UM Law professor examines the role of corporate lawyers in the court of public opinion

CORAL GABLES, FL (November 17, 2009) — In today’s world, legal issues and controversies are not only tried in the court of law, but also in the “court” of public opinion. However, corporate lawyers tend to separate legal activities from public relations strategies. In addition, they have often viewed media issues as separate from those involved in providing legal advice.

Given today’s savvy media culture, “no comment” is no longer a viable strategy. Nevertheless, there are small indications that some corporate lawyers are adapting to the new environment by helping their clients manage the public relations impact of their legal controversies. However, up to now there has been little systematic evidence gathered on this new trend and its implications.

University of Miami Law Professor Michele DeStefano Beardslee has used this platform to analyze the following in her new research; (1) how the court of public opinion affects legal controversies of large publicly traded corporations that have high demand for legal services; (2) how the intersection of public relations and law is managed by general counsels of these corporations, and (3) what ought to be lawyers’ ethical obligations, if any, in this extra-judicial court.

Her paper titled, “Advocacy in the Court of Public Opinion Installment I: Broadening the Role of Corporate Attorneys” attempts to investigate these questions. Beardslee sent a questionnaire to all general counsels of the S&P 500 (which elicited a 28% response rate) and conducted fifty-seven interviews with general counsels of S&P 500 corporations, law firm partners, and public relations consultants.

The research is being published by the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics and is available now. The preliminary findings from this study will appear in two installments to be published in forthcoming issues of the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics. In the first installment, the researcher focuses on how public opinion can shape and affect legal controversies. It also discusses how corporate attorneys manage legal PR for their clients. In the second installment, Prof. Beardslee highlights some examples of wrongdoing by corporate attorneys. Due to the fact that professional guidelines put the spotlight on the wrong place and on the wrong subjects, they become irrelevant to corporate practice as it pertains to public relations.

The University of Miami School of Law’s mission is to foster the intellectual discipline, creativity, and critical skills that will prepare its graduates for the highest standards of professional competence in the practice of law in a global environment subject to continual ― and not always predictable ― transformation; to cultivate a broad range of legal and interdisciplinary scholarship that, working at the cutting edge of its field, enhances the development of law and legal doctrine, and deepens society’s understanding of law and its role in society; and to fulfill the legal profession’s historic duty to promote the interests of justice. www.law.miami.edu

The University of Miami’s mission is to educate and nurture students, to create knowledge, and to provide service to our community and beyond. Committed to excellence and proud of our diversity of our University family, we strive to develop future leaders of our nation and the world. www.miami.edu

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