Law Practice Management

E-Mail Leaks About Layoffs Prompt Law Firms to Set New PR Course

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When Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt started informing those affected that it was laying off 19 of its 400 employees and cut associate pay last month, it took less than an hour for the news to leak to the legal media.

A mere 41 minutes later, the Portland, Ore.-based law firm received an e-mail from Above the Law on June 15 asking for more information, reports the Wall Street Journal. Only a week earlier, the tabloid legal blog reported salary cuts at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman before some associates at the law firm heard the news internally from those in charge.

Such leaks are prompting an increased focus by many law firms and other employers on e-mail security, as well as a potential change in public relations strategy as they at least consider a shift to other methods of disseminating sensitive news. Some employers are even blocking workers from accessing private e-mail accounts when they are at the office.

When Chicago-based Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg let go 19 lawyers and 32 staff members in February, it didn’t distribute an e-mail about the layoffs, according to the newspaper. “If you send an electronic communication to more than a small group of people, there is a substantial possibility it will turn up on a site,” says Jerry Biederman, the firm’s managing partner.

Mark Long, the managing partner of the Schwabe firm, says it is re-evaluating how best to communicate sensitive information in the age of blogs and social networking on the Internet.

Realistically, employers can’t expect to release information internally and keep it out of the news, says Dallas Lawrence of Levick Strategic Communications. He recommends that employers plan to release the same message to employees and the media simultaneously.

Related earlier coverage: “Law Firms Waking Up to PR Issues Posed by Law Gossip Blogs”

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