Melanie Riley reflects on a tough climate for chambers and discusses how Bell Yard Communications can help steer its clients through the minefield
It must feel like tough times at the Bar these days – fee pressures, legal aid cuts, increased competition and self-representation, not to mention the challenge of marrying tradition with changing cultural norms. Reputational banana skins seemingly round every corner.
First the bankers, then the politicians, it is now the legal profession’s turn to face the ire of the media, politicos, online warriors or frustrated complainants – sometimes, though perhaps not always, with just cause. We’ve learned one man’s ‘innocuous’ comment is another woman’s example of rampant sexism to call out; one woman’s simple desire for equality and professional respect is another’s ‘fuss about very little’. Cue the rise of reputation managers, ready to help steady the ship.
Those who have lived through the test and come out the other side will tell you that reputation is hard earned, yet can falter swiftly in the face of adversity – occasionally with consequences unfolding both in and outside a courtroom.
Bell Yard Communications was born in 2002 as one of the first consultancies to practise litigation PR in the UK market. Our first client resulted from a QC referral: counsel with an astute eye on the PR requirements designed to augment his client’s case. Ever since, we have been privileged to work on a wide variety of cases – both for chambers themselves or, more often, for their clients.
Our instructions span commercial and breach-of-contract disputes to high-value employment, libel and divorce cases; consumer class actions to media-worthy IP and personal injury claims; and extradition requests to criminal cases involving attempted murder or large-scale fraud. We also support clients facing regulatory scrutiny and those involved in public inquiries.
‘It is now the legal profession’s turn to face the ire of the media, politicos, online warriors or frustrated complainants.’
Melanie Riley, Bell Yard
When the first major test of the Extradition Act 2003 rose to prominence, Bell Yard was on hand to assist the NatWest Three in their public battle to highlight the inequity of the system. We have been helping many others in similar situations ever since. More recently we assisted the creators of This Is Spinal Tap in their efforts to improve artists’ rewards in the face of rapacious rights-owning conglomerates; parties in the wake of the global #MeToo campaign; as well as chambers beset with management difficulties and regulatory concerns. Diverse circumstances indeed, yet clients tend to have one thing in common: a desire to limit the damage of unhelpful headlines or, where possible, prevent them from appearing in the first place.
Regardless of the party represented, we believe the key to any successful reputational PR assignment is developing a strong narrative, considering counter-arguments and creating lasting and effective rebuttals for all audiences, not just the media but internal and client stakeholders too. In an ideal world, adverse reputational and litigation scenarios would be gamed in advance, allowing counsel and consultancy to stress test reactions and responses before facing the full glare of publicity – but sometimes life gives you little notice.
In hiring Bell Yard, chambers and their clients are assured of a diligent and experienced PR agency, which truly understands the legal process and the changing landscape of media reporting. It is not necessarily the slip-up that defines the seriousness of the fall, but rather the handling of the aftermath.