Better kept under wraps?

The recent news that Linklaters obtained an injunction preventing its former CMO from sharing information to expose the firm’s alleged struggle with women in the workplace gave us food for thought. Is it always better to keep your dirty laundry out of the public eye? 

From a reputational perspective the answer is, usually, yes. Faced with the option of being vilified by the media exposing such stories, it’s easy to see why a firm would choose to try to stay quiet. The public consuming any such media reports begins to form a view of the company or firm at the heart of the matter, its culture and attitudes of those at the top with responsibility for setting the tone – as well as judging its reaction to complaints from within. Stories also influence the perceptions of partners, employees, future candidates, suppliers, clients, and regulators alike.

In this instance of course, Linklaters didn’t succeed in quelling the whiff of dirty laundry altogether. Whilst the firm may have kept the details under wraps via means of litigation, the impression remains of an institution with a problem. Injunctions are a risky tool and can sometimes have the contrary effect of drawing attention to the very thing the injuncting party is trying to downplay.

Consider the alternative strategy. Had Linklaters allowed the exposé without looking to silence the messenger, might it actually have created an opportunity? It could have redefined the firm into a #MeToo trailblazer, offering a sincere, robust and public response and highlighted positive action by the firm, illustrating to the public both its abhorrence of an outmoded culture and determination to demonstrate there are consequences for those, no matter how senior or important to the firm, who transgress a newly-implemented zero tolerance policy. Compulsory training and education on expectations could have been rolled out across the firm – yes there would likely have been howls of disapproval from within, at the suggestion that everyone should need to be taught basic behaviour – but then going forward, the onus would fall onto the individual rather than the firm, to defend an accusation that their conduct had fallen short of norms that they should have known was expected.

Sadly Linklaters didn’t take such a bold and forward-looking view. Just think if this giant of law firms had set such a precedent, it might not only have earned a very different reputation on this topic but perhaps the rest of the legal community would have sat up, smelled the coffee, bowed to peer pressure and followed suit.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

A lesson in sincerity

Gillette’s newest advert, launched last week, created a media storm – but for all the wrong reasons. The advert, riding off the wave of the #MeToo movement proudly calls for an end to ‘toxic masculinity’ depicting men catcalling, groping and coercively controlling women. The backlash is understandable. Making insulting generalisations about the conduct of your primary customer base isn’t usually what one would consider an effective marketing technique. But perhaps the bigger issue at hand is the question of whether it’s ever wise for a brand to align itself with a socio-political movement?

Well yes – provided the context is right. A jeweller like Tiffany’s can promote a campaign calling for conflict-free diamonds because the brand tells us it is committed to selling conflict-free diamonds. Likewise, outdoor-clothing brand Patagonia can encourage its customers to buy sustainable apparel because the brand claims to be committed to reducing environmental destruction through organic farming and land preservation. 

But Gillette – a brand which, among others in its industry, has historically and continues to face accusations of ripping women off, by charging more for their female-focused products than for those aimed at their male counterparts – despite many of the products being near identical – doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Perhaps they should have set their sights on helping abolish the ‘Pink Tax’ before they tackled toxic male conduct – after all, the economic exploitation of women is itself just another form of gender inequality. 

It’s a lesson relevant for any organisation when choosing a CSR initiative: look closely at the values that underpin your organisation, because sincerity always pays in the end.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Personal Support Unit launches fundraising appeal to expand vital services following legal aid cuts

The Personal Support Unit (PSU) has revealed plans to assist Litigants in Person more than 80,000 times over the coming year (2019/20).

The PSU, which was established in 2001, relies on a team of 755 dedicated volunteers* across 23 courts in England and Wales to help litigants who are unable to afford legal representation by sorting through paperwork, organising case notes and attending court hearings, giving litigants the confidence to represent themselves in court.

63% of PSU-assisted cases last year were family related, involving either divorce or child custody – an area particularly hard hit by legal aid reductions resulting in the closure of advice centres and increased court fees. The charity also supports individuals facing immigration, housing, employment and bankruptcy court hearings.

From April 2018 to March 2019, the PSU had 75,432 contacts with individuals. Out of a total of 7,869 users surveyed, 99% felt “better prepared” for their court hearings following support from the PSU, and significantly, 97% of 4,734 respondents felt the PSU had helped them get a “fairer hearing.”

As part of its expansion, the PSU launched a free, confidential helpline in March this year, which has so far received 2,892 calls from litigants seeking support.**

To fund this and other services the charity offers, The Rt Hon The Baroness Hale of Richmond, President of the Supreme Court and Patron of the PSU, will take part in a BBC Radio 4 appeal aired throughout Sunday 28th July.

Peter Crisp, Chair of the PSU, said:

“Almost half of us will use the justice system at some point in our lives. The PSU’s purpose is to help some of the most vulnerable in society to access justice. Almost 50% of individuals we assist are unemployed and sadly 25% have mental health problems or a physical disability.”
He adds: “Despite our growth, we know there are many Litigants in Person who still have nowhere to turn to, which is why we are striving to expand our services to reach more people. We receive amazing support from the legal profession and we currently have 22 fantastic corporate partners who support us with regular giving. We are hoping to increase this number to 30 by 2020 to ensure the PSU can continue to deliver vital support to litigants facing court alone.”

ENDS

Note to Editors

About the PSU

The PSU is an award-winning organisation with around 755 dedicated volunteers* (often retired lawyers). It operates from 23 courts in 19 different cities across England and Wales.

It was founded in 2001 by Lady Copisarow OBE with the aim of reducing the disadvantage of people facing the civil and family justice system without a lawyer, enabling them to access justice.

The PSU relies on funding from the Government, Trusts, corporate sponsors and donations from friends and individuals. In 2018/19, its annual revenue was £1,103,257.

Trustees include: Peter Crisp, Kirit Naik, Elizabeth Davies, Caroline Field, Peter Hancock CBE, Angela Camber, Elisabeth Long, Greville Waterman, David Wilkin and as of 9th July Samantha Gargaro, Stephen Adler and Tim Nash.

Patrons include: Martin Lewis OBE, The Rt Hon The Baroness Hale of Richmond (President of the Supreme Court), The Rt Hon Sir Terence Etherton (Master of the Rolls), The Rt Hon The Lady Butler-Sloss, The Rt Hon The Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony, The Rt Hon Lord Dyson, The Rt Hon The Lord Neuberger, The Rt Hon The Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, The Rt Hon The Lord Thomas, The Rt Hon The Lord Woolf, The Rt Hon The Lord Judge.
**Figure exact as of 11 July 2019

For more information on the PSU, please see: https://www.thepsu.org/

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley