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Legal teams fail to protect reputations

As they have to work hard to protect organisations’ reputations, it is no surprise that in-house legal departments appreciate that its reputation is their organisation’s most valuable asset. According to research conducted by communications firm Weber Shandwick, 91% of in-house lawyers recognise that a good reputation is essential for their organisation. Many are also aware of the impact social media has on a company’s reputation; 85% agree that social media has greatly increased the potential for a minor problem to turn into a major crisis.

Yet despite recognising the risks, firms are failing to prepare for crisis situations. Rod Clayton, executive vice president and co-lead, global issues and crisis at Weber Shandwick, points out that recognising a problem is not the same as doing something about it: “Despite such high awareness, however, in-house legal counsel teams may not be translating their appreciation of the risks and rewards of social media into concrete steps to mitigate those potential risks to their own organisations. Our study, Social Media’s Role in Crisis Management: A Call for Greater Legal Vigilance, found that, on average, in-house counsel devoted only 2.4% of their time in the last year to social crisis planning. Such a finding is surprising and suggests that in-house counsel might consider closing this apparent gap.”

Clayton describes how businesses are unprepared for the worst: “Having the skills to plan and execute a social media crisis strategy is more vital than ever, yet some in-house counsel would appear by their own measures to be under-prepared for the social media crises that could lie ahead. The survey found that only 54% of the in-house lawyers surveyed have had training, legal or otherwise, on how social media impacts their company and only 21% report that their department is very involved in planning for social crisis mitigation and response. What’s more, almost half (47%) of in-house counsel said that they had not spend any time at all on social crisis preparedness. This suggests, therefore, that in-house legal teams are not always putting awareness into action and are therefore leaving their organisations open to risk from a social media crisis.”

Crisis management maybe a key function of comms departments, but they don’t work alone, they must have the support of the rest of their company. Clayton concludes: “Knowing how to how to plan, implement, and execute a fool-proof social media crisis strategy is not the responsibility of the in-house communications function alone. It requires collaboration across the organisation, and in-house legal counsel are crucial to protecting against a social media crisis just as much as against any other risk.”


Weber Shandwick partnered with KRC Research to explore the perspectives of in-house legal counsel regarding preparing for and responding to social media crises. It conducted a telephone survey of 100 senior and mid-level practicing lawyers (50 in the US and 50 in the UK) who work as in-house counsel for Fortune Global 1000 companies and who advise on matters related to risk, reputation management or brand protection.

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