Hogan Lovells has launched a new crisis leadership practice, betting on the youth and diversity of its lawyers to help counsel clients through tough scenarios in the Internet age.
The firm’s Crisis Leadership Team was designed to help clients prepare for the unexpected in a more predictable way. It is made up of 25 partners, along with Mark Irion, who heads Hogan Lovells’ strategic communications group.
Lillian Hardy, a Washington-based partner who leads the new practice, said it was formed after she and other attorneys noticed that they were consistently handling what she calls “modern problems” for their clients.
These weren’t traditional legal issues like a subpoena, but rather crises caused by individual actors. And today’s climate, clients are aware that these problems can very well go viral on social media.
In past situations, members of the new team have advised a university responding to student protests, a growing pharmaceutical company facing bad press, and a corporation facing public allegations that its founder created a toxic work environment, among other crises.
Hardy said in the past she’s struggled to find a way to explain this expertise and experience to clients without divulging the details of the crisis, thereby undoing the work Hogan Lovells had done.
“The birth of the crisis leadership team was me and others needing the right way to introduce to the marketplace what we’re doing from day to day,” she said.
Many Big Law firms, including Boies Schiller Flexner, WilmerHale, and Debevoise & Plimpton, have crisis management teams led by prominent former government lawyers who are accustomed to managing corporate crises and putting out fires in Washington.
What makes Hogan Lovells’ crisis team unique, according to Hardy, is that it’s not simply set up to manage crises, but also to support client leadership through these difficult situations.
“What we have found is that it’s not really just the incident itself that worries a general counsel or chief compliance officer,” said Hardy. “They’re often having to consider things such as, what will people in management and the business team think? What will the board want from an oversight perspective?”
At their best moments, crises can help give in-house counsel “opportunity to show the best of what they have to offer as lawyers,” according to Hardy.
Hardy said the new crisis team’s services are not one size-fits all, and that the parameters of each contract are determined on a client-by-client basis.
But clients will know ahead of time what kinds of services they can expect given different categories of crises, she said.
“So they can literally buy a package,” Hardy said. “Think of it as a crisis insurance policy for legal risk.”
‘Zero Gray Hair’
Hardy said the Hogan Lovells’ crisis leadership team also stands out for its diversity, including in terms of practice area, age, race, gender, and nationality.
She said being a woman of color under 40 has been an asset to her crisis management practice, particularly when she’s working with technology companies whose workforce skews young.
“It’s incredibly important in high-risk situations to be able to walk into a room and speak to an engineer that designed a program that could create significant legal risk for the client,” she said. “And being able to walk in there with zero gray hair is actually a great advantage.”
The same has been true with clients in higher education, according to Hardy, where Hogan Lovells has also helped manage crises.
“Having the ability to talk to a group of young people from diverse backgrounds in a way that prevented them from feeling as if they were being admonished by a parent got us access to significant information that would otherwise be unavailable to a typical lawyer group,” she recalled.
“We need a team that reflects and can partner with the team within our client,” said Lillian Tsu, a member of the firm’s public company advisory group who is also a member of the crisis leadership team.
There should be no shortage of work for the new group. Tsu said two of her public company clients are currently in the midst of dealing with a crisis.