’s spokesperson? How will staff and clients be informed? What will be communicated to staff and clients? There are a number of questions that need to be considered for each crisis scenario. Pre-planning (e.g. pre-approving messages to the press, staff and clients) will mean you are better prepared to manage a crisis, and can focus on limiting and controlling the reputational and financial damage caused by a crisis.”

“This really needs to be an evolving process. Fraudulent threats and the damage caused by a particular crisis will evolve over time. For example, the growth of the internet has significantly changed crisis planning for law firms.”

Crisis planning for law firms in the digital age

The nature of what both constitutes and arises during a crisis is changing, or indeed has changed in recent years. This section is not devoted to how a law firm can protect itself from a crisis online – such as having social media policies in place and setting strong passwords etc. – but to how a crisis can quickly snowball out of control, and have long-term implications with growing internet usage.

A crisis can quickly become overwhelming

What was once word of mouth is now world of mouth. Bad news travels fast in the digital age, particularly with the growing prevalence of social media. The reputational damage that a law firm may suffer from a crisis is exponentially heightened in the digital age, and it can happen both very quickly and very easily. A ‘tweet’ that is sent out by the firm or a ‘tweet’ sent by an unhappy client can very quickly become viral and seen by millions across the world, for example.

A crisis is not easily forgotten

Law firms, as with many businesses across the UK, are spending a great deal of time in enhancing their visibility on the internet. Where a law firm ranks on Google is quickly becoming a central management issue. It is a big contributor to the number of leads a law firm generates online. Google is where prospective clients often go to research your company, to look up your services or to make contact. A law firm’s association with a crisis, be that a misguided tweet or insufficient risk management practices, is likely to be seen whenever its name is typed into Google. What impact will that have on the generation of online leads?

More from our legal sector experts

You can find all of our latest legal sector news and newsletters here.

If you are looking for advice in a particular area, please get in touch with your usual Hawsons contact.

Alternatively, we offer all new clients a free initial meeting to have a discussion about their own personal circumstances – find out more or book your free initial meeting here. We have offices in Sheffield, Doncaster and Northampton.

Simon Bladen is the partner responsible for looking after the firm’s legal clients and has worked at Hawsons throughout his career. For more information or advice on anything covered in this article, please contact Simon on [email protected] or 0114 226 7141.

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