Monday 17 June 2013

Choosing a Legal PR Agency Part 3: Conflicts of Interest

In this, the third of three posts on how to choose a legal PR agency, I'm writing about what lawyers can do to avoid conflicts of interest when instructing a PR agency. In the earlier posts in this series, I've written about ensuring your agency has the requisite expertise and also how to ensure you have the right chemistry with your PR team.

A relationship with a PR agency necessitates trust and openness. By the very nature of the work that an agency will typically do for you, they will (or should) know exactly what's happening at the highest level of the business. If you are considering merging with another firm, or even if the SRA has recently been in touch - your PR agency should know about it.  If they already understand where your business is going, and why, they can be prepared if the you-know-what hits the you-know-what.

Of course, issues can arise if you use a PR agency that already works with another law firm. By the way, the logic of this post also applies to digital marketing and SEO agencies. 

So, what exactly are the issues that may arise? The obvious example would be an agency doing exactly the same work for two law firms with exactly the same offering in exactly the same location. For example, a PR agency providing media relations support to two PI firms in Liverpool. Both firms have the same target audience in the same geographical location. There is clearly a conflict of interest. 

An alternative, but less obvious, example of a conflict of interest would be a PR agency providing SEO copywriting services to two law firms - one in Cambridge, one in Newcastle - both of whom have decided to create a niche focusing upon a very small national audience.

In fairness, most good (and sensible) agencies have policies in place to avoid conflicts. However, I have seen cross-overs occur.

So what should law firms look out for, and what reasonable steps can they take to avoid a conflict arising.

1. Ask the question. It's not at all unreasonable to ask whether the agency you are considering appointing already works with any other law firms. If they do - find out what the nature of their brief is. Are you happy that it's dissimilar enough to the work that you want them to do?
2. Be willing to walk away. If you're not quite happy with the answer they give about controlling and avoiding client conflicts of interest, either keep asking until you get a satisfactory answer - or forget it.
3. Don't adopt a tunnel vision approach. There aren't that many specialist legal PR agencies nor are there many general PR agencies with excellent legal PR departments. If you find an agency that already works with one or more law firms (as indeed we do), then as long as you are confident there's no conflict, and they can assure you of this - you should be safe with them.
4. Think about the future. It's all very well and good doing all this research and appointing your agency, but what if they then accept another client that you believe creates a conflict with your own firm? Discuss what is/is not acceptable to you at the outset. That way there will be no nasty surprises at a later date.

By Victoria Moffatt

For more information about the legal PR services that LexRex can offer, please take a look at our website.

Alternatively, to arrange a friendly chat with Victoria, please contact us at or via Twitter @vicmoffatt or @lexrexcomms

Monday 10 June 2013

Choosing a Legal PR Agency Part 2: Chemistry

In this, the second in a series of three posts for lawyers about choosing a legal PR agency, I'm talking about chemistry, and why it's so important.

PR is all about communications - with the media, with clients, with referrers, with staff, with partners. For maximum effectiveness, the lines of communications need to be clear. Would you trust your deepest, darkest secrets to somebody you didn't like, or worse didn't trust? Of course not and the same goes with PR.

Like it or not, to do the best job, your PR team need to know your secrets. You'll need to let the cat out of the bag and drag the skeleton out of the closet if you truly want the most out of the relationship.

Why? Because without knowing your firm's bad bits, it's difficult to promote their good bits. If you are making redundancies or considering a law firm merger - you must tell your PR immediately. If a disgruntled employee leaks the news to a journalist and we don't know about it, we're immediately on the back foot. We'll have to rush about putting together a reactive statement, the journalist will probably print something in the meantime and the rumour mill will go wild in the absence of facts.

Alternatively, you can tell us about your plans in advance (and in confidence, of course). That way, we can create a pro-active statement for release when you're ready. We can advise you on when this announcement should be made, and we can ensure that all press enquiries come through us. That way everybody is calm, the journalists get their story (with facts) and the wind is removed from your disgruntled employee's sails. Whilst not everybody will be happy, usually impossible in a redundancy or merger situation, the matter will have been handled professionally and in an ordered manner.

So; back to chemistry. Here are a few suggestions for ensuring great chemistry and a long term relationship with your legal PR team:

1. Mutual respect and trust is fundamental to a good working relationship. Meet the proposed team for coffee on at least one occasion before engaging. Be decisive and honest with yourself about whether you can work closely with them
2. If you are choosing an agency via a pitch process, check that the pitch team is also the team you'll be working with
3. Ensure that a senior member of the team will be available for day to day contact. Many agencies will use junior level staff to draft copy but strategic direction should come from above
4. Be honest at all times - communications is a two way street
5. Be willing to have difficult discussions. It's far better to be grilled by your PR in the first instance than by a journalist who has managed to get past your gatekeeper. (PRs will know exactly what questions a journalist wants to know the answers to and that's why they ask them - they're not being aggressive or nosey)
6. Take our advice - we know what we're talking about (although ensure that you have followed our advice on expertise in our 1st post on choosing a legal PR agency )
7. Stick to your side of the bargain. Be available when necessary, accept that PR is important and should be high up on your priorities and expect to be disturbed at inconvenient times - the news agenda waits for nobody.

By Victoria Moffatt

For more information about the legal PR services that LexRex can offer, please take a look at our website.

Alternatively, to arrange a friendly chat with Victoria, please contact us at or via Twitter @vicmoffatt or @lexrexcomms

Monday 3 June 2013

Choosing a Legal PR Agency Part 1: Expertise

In this, the first of three posts on how to choose a legal PR agency, I'm writing about selecting an appropriate agency based upon its legal PR expertise. In posts two and three I'll write about chemistry and avoiding conflicts of interest.

One thing I've noticed since creating LexRex is the sudden proliferation of other agencies moving into the legal PR marketplace. Of course, there were other legal PR agencies before LexRex so I can't complain; and a little bit of competition never did anybody any harm. However, as with any other PR specialism - retail, hospitality, trade - an understanding of the industry and the work it does, is a vital part of the job description.

Any lawyer knows that to an outsider, the law can be (amongst other things) complicated, weird, logic-defying and frankly, confusing. That's why, when it comes to promoting your firm, it's important to appoint a team that appreciates the rules that bind you, and most importantly, that knows what you do and what you don't do.

I recently overheard an anecdote of a PR agency that had worked with a family law team and, during the course of the retainer, had never quite worked out the difference between public and private family law. I rest my case.

Now, I'm not suggesting that PRs should have been through law school or anything like that. However, they do need an understanding of what they are promoting. 99% of PR agencies will have the requisite expertise, and that's why they are happily and rightfully promoting their legal PR service. However, as the client, and before you enter into a 6 - 12 month retainer with your chosen agency you should consider undertaking the following actions:

1. Ask for testimonials from previous clients
2. If media coverage is important - request clippings
3. Agree targets - any good PR firm will automatically set targets without you asking
4. Meet the team you'll be working with and have a conversation about their previous legal PR experience
5. Discuss specifics - talk about the areas you want to promote and ensure that everybody understands what you do. It's reasonable to expect a basic knowledge across the proposed team.

By Victoria Moffatt

For more information about the legal PR services that LexRex can offer, please contact us at