Survey reveals cybersecurity as the biggest threat to law firms’ reputations

New research out today [1 June 2017] shows the biggest reputational concern for PR professionals within the UK’s leading law firms is the threat posed by a cybersecurity breach.

The report, Risky Business: Taking the pulse on law firm reputation management, published by specialist legal PR agency Byfield Consultancy in collaboration with Legal Business magazine, surveyed the views of 50 senior PR professionals from the UK top 100 law firms on the key reputational risks they face.

64% of respondents to the survey cited cybersecurity threats as the biggest risk to their firm’s reputation over the next two years, followed by misuse / proliferation of social media (28% of respondents), increased regulation at (26% of respondents) and clients’ reputational issues (also 26% of respondents).

Looking back over the last two years, clients’ reputational issues were cited as causing the biggest reputational headaches for in-house legal PR professionals (36% of respondents) with cybersecurity threats and lawyer and staff misdemeanors scoring joint-second for 34% of respondents. In addition, the proliferation of social media has placed increasing demands on the marketing and monitoring of law firm activity, with 66% of respondents believing it has made their role more difficult.

Senior legal PRs agree that a badly managed reputational issue is not good for business, with 88% saying it could have a negative impact on a firm’s profitability and 90% agreeing that it could deter new recruits. 82% of those PRs surveyed think the lawyers themselves consider reputation to be of high importance to winning new work and attracting talent.

Encouragingly, the report shows that in a market characterised by increased competition and internationalisation, as well as greater regulatory and media scrutiny, reputation management is now firmly on managing partners’ agendas, leading to greater investment in training and internal risk procedures.

60% of those surveyed say that law firms take risks to reputation as seriously as other organisations; 78% have a clear strategy to deal with reputational issues and 36% of them have monthly meetings with managing partners and senior management around risk and reputation management. By contrast, a worrying minority (22%) say that their reputational risk strategy is never formally reviewed.

Commenting on the findings, Gus Sellitto, Managing Director of Byfield said:

“Our report demonstrates clearly that as cyber and other risks increase, law firms and their PRs increasingly understand the importance of safeguarding their reputation. They know they need a clear strategy in place to plan for and manage reputational risks to their business. If firms fail to do this, they run the very real risk of an immediate adverse impact to their bottom line, as well as long-term damage to their brand.”

He added:

“42% of in-house senior PRs we surveyed said earlier consultation is vital for managing reputational impact and 40% of them would like a place on the firm’s management board. However they are still playing catch-up when compared to their corporate cousins, where senior PRs already sit on the board, guiding their colleagues through the reputational rapids. PR is now seen in corporate organisations as something that should be at board level and I don’t see why that shouldn’t be the case in law firms as well.”

– Ends –

Notes to Editors

Other key findings of the Risky Business report include:

Risk

  • 36% of PRs have had to manage more reputations issues in the last two years; 50% have had to manage about the same
  • 44% said lawyers place reputation as of high importance in the context of winning work

Planning

  • 52% of respondents admitted reputation training is not covered as part of new inductions for lawyers
  • 60% believed that law firms take reputation as seriously as other organisations
  • 66% said that social media has made dealing with reputational risks harder
  • 88% said a badly managed reputational issue can impact on profits
  • 22% said their strategy for dealing with reputational risks has never been reviewed

Strategy

  • Seriousness of the issue would drive 60% of respondents to seek external support
  • 40% would like a place on the management board to discuss reputation management in the next two years

For further information, please contact: Natalie Cush, 020 7092 3980

Notes on the research

  • The report draws on a multiple-choice questionnaire managed by Legal Business between February and April 2017
  • 50 in-house PR professionals from the Legal Business Top 100 responded to the survey
  • A number of respondents were subsequently interviewed in-depth about the themes that emerged from the analysis