22 May 2019 - Article
Friday afternoons are often the busiest in the world of crisis management. It is not unusual for reporters to call the subjects of their articles at the eleventh hour before publication, and for the Sunday papers, this can mean leaving this until late on Friday. We gear up into crisis mode at very short notice to stop the papers printing private information about our clients. While each and every time is different, media management like this is ‘bread and butter’ for our team.
Hell hath no fury like a partner scorned and our top-ranked family team are no strangers to the troubles and strife that can happen at the end of married life. It is sadly the case that we often get involved when one half of the couple launches a campaign of harassment against their former partner, or where a spurned lover resorts to blackmail.
We are still actively pursuing phone hacking cases for our clients; naturally these remain highly confidential.
The summer of 2015 in the UK saw an out and out media attack on charities and their reputations, with a focus on ethics and transparency. Amber worked hand in hand with our leading charity team to protect the vital reputations of many of the country’s biggest charities.
We worked with a high profile senior executive who found themselves unfairly smeared in a sex discrimination case. Our client was denied the opportunity to defend himself and his reputation after the claimant withdrew her case in its entirety after giving evidence. Press reports remained online impacting his personal and working life. We liaised with the various online and print publishers to fully explain the unfair particulars of the situation, and were able to negotiate a much fairer reporting of the proceedings. It was in the public interest to report this, but we ensured our client was not defamed in the process.
A charity client was subjected to a sustained campaign by a pressure group over a period of months. High profile members of the organisation were targeted to generate publicity in print and social media. Somewhat ironically, when the charity reasonably defended itself, the pressure group threatened defamation proceedings. We fought off this action and engaged urgently with the press to correct the incorrect allegations. We then worked with the charity post-publication on their media messaging and proactive communications strategy.
When our client married a media darling, the press was bound to want to catch a glimpse of her, her dress, the wedding.. but the couple wanted to keep the private, family affair, just that. So we talked to the media to reach a solution that we and them would be happy with – we sent some lovely authorised shots to those titles that were keen to work with us and then moved fast to remove images from the internet that were taken with long lenses and without authority.
As well as crisis we also develop proactive communications plans when things go well. When our clients become aware of increased media interest in their lives, it’s often welcome and an exciting step, but it still should be managed and planned. We work with clients to make sure their stories are published accurately.
England and Wales, 1995
‘Pink Feeling Blue About Social Media,’ Private Wealth - April 29, 2019, author
UK privacy chapter in the Bloomberg News International Libel & Privacy Handbook alongside specialist lawyers from across the world
‘Privacy Protections - luxury goods or essential commodity’, International Bar Association’s ‘Media Law & Ethics in the 21st Century’
The Law Society
‘NetDiligence, privacy and the right to be forgotten in Europe’, guest speaker - June 2015
Minerva, Female Focus, guest panel speaker - May 2015
Young Norwood, guest introductory speaker - November 2014
RPSCA, Brighton, Legacy Dos and Don’ts, guest speaker - August 2014
American Family Association Conference, New York, guest speaker - April 2014
Marsh Family Office Risk Seminar, guest speaker - November 2013
Reputation and crisis management, STEP Zurich conference - October 2013
‘Reputation Matters…for Professionals’, presentation to ILAS - May 2012
Family Office Conference, Handling the Media in the Family Court - January 2012
‘I’m a celebrity, get me some privacy’, Young Norwood, guest speaker - July 2010
‘Steering the right course - ensuring your NHS charity is well placed to manage through challenging times’, Association of NHS Charities, guest speaker - March 2010
Me in a minute
Words have been the mainstay of my professional life
‘Words, words, words,’ answers Shakespeare’s Hamlet when asked what it is that he is reading. Words have been the mainstay of my professional life: words that hurt and defame my clients; words to provide an antidote to the poison administered by an attacker, in print or online; words to litigate and negotiate; words to communicate to the public and to teach to others, my passion for media law.
Robert Browning’s words have also stayed with me throughout my professional - and personal - life: ‘Ah, but a man’s aim should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for’. We must always strive to achieve the best, and more, for ourselves and, in my professional life, for my clients. I am deeply aware that in my line of business - where a client may be facing an unwanted expose in a national newspaper, an anonymous attack on social media, or battling against a campaign of harassment or blackmail - that it is a very stressful and distressing time, and while the legal problem must be solved, a human must at the same time be saved. I am enormously proud therefore, that clients routinely commend me for easing the burden in such potentially stressful times, for providing sensible, practical advice.
In my role as the firm’s corporate social responsibility partner, I have instigated a system across the firm of charity of the year best to be able to focus the initiatives of the firm’s office to various charities chosen by our offices (London/Europe; USA; and Asia). During my time, my fundraising activities have included confining myself to a wheelchair to gain first-hand experience of living with a major disability for 48 hours and was part of the firms ‘Snowdon Push Challenge’ team consisting of 13 Withers employees who braved Mount Snowdon having previously taken part in the gruelling ‘Three Peaks’ challenge.
In addition to my private practice, I have taught media law at the College of Law - which gave me such a good start in my legal career - writing and teaching its professional skills media course and becoming its external examiner for media; I have also taught media law at the London School of Economics.
I write regularly on media law issues, and this is a great passion of mine seeking to show the human face of we lawyers to the public and to present our field in an interesting, educational and entertaining way. So we come back full circle to my love of ‘words, words, words’ which I suspect will always remain.