They need to find someone who's not a yes man - a lawyer who can say no to someone who may be a titan of industry. Someone to stand up to a rich, powerful client who's used to commanding the ship. And you're not letting that person do what they usually do without checking in with anyone. Also look at the expertise, the background experience, and recognize it's my job to help you. But I can't help you if it's only to rubber-stamp your decisions.
What do you suggest to clients in terms of hiring a PR company to work with the legal team in a crisis?
Sometimes it's very helpful to have someone you trust to be a buffer or to have someone else develop a media strategy. However, it's very important that they ultimately understand whatever PR decisions are made, they're funneled through the defense team. The real pros recognize that in a crisis-management situation, it's not business as usual, that the general rules that apply in a public relations venue are changed. So they can play a very, very important role.
How do you handle butting heads against internal corporate communications departments?
It happens often. Butting heads is what I sometimes do half my day with people who mean well yet might not understand the bigger picture. You have to realize there's a new pecking order if your company is under criminal investigation. You need to get your arms around the situation quickly. The board, CEO, president, and communications director need to understand that until the criminal crisis is over, it's not business as usual. A well-intentioned communications director can undermine months of work with one inappropriate press release that suggests to the government that your lawyers aren't serious about trying to do the right thing or about trying to make restitution. Because if your lawyer is in the U.S. Attorney's office on his hands and knees begging to avoid prosecution while the communications director is putting out press releases that are in your face and/or disingenuous, it can cut your legs right out from under you.
What are your basic principles of business?
Having integrity and credibility. They’re priceless commodities. I know lawyers who’ve crossed the line and who never get back. So I’m very careful about not allowing clients who are unscrupulous to get me involved in their own sinister activities.… Clients walk out of my office [along] with huge fees because I just didn’t want to get involved in representing them ... because their view was “I can compromise anyone if the price is right.” Perhaps one of the keys to being good at this profession is having extraordinary compassion for human failure, for weakness, recognizing that the best of us aren’t perfect, we make mistakes, and that doesn’t mean your life should be over or that you should forfeit everything. And also believing in people’s fundamental goodness. Giving people the benefit of the doubt, caring about the people I represent, it’s all a priceless part of what makes me good at this.