Let’s face it: Lawyers don’t always know how to talk to press. Reporters, in turn, don’t always have the bandwidth to dive deeply into the cases and deals that are of broad interest to stakeholders.
Enter: Mike Dolan.
Dolan is a Managing Director at Finsbury, the global strategic communications firm that works deftly across a variety of industries.
Finsbury provides strategic communications support to a wide range of companies and organizations, including those facing legal issues with the potential to impact their reputations, business operations, and stakeholder relationships.
His approach is holistic, as he works with firms to frame their litigation, deals, executive moves and other events of interest, forming a public narrative that is comprehensive and advances the strategic interests of the company or firm.
Dolan, who is based in New York, is a member of the 2020 Lawdragon 100 Leading Legal Consultants and Strategists.
Lawdragon: Will you describe for our readers the types of services you provide within the legal industry and to whom?
Mike Dolan: Whether it’s high stakes litigation, government investigations, regulatory matters, cybersecurity issues, or other challenges, we advise clients and their legal teams on managing the potential impact these matters can have on their most important stakeholders. In these situations, organizations can face a variety of reputational, legal, and business risks. To mitigate them, we work closely with organizations and counsel to craft a clear and compelling narrative, communicate in a timely and impactful manner, and maintain the trust of key audiences.
LD: How has the pandemic impacted the work you’re doing?
MD: In recent months, we’ve seen a surge of Covid-19-related litigation, ranging from claims that employers are not taking adequate precautions to protect frontline workers to insurance disputes in which underwriters and policyholders are asking courts to decide whether business interruption or civil authority provisions cover business losses from the pandemic. At the same time, we’re also seeing the resumption of more “routine” litigation that had been suspended by courts as a result of the virus outbreak.
With regard to Covid-19 claims, one of the key challenges that we are helping clients manage is the fact that many of these are being brought by employees, business partners, customers, or other key stakeholders whose support they will need during and after the crisis. The messaging and tone of any response is critical and helps to ensure that companies emerge from the pandemic with these relationships intact.
Separately, as other litigation resumes, many clients are wrestling with the added challenge of managing the “remote” aspects of litigation. These include both managing the increased access that media and others may have to proceedings as a result of courts moving more towards online platforms, as well as providing guidance on how to prepare for and deliver clear, effective and compelling video presentations.
LD: How did you first come to the world of strategic communications, for law firms and others?
MD: My path to Finsbury was a bit circuitous. I began my career working in non-profit before deciding that I wanted to pursue a career in philosophy. After receiving my master’s degree in 2008 and deciding to leave the academic life, I joined Finsbury’s predecessor firm, Robinson, Lerer & Montgomery, where I received a crash course in strategic communications by supporting companies impacted by the unfolding financial crisis.
Since then, I’ve been helping clients plan for, respond to, and recover from high-stakes issues, including crises and litigation, across a range of different industries.
LD: What advice do you have now for current students or young professionals who are interested in a career in communications?
MD: One of the strengths of Finsbury is that while we provide communications counsel to our clients, our team comes from a wide range of professional (and academic) backgrounds, which helps us give informed advice to organizations facing a host of different challenges.
For current students considering a career in communications, the core skills that our firm values are strong critical thinking and writing. Any academic track that builds and develops those skills will be beneficial. Conversely, credentials specifically in communications are not a prerequisite – many of the formal and technical elements as well as best practices are learned on the job.
LD: How has your profession changed since the early part of your career?
MD: When I started, we were still using fax machines. Technology has transformed the communications landscape, particularly social media and digital platforms, but it has been a double-edged sword. On one hand, we are all are better able to stay connected, communicate more efficiently and effectively and share information more quickly. On the other hand, issues that our clients face that previously might not have attracted attention, remained local news, or generated niche interest now, if not carefully managed, have the potential to escalate, move rapidly across borders, and become truly global issues.
LD: Have you had any negative experiences in advising lawyers that taught you new approaches, or caused you to reconsider working with lawyers?
MD: No, I wouldn’t say there have been any bad experiences, but I do think when working closely with the legal team on a crisis assignment or litigation, there can be – or there can be perceived to be – a tension between the approaches and priorities of legal and communications teams.
However, this conflict is typically exaggerated, and our focus is on helping both legal and communications teams work toward the shared objective of defending and protecting the client. We will work with the communications team to make sure they understand the legal guardrails, and conversely, work with the legal team to help develop communications that can be used to help reassure the organization’s stakeholders or mitigate potential reputational issues in a way that does not jeopardize the company’s legal position or create undue risk.
LD: There are a good number of high-quality communications firms out there with a specialty in the legal world. What do you do try to “sell” about your firm to potential clients – how is it unique?
MD: When it comes to crisis management and litigation communications, Finsbury has extensive experience managing some of the most complex and headline-grabbing issues of the past few decades. From providing high level strategic counsel to executing impactful communications campaigns, we know how to work with organizations and outside counsel to craft and deliver clear, timely, and effective messages to organizations’ most important stakeholders.
Beyond our experience, I’d also say that our single biggest differentiator is the caliber of our people. We have an incredibly dedicated multidisciplinary team that brings sophistication and expertise to every assignment, all of which are led by senior members of the firm. We have on staff a number of former journalists, lawyers, and bankers as well as veterans of the corporate world, government, and political campaigns.
Finally, our firm is really a “global boutique.” Along with our partner firms The Glover Park Group and Hering Schuppener, we’re the right size to be nimble enough to respond to our clients’ needs quickly in major business centers around the globe. And, in July 2020, we announced that we are formally joining together with these partners to create the preeminent global strategic communications and public affairs consultancy, Finsbury Glover Hering, which will launch in early 2021.