In today's digital society, where the scrutiny of businesses, institutions and individuals is truly global, reputation matters more than ever. Reputation risk is no longer defined by coverage in the mainstream print and broadcast media. The expansion of online news outlets, internet forums and social media has meant that the number of potential threat actors has expanded exponentially. So too the digital storing of sensitive private or confidential information, and the risk of this information being compromised, can have severe reputational consequences for organisations and individuals alike.
We advise a very broad spectrum of clients on issues affecting their reputation. Clients range from individuals and families, to corporates and financial services firms, to educational, not-for-profit and sports organisations. We are also in the unique position of having previously spent a number of years advising a mainstream media organisation and retain a small selection of publisher clients. As a result, we understand the media, making us especially well placed to assist our clients where the threat to their reputation is from news or media outlets.
Not only do our reputation management lawyers have extensive expertise of the legal issues that arise where clients' reputations are under threat, but we also have a carefully developed and select network of third party advisers who we engage as appropriate to assist us in delivering the best advice to clients. These advisers include communications experts, cyber and physical security firms, business intelligence practices, financial advisers and specialist barristers. Our network ensures clients receive a comprehensive and bespoke service, which best protects their interests.
Our experience in protecting clients' reputations incorporates a huge variety of situations. These include family disputes, the removal of online content (including via the ‘right to be forgotten’), data security breaches, corporate crisis planning and threats posed to individuals and organisations by challenging personnel (whether employees or otherwise).
Our clients appreciate our ability to acclimatise quickly to any reputational crisis or threat and to develop a detailed understanding of their needs and interests. We know the urgency of reputation management and will take the steps required to minimise risk and damage, whether through formal legal proceedings, robust correspondence or proactive planning.
A significant portion of our work continues to involve advising our clients on threats and damage to their reputation arising from traditional media coverage and activities. This work includes assisting clients in respect of the publication of defamatory content, confidential information or details which engage their privacy rights (whether under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights or the General Data Protection Regulation, Data Protection Act 2018 and the ‘right to be forgotten’). We have extensive experience in advising clients pre-publication in order to seek to prevent the publication of a story or mitigate the potential damage it may cause. This includes engaging directly with media organisations, where our ongoing connections with publishers prove invaluable, and, where necessary, taking formal legal action. If and when a story is published, we are well versed in determining the appropriate action, whether that is engaging in litigation or understanding that the matter is best resolved instead by a public relations response.
We believe it is vital for clients to adopt a proactive and pre-emptive approach to risk. We therefore assist clients to identify specific areas of reputation risk and advise them on the appropriate preparation and planning. This will often involve working as part of a team of third party advisors, to include communications specialists and cyber security experts. The range of advice is very diverse and includes, for example, advising clients on how to address potential harassment by the paparazzi; assisting on reputational fallout associated with significant political donations; and advising clients to prepare for appearances before Parliamentary Select Committees.
The bespoke nature of our reputation management offering means that we have advised a range of organisations on issues affecting them. This includes advising financial and professional services firms on a full range of reputational issues from adverse media coverage arising from newspaper sting operations to investigations by the Information Commissioner. We have also assisted institutional clients, such as charities, schools and sports governing bodies, on a diverse selection of crises, including reputation risk arising from safeguarding issues and allegations made in public concerning the conduct of the organisation. More generally, we assist companies, ranging from private businesses to multi-national corporates in the preparation and response to the full spectrum of issues affecting their reputations.
We understand the importance of ensuring the security of sensitive and private information. Security breaches can impact upon an individual or organisation's reputation not only because of the nature of the information compromised but also in light of organisations' obligations pursuant to data protection legislation and the increasing scrutiny, in the light of the General Data Protection Regulation, of the way personal data is processed. We advise individuals and families on the preservation of their most sensitive information, and are able to call on a range of external cyber and IT security advisers to assist in this process. Similarly, where information is compromised, we frequently advise on the appropriate action, whether in the form of legal action pursuant to privacy and data protection laws, or the reporting of matters to the authorities and referral of clients to criminal lawyers. We also advise our corporate clients on their obligations relating to how they store and use information, and have extensive experience in assisting organisations when under investigation by the Information Commissioner.
Today, reputations can be defined by the information that remains available in Google search results, on internet forums and online databases, and in media archives. Corporate and individual clients face the ongoing challenge of holding the internet to account in order to protect their reputations. We frequently advise clients on the removal of content from websites, search engines and, increasingly, due diligence databases which includes the use of the ‘right to be forgotten’. Where an organisation or individual is encountering difficulties professionally and/or personally as a result of inaccurate or dated content held on databases such as World-Check, we can assist in securing the removal of such content. The same applies to damaging search results generated by Google and other engines. Our network includes intelligence firms able to conduct detailed technical reviews of clients' online profiles and identify areas of risk in respect of which the appropriate legal action can be taken.
One of the most challenging areas for clients is the conduct of persistent and obsessive individuals. This can involve the behaviour of an ex-spouse or partner threatening to expose sensitive private information or the actions of an irrational individual determined to cause maximum reputational damage to an organisation. We frequently advise clients on these issues and understand the need to balance a desire to respond robustly with the need to avoid any actions that may prove counterproductive. Our detailed understanding of the laws relating to defamation, privacy, harassment and blackmail ensures that we are able to help clients through situations that can be highly distressing and time consuming. Often, such matters involve litigation commenced by the individuals in question and we are well versed in exploring all possible avenues to reach a swift and satisfactory outcome for our clients.