In the wake of the pandemic the challenges facing legal communications professionals have evolved significantly. Legal PR teams are now contending with an economic crisis, an ongoing war for talent and continued scrutiny of working models and client decisions. But now is not the time to bury your head in the sand, businesses and communications professionals must be flexible and proactive to address these challenges head on.
The legal sector is not immune to economic shocks or free from the impact of inflation. Headcounts may reduce and services may change, but historically speaking, the industry has been more recession proof than most. The reality is people and businesses still need legal services, and for larger firms with diverse practice areas, attention has already turned to insolvency, bankruptcy, restructuring, financial misconduct and litigation work.
When a firm is performing well it’s easy to put PR on the backburner and enjoy a ‘quiet’ success; the perception can be that there’s enough work so there’s no need to raise profile further. But when times are uncertain PR is more important than ever.
For firms looking to grow, building credibility and trust through a proactive communications strategy focused on key media outlets keeps you front of mind for both potential clients and employees. And for those firms that aren’t performing as well as hoped, attention can often turn to them and recession-related reputational risks should be expected.
Take the war for talent currently driving up salaries in the industry. US/London firm Akin Gump has hiked its starting salary for newly qualified lawyers to over £180,000. The topic of salary and pay rises has been dubbed a “societal question” by Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey, and there’s no doubt news of salary changes will continue to dominate headlines, in stark contrast to public sector strike action. Salaries and changes to employee benefits are one of many reputational challenges facing law firms in 2023 with many employees looking for more than just a bumper financial package.
How firms communicate their decisions and who they work with will be essential too. The line between who it is acceptable to represent and who it’s not, is more blurred than ever before. While Russia’s war left many law firms justifying previous client work, client choices in 2023 will be under even greater scrutiny from both potential clients and the media.
Despite financial difficulties, older defensible positions might not be so convincing in this new court of public opinion. In the face of these challenges, communication is key.
A smaller field of work means the new business landscape will be as fierce as ever. Legal professionals must find new ways to deliver innovative commercial choices, billing arrangements and ESG commitments, and communicate with the market and the public in a constructive and effective way. Even new hire announcements can deliver much needed transparency on the direction of travel for your business.
Lastly, if 2022 is anything to go by, 2023 will provide some more surprises that we cannot predict. Engaging, thoughtful and proactive external communications is key to building, maintaining and protecting a positive reputation, one that is critical to overcome the above headwinds.
To sign up for our upcoming Legal PR Event ‘The growing importance of reputation for North-West Law Firms’ click here or use this link to read more about our work in the sector.