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New Rules of Engagement for General Counsels in the Age of Presidential Tweets

From our colleague Richard Levick, writing in Forbes:

Reverberations from President Donald Trump’s recasting of political behavior are being felt in every corporate counsel’s office – not only in the U.S., but abroad, too. Civility, subtlety, even facts, are out. Confrontation, predawn tweeting, and “alternative facts” are in.

When coupled with the disquieting new realities of the digital age, does that mean that general counsels need to throw out their blueprints and overhaul their approach to managing risk and fending off threats – legal, political, market-driven, and otherwise – to the corporate brand?

To a pretty significant degree, yes.

In early March, I participated in a pair of roundtables with other battle-scarred veterans of legal and public affairs fights. We grappled with how the Era of Trump is forcing corporate counsels – not to mention their colleagues in communications – to rethink their way of doing business. Our strategic premise? When the general counsel’s office asks the right questions and establishes the right goals, the lawyers can fundamentally strengthen a company’s capacity to protect its brand.

We all agreed that “conventional” playbooks have been rendered obsolete and that quick response and worst-case scenario planning are even more important now than they used to be. The traditional top-down “control” over events that most corporate counsels covet is much tougher to attain in today’s climate.

Here’s a list of consensus imperatives that every corporate counsel’s office should consider.

Sharpen your antennae – and reflexes. As former Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), now a senior policy advisor at Arent Fox, observed, corporations these days find themselves in a precarious spot. If Trump chooses to tweak them and their stock price plummets, they can lose hundreds of millions in market capitalization in a matter of minutes. Ask Boeing, Toyota, and Lockheed Martin, all of which had unsettling experiences in the immediate aftermath of Trump tweets only loosely tethered to the truth.

Overhaul your crisis response capabilities. As Senator Dorgan’s Arent Fox colleague Pamela Deese pointed out, it’s essential for companies to establish lightning-fast capacities to respond to presidential tweets and unforeseen crises – unless it wants to see its stock price in free-fall and its brand unnecessarily tarnished. Cyber threats, online harassment, grassroots consumer protests, and a dozen other potentially debilitating threats all demand that companies beef up their crisis response and recovery capabilities and that legal counsel be involved early.

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