Ahhh the court of public opinion. It works in mysterious ways cultivating opinion and spitting out a massively “popular opinion.” Nowhere has this been more prevalent than the use and abuse of litigation. In his landmark 2003 book, James F. Haggerty emphatically stated, “Litigation PR is the management of the communication process prior to and during the course of any legal dispute or adjudicatory processing so as to affect the outcome or its impact on the client’s overall reputation.”
In order to get their sides of the story out, plaintiffs, prosecutors and defendants alike have taken advantage of mass media to enthrall the public to their side. The first class action suits known as group litigation started out in merry old England way back in the 13th century. PR scribes and troubadours were probably at their ready recording the events for the populace.
However, it really was not until the 1980s when the formal practice of litigation PR as a sub-specialty of crisis communication came on the scene. Who can forget the tobacco industry pundits puffing on their cancer sticks exclaiming that tobacco was merely a harmless pastime? One Alan Hilburg, a pioneer in litigation PR unfortunately took the wrong side as he represented U.S. Tobacco. The court of public opinion can be a most fickle mistress.
Litigation PR has grown exponentially as the court of public opinion has expanded in reach with the onset of social media. It is used to apply leverage to a case before it appears in a court of law. Negative publicity can be so damaging that a reputation can almost be impossible to salvage.
“Litigation PR is to influence the outcome of the court case by encouraging early or favorable settlement or by pressuring the prosecution into bringing lesser or no charges,” according to the aforementioned James Haggerty.
Haywood emphatically stated in his book Managing your Reputation that a key purpose of litigation PR “is to protect the client’s reputation before and during the trial.” In this regard, litigation PR is akin to reputation management. Reputation management is about managing public perception of an organization or individual. It is about attitude toward the individual and not knowledge itself. An essential aspect of reputation management is influencing attitude about the individual and corporation, which can encourage positive activation to the benefit of the organization.”
Frivolous litigation is also getting its share of PR pundits. Articles often appear in top publications proclaiming the Top 10 Frivolous Lawsuits. There are even websites dedicated to outing the aberrant litigations like the Faces of Lawsuit Abuse.
If anyone had a right to sue a business, it is the family of 2-year-old Lane Graves, who was killed by an alligator at Disney World. The world poured out its collective heart to the family and I am sure lawyers were calling them constantly. Instead of a pursuing legal recourse, they decided instead to concentrate their efforts on a charity they have set up in their son’s name. Lane’s father stated, “Melissa and I are broken. We will forever struggle to comprehend why this happened to our sweet baby, Lane. As each day passes, the pain gets worse. In addition to the foundation, we will solely be focused on the future health of our family and will not be pursuing a lawsuit against Disney,” the parents said.
This is a #PRWIN – NY Post: The parents who didn’t sue Disney taught America a powerful lesson
Contrast this to a recent suit of parents suing a school because their daughter did not make the high school cheerleading team.
What a world!