The Public as Judge
Litigation PR Conference 2016
The relationship between the press, the public and the judiciary is getting more and more complicated. Can the public or the press influence the result of a trial? Or are the courts still independent enough? How does one defend his reputation in court and in public? These were some of the questions of the first Litigation PR Conference in June 2016.
Today, one’s reputation in court is as important as in public. In fact, a bad reputation in public due to an unprofessional communication strategy can be as bad as losing in court. At the first Litigation PR Conference by N.CH and its partners, the ZHAW School of Management and Law and AGON PARTNERS LLP, the experts discussed and analysed the relationship between the press, the public and the judiciary. A relationship that is getting ever more complex these days.
The Limitations of the Press
A key part of this exchange was the panel discussion, moderated by Prof. Dr. Patrick Krauskopf, with representatives of the press as well as lawyers and judge. Lawyer and journalist Mirjam Teitler as well as Judge Cornelia Stamm Hurter stated that although they do read the press, they try to minimize the influence by carefully assessing what reports they read before a trial. Mirjam Teitler noted that it is especially important for a lawyer to communicate directly with the court and not trough the media to avoid any misunderstandings. The representatives of the press, e.g. chief editor Stefan Regez, publisher Matthias Ackeret, and investigative journalist Monica Fahmy, were of the opinion that, although Litigation PR aims to influence the work of the journalists, its influence is rather limited. While it certainly can improve the public interest for a case and therefore also the interest of the press, Litigation PR won’t be able to change the public’s opinion as much as some might assume. However, while journalists seem to be quite critical during a trial towards the parties involved as well as the court itself, they turn to be rather uncritical after the trial as ended. The reason seems to be that most journalist lack the knowledge about the judicial system especially in regarding the Swiss Federal Court. However, this opens the question if Litigation PR does really end after the trial or if the interpretation of the result of the trial and therefore the coverage about it is maybe of even greater importance.
The Judiciary System Improves its Communication Strategy
When talking about Litigation PR, it is important that today the courts are improving their communication strategies and capabilities. Markus Felber, who worked as journalist at the Swiss Federal Court, and Mascha Santschi Kallay, a lawyer and communications as well as Litigation PR expert, presented their experience in a workshop. Both were of the opinion that the courts have extended and professionalised their communication with the press and public and, as a result, the lawyer need to improve their communication strategy too. Valentin Landmann, one of the most famous defense attorneys in Switzerland, was of the same opinion and emphasized that today not to communicate is even worse as it can be interpreted that one is hiding something. He further stated that it is often better to admit ones mistakes instead of waiting until they are discovered. Barbara Schwede, a social media expert, supported his opinion especially with regard to the public. Her workshop about “shitstorms” explained how a bad and aggressive communication, especially when being connected to legal threats, can worsen public opinion. Although these events seem not to have any long-term effect, their immediate influence should not be ignored.
The Politics of Litigation PR
Litigation PR is often being connected to the work of lawyers. However, this ignored the fact that every negotiation that draws public interest requires a professional communication strategy and therefore includes the principles of Litigation PR. Béla Anda, former press speaker of the German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, presented this during his speech. His example was the forced labours used by German companies during the Second World War and the repatriation negotiations of the German government and various organisation dealing with that matter. His task was to organise a professional communication of developments that presents the view of the German government. The goal was to explain to the public that the German government does really want to solve this problem and had nothing to hide. The same topic was presented by Thomas Borer, former Swiss Ambassador in Berlin and political communication expert. Being in charge during the negotiations of Switzerland and the survivors of the Second World War as well as their families , he shared his experience and stated that one needs friends, a professional communication strategy and a clear as well as honest message to be succesful. No communication allows the other side to slowly increase their support and increases the pressure as well. This was true before the turn of the century and is even truer today.