Sophie Bowkett

Sophie Bowkett

Senior Corporate Communications Manager at Bird & Bird

Asks: Is Brexit shining a light on law firm communication strategies?

"Strange day. The PM resigning is only our third most important story." So tweeted an FT journalist on Friday 24th June as the reverberations of the EU referendum result were beginning to be felt. Since then, Brexit has continued to dominate the headlines, yet some in the legal profession have found it difficult to take the post-Brexit public debate by the horns and engage in it. This is largely due to a lack of precedent and all lawyers' arch enemy – uncertainty – permeating the whole situation.

Nonetheless, effective communication strategies and strong leadership are a must in uncertain times when clients need to see exactly why a firm is best placed to guide them through the fallout. A proactive approach to communication has become vital in today's competitive market as it's a way to clearly signpost a law firm's specific offering. The stand-out law firms are those that can cut through all of the noise around a big event like Brexit and provide focussed insight that draws on their strengths, and adds real value. This isn’t just about great client service – effective communications can benefit law firms by bringing the right clients to their door. So what does an effective communications strategy look like?

React to changing media consumption habits
As consumers of news we were all hungry for Brexit updates by the minute after the vote – and the challenge for professional advisers is to be able to offer insightful commentary at each stage as the story unfolds, understanding that our clients' media consumption habits and expectations have been irrevocably changed by the advent of digital media outlets. This means working quicker and going out publicly based on the information available at the time – with the full knowledge that further developments will continue to unfold. This doesn’t always sit well with some lawyers as it means fighting the urge to keep schtum until all the details have been ironed out to avoid saying something that's later proved incorrect. In today's fast-paced political and media environment, the time for expert insight is not weeks or months after the fact - it is in the days, minutes - even seconds - that follow.

Two-way communication
Effective communication is as much listening as it is speaking. As well as a wealth of clients to talk with, law firms have increasingly sophisticated resources at their fingertips with the use of social media and website analytics tools, meaning that they can tailor their responses to events like Brexit in line with what’s keeping their client base awake at night. Feedback from conversations with clients and from our web analytics in the run up to the vote enabled us to identify those areas our clients and prospects were searching for –the implications for US businesses with a presence in the EU being one example – and ensure we provided commentary to meet those needs. With the line between traditional PR and digital marketing increasingly blurred, these insights were also shared with journalists so we could collaborate in providing answers to the questions being asked by their readership.

Understand the client's perspective and speak to it
Addressing clients' concerns ensures your communications – whether across the press, social media or your own website – have weight behind them (and saves a firm trying to be all things to all people). Do your clients want to hear from you for a joined-up, cross practice approach or for your specialist insight in one particular area? Do they value a regional, national or international perspective?

Know your channels
Understand your audiences and your platforms - social media is not the right place for lengthy analysis. Trade magazines targeting a specific industry will require a different (more nuanced) level of detail than the national newspapers and broadcast channels, and international audiences will likely need more background filling in for them (we found the US interest in Brexit starting to grow just as the whole thing reached fever pitch in the UK).

Ultimately law firms - just like everyone else - face uncertainty in the coming weeks, months and years. But clients are asking the questions of their advisers now - and an effective communications strategy is vital to ensure that the industry can provide insightful guidance as the situation develops.