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6 Steps to Create a Legal Department Crisis Communication Plan

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 24, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If your company's reputation is under assault, in court or in the media, is your law department prepared? If you said, "probably not," you're not alone. Most corporate legal departments don't have an up-to-date strategy for reacting to a crisis such as high-profile litigation.

Yet having a clear crisis communication plan can be essential to protecting your corporate reputation, in court and out. And they're not too difficult to get started. Here's a quick guide to creating your own legal department crisis communications plan.

1. Pick the Team

The first step to creating a crisis communications plan is identifying who needs to be involved in a crisis response and to what extent. A company-wide crisis communications team might include the CEO, the head of corporate communications, the GC, and senior managers and executives. Note that many P.R. resources, such as Northern Illinois University's crisis communication guide, take a very negative view of corporate counsel, so be sure you're represented, instead of boxed out.

2. Establish Spokespeople

The team's goal is to communicate, so identify an individual to serve as the primary spokesperson. He or she will be primarily responsible for representing the company to the public, dealing with media requests, and issuing official statements. You should also identify internal experts with legal, financial, and technical expertise who can inform any communications.

3. Set Approval Procedures

Who needs to sign off on communications before they can go out? You don't want your spokesperson issuing a statement that might play well in the press but undermine your position in court, for example. Nor do you want to slow down your crisis response by running all communication between every middle manager in the company, so make sure to strike a reasonable balance.

4. Identify Key Audiences

When a crisis strikes, who is the most important audience? These could be investors, employees, consumers, distributors, or just the general public.

5. Create Media Policies

Think of potential requests from the media. Who will be responsible for handling them? How will the distribution of information be handled? Will company officers be able to speak directly with the media? Will a lawyer need to be present? Where will these interviews take place?

6. Have Materials Ready to Go

The press operates quickly and they won't often wait to hear back from you before running a story. So, make sure you're prepared to respond in a timely fashion by having collateral materials ready to go. These could include draft press releases and prepared statements, but also consider putting together simple explainers on different parts of the company, in order to quickly educate the media on important background issues.

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