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What to do when a PR crisis hits

I was interviewed for an article in The Lawyer magazine today about how law firms – and in particular Gibson Dunn – should deal with a crisis.

Gibson Dunn is a top 30 firm with a global presence and – right now – it’s making headlines for all the wrong reasons. It’s a fairly safe bet that Peter Gray, the partner who has helped shove the firm into the unwelcome spotlight, is probably not the most popular name at the firm right now. If you haven’t yet caught up on the events that Mr Gray has become embroiled in, these first involved his allegedly providing incorrect information to a court that contributed to the decision made to freeze someone else’s assets (for which he could face criminal charges). Then Gray appeared again in the headlines, this time as one of three men being accused by the former managing director of Leeds United FC, David Haigh, of ‘conspiracy to defraud.’ Haigh initially directed his complaint at two executives from Leeds’ former owners Gulf Finance House but has now included Peter Gray too. Haigh has been in prison in Dubai for more than 10 months now. He is claiming that the three men lured him to Dubai where he was arrested and imprisoned indefinitely – but not charged. The reason for the imprisonment was his alleged falsifying of an invoice with a value of £3m. He claims that Gray etc paid his air ticket and even arranged his visa.

So, although not 50 shades of reputation damage by Peter Gray, he hasn’t done Gibson Dunn any favours. The firm has worked to distance itself from him – swift action was a good move – but it’s a very high profile case with some fairly intriguing details and the big problem for the firm is that information just keeps drip dripping through the media channels, keeping the flames of interest fanned and ensuring that every time Gray’s name appears Gibson Dunn’s does too.

Although the firm acted quickly in suspending Gray – exactly what they should have done under the circumstances – as a result of the media attention its next moves will be crucial. So, how to handle this kind of high profile heat? Cooperating with the authorities – and being seen to do so – will ensure that any suspicion of wrongdoing focuses only on Gray. Issuing clear, unambiguous statements and returning calls, interacting with the media and working with regulators are all essential to minimising the damage to a firm reputation that one man can potentially cause.

It’s important that the firm is fair to those affected – that too is another reputational landmine if not handled properly – but Gibson Dunn must also focus now on regaining control, perhaps even generating some positive news to combat the negative. Although this might be an unwelcome 15 minutes of fame for the firm, it does not necessarily have to do lasting damage.

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