Lis Anderson, director, AMBITIOUS PR
Emerging technologies are changing the way law firms and legal teams operate, challenging the traditional law firm model and widening the scope of the sector. This evolution represents an opportunity as well as a challenge to the legal PR professionals.
Rather than just responding to key legal sector developments, legal PR communicators need to be one step ahead of the lawyers in their teams. They need to anticipate how key corporate concerns, such as adapting to changing tech, recruiting new talent and growing the customer base, will interact with PR and communications. Legal PR teams also need to be skilled at horizon-scanning and anticipating risk. Across each of these key strategic areas, we outline what legal PR teams should be looking out for, and what tools they should have in their arsenal to mitigate potential threats.
In 2020, KMPG predicted that by 2025, half of legal teams would not be lawyers, and that there would no longer be a distinction between legal tech and tech, as enterprise technology broadens into legal activity. We are over halfway to 2025, and already these predictions about the impact of technology on the sector are coming true.
So, what are the key opportunities and risks associated with rapidly expanding use of technology in the legal sector for PR teams? The rise of AI and tools such as ChatGPT are making many marketing tasks easier, while lawyers are starting to see potential applications, especially as the tools get ‘smarter’ with more access to legal data. Legal PR teams should be the point of reference for their colleagues on the application of these tools, as well as able to identify when AI outputs – for example blogs or LinkedIn posts – will not do the trick. Audiences still expect a human to be providing their advice – even if it is in the form of marketing content rather than paid for legal counsel.
Growing cybersecurity threats are also a key risk for legal PR teams to be aware of and work closely with lawyers and managers to mitigate. A 2022 American Bar Association survey found that 27% of firms have experienced some kind of security breach. Advances in technologies used by law firms may make them more of a target from malicious cyber-attackers, as sensitive client information is more accessible. These new systems may expose vulnerabilities in existing systems and require firms to invest more heavily in training for staff. The law firm’s PR team should have a detailed crisis management and scenario plan to map out actions the firm would take in case of a data breach, and how reputational risk would be mitigated.
According to the MHA Legal Sector Forecast 2023, recruitment is the largest obstacle to UK legal firm growth, dwarfing other concerns with 63% of respondents citing recruitment. Salary demands, flexible working and mental health pressures, as well as ESG and diversity and inclusion practices are all key factors for retention and recruitment. Law firm PR teams clearly have a key role to play in meeting the legal recruitment challenge, helping to build the firm’s employer brand.
ESG frameworks are evolving at pace, impacting not just clients but law firms themselves. Legal PR professionals need to stay up to date with the expectations of their sector, working with lawyers and operational leads to develop a story for the firm that rings true and avoids greenwashing. If your firm is working with clients in carbon intensive industries, consider how this could be impacting your ability to recruit younger, more environmentally conscious employees. Meanwhile if your firm supports charities or purposeful businesses, consider mapping the ways this work could contribute to the law firm’s own brand, for example by deploying existing metrics to measure social impact, responding to the growing trend of measuring the ‘S’ in ESG.
2023 has already seen multiple headlines focused on the mental health of lawyers, with a growing number of lawyers questioning their career choices as a result of increased stress. UK charity LawCare has called for law firms and the wider sector to take “real steps” to change the way we work in law, creating sustainable working cultures that welcome a diverse range of people. Legal communicators have a vital role to play in supporting these objectives and identifying ways to tell a truthful story about the firm’s approach, working closely with HR and management.
Brand and business growth
Legal services will not be immune from the effect of the global economic downturn. And for law firms, many of which will have benefited from the surge in demand for their services post-pandemic, the change may feel even more acute than in other sectors. Some firms may look to consolidate their position within a market or explore how they could expand into new ones. Each move will require the firm to examine current brand positioning, and ensure that marketing, brand, and communications are all pulling in the same direction to support business growth.
Clearly there are opportunities here, but there are also possible risks. Working with a PR agency to conduct an in-depth review of competitors and identify where a new proposition will land best could save you time and resource in the long-term. Equally, conducting a review of your online profile, and creating a proactive strategy for SEO & SERP management will provide the firm with a curated narrative. If your law firm intends to expand into new markets, this sort of strategy will help ensure your online presence reflects the new area of work and benefits overall corporate reputation.
For each strategic priority, from the adoption of new technologies, to recruitment and business growth, the involvement of a marketing and PR perspective at the start of any new initiatives is absolutely vital to anticipate risks and identify opportunities.