Written by Will Tait • Published 5th August 2020 • 6 minute read
During the July of 2020, the Royal Courts of Justice in London hosted one of the most surreal and revealing court cases since its inception. Hollywood Actor Jonny Depp was exercising his right to protect his reputation against what he considered to be defamation. The Sun had published an article asking how J.K. Rowling can be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?” He argued that using the phrase “wife beater” had caused his reputation to go from “Cinderella to Quasimodo in 0.6 seconds.”
The search to find whether the Sun had been telling the truth produced three weeks of spectacular headlines and debates. What started as a libel trial, quickly descended into a very public celebrity divorce proceeding with little hope of producing a winner. At times, it often felt more like a criminal trial with domestic violence at the centre of it. A familiar scenario to legal personnel was playing out: two people providing completely opposing accounts of the same events. It showed even the best lawyers in the country can struggle to determine the elusive truth.
The backdrop of the case was London in lockdown. Most businesses were shut, and many people remain furloughed or out of work. Quite who thought this would be the right time to enter in to one of the most invasive and publicly humiliating trials of all time remains to be discovered. Mark Stephens, a media lawyer at the firm Howard Kennedy, told the Financial Times that “Only a moron in a hurry would entertain the thought of having the break-up of their relationship picked over by two QCs and a judge, in full public view.”
Meanwhile, the case was also being tried in a second much more unforgiving court: the court of public opinion. While the search for truth certainly stands more chance in court than it does on social media, the expert opinion of lawyers can help shape both. Judges are looking for clarity but so are the public. When journalists tell the story of events that day, the insight of lawyers is needed to frame the narrative and provide that additional information. Jonny Depp’s case against the Sun had everything, but there are many other stories that require the clarity provided by legal spokespeople, and not just in these very public celebrity trials.
That’s why we’ve provided a list of examples of other ways lawyers can contribute to the UK media:
Providing expert commentary
As we’ve seen, journalists require commentary from legal professionals to help explain the legal and business stories of the day. These expert opinions not only help readers understand the often-nuanced legal implications in any given case, but they allow us to position lawyers as experts in their field.
Our campaign with Sparqa Legal to provide legal advice to small businesses became invaluable to journalists as the rules around furlough were quickly released by the government in response to Covid-19. Through the national, HR and broadcast press, we were able to establish the company as experts in the rapidly changing legal landscape. The company was able to provide essential legal advice during this time, making the law accessible and empowering troubled businesses to fulfil their own legal needs.
Positioning legal firms as thought leaders in their fields is essential to any legal campaign. In a fast-moving news cycle, the press needs experts they can trust to provide thought leadership that can establish the facts and argue for solutions.
CaseLines has been providing evidence bundling and courtroom presentation services for litigators since 2010. When we met, CaseLines told us that they wanted to convince people of the need to innovate in an industry resistant to change. They had created state of the art software that digitises the trial, and bundle process in courts.
As thought leaders in technology but also in law, we set out to affirm their expertise to their target markets. We developed a two-strand approach that balanced profile building for the CTO Paul Sachs with company exposure in the national and legal press. This meant targeting key legal titles with exciting new ideas, as well as contributing to the media narratives in the nationals.
Our PR Campaign assisted an increase in website traffic up 349% compared with the same period last year. PR Generated coverage in Kenya, Dubai and South Africa as well as 18 new countries allowed the company to take their thought leadership to a global audience.
Engage with claimants
Speaking in the media is one of the most straightforward ways to speak to your existing audience, but what do you do if the people you’re trying to reach aren’t looking for you? In 2018, a total of 1.2m vehicles in the UK were affected by Volkswagen’s Dieselgate emissions scandal. Your Lawyers represented 10,000 of the consumers affected, but many more claimants remained unaware of the class-action.
By calculating the total potential money owed as a result of the scandal – emphasising the billions yet be claimed against the automotive giant, we commenced a bespoke regional media relations strategy mapping potential claimants against the latest census data and estimating a potential individual claimant win of £8,500 per person.
We took this story to the press, achieving almost 70 pieces of coverage in total, generating over 7,500 click-throughs to the class-action sign-up page and ultimately driving x200 more client enquiries for the business.
Campaigning for change
As the world’s largest litigation finance company, Burford Capital are used to providing complex financial solutions for their clients. In 2019, while the law industry was celebrating 100 years of women in law, the gender pay gap was still a pressing issue in the industry. Burford Capital wanted to create change. They argued at the current rate, female lawyers wouldn’t approach equity for at least another generation.
Inspired by their work in litigation finance, the company launched ‘The Equity Project,’ a ground-breaking initiative designed to close the gender gap in law by providing economic incentives for change. Through a $50 million capital pool, that was earmarked for financing commercial litigation and arbitration matters led by women, they set out to change the economics of law.
The company’s unique expertise in financial solutions allowed us to provide fresh insight into the gender pay gap, and campaign in the media for social change in the industry.
Taking the lead
While many media opportunities are reactive and involve focusing on the current stories in the news cycle there is always an opportunity for legal firms to take the lead and try and tackle the problems themselves. Buckworths, for example, specialise in SME and start-up law. When the Government announced its support for British businesses during lockdown, it became clear many SMEs were exempt.
PHA suggested an integrated PR campaign to promote Buckworths’ solution to the issue and call for the Government to incentivise private investors to support businesses. This was achieved thorough publication of a whitepaper into the issues. We also drafted a letter to the Treasury, which was signed by 87 other businesses and reported in The Times and CityAM, giving the company a platform to take the lead on this pressing issue.
If you work at a law firm and would be interested in showcasing your firm’s expertise in the media, get in touch with our award-winning team today to discuss how we could help.