December 1, 2020

Volume X, Number 336

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November 30, 2020

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A Lawyer, C.I.A. Analyst and a Crisis Management Specialist Walk Into a Bar…

Before James Comey headed up the F.B.I., he served as general counsel of Lockheed Martin Corporation. While at Lockheed, he spoke at the National Security Agency about how studying law is similar to the education intelligence analysts receive. “You read a case and decipher…relevant facts, the [outcome] of the case…you are drilled on your reasoning, challenged by other interpretations…clear writing matters…facts matter.”  He went on to praise legal training “because it is an extraordinarily valuable tool in the world of intelligence.”

He elaborated on what he called a “uniquely lawyerly ability…to transport ourselves to another time and place. The ability to present facts to an imaginary future fact-finder, in an environment very different from the one in which we face current crisis and decision…we know that our actions, and those of the agencies we support, will be held up in a quiet, dignified, well-lit room, where they can be viewed with the perfect, and brutally unfair, vision of hindsight.”

Comey talked about how lawyers “must know how to say both ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ even when ‘no’ must be spoken into a storm of crisis, with loud voices all around, with lives hanging in the balance…and often, ‘no’ must be spoken in competition with the voices of other lawyers who do not have the courage to echo it.”

While I find Mr. Comey’s short remarks to be thoughtful and on target, I do take exception to his assertion that presenting facts to an imaginary future fact-finder is “uniquely lawyerly.”  I would argue that same skill set is present in the men and women who practice the specialized art and craft of crisis management and crisis communications.  They, too, must be able to quickly perform a situation analysis (often within the fog of information overload), look for connections and quickly play out a variety of scenarios, also knowing they will be second-guessed if things go awry.  And just as important as lawyers giving red light-green light counsel, so must crisis management counsel be able to take a stand – and speak truth to power. 

Bad things do happen to good people, to good companies, agencies, nonprofits, schools and hospitals.  But as Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”  And when those things do happen, it’s important to have both lawyers and seasoned crisis managers in the room, each with the ability to say “yes” or “no” with conviction, backed up with the kind of experience that can’t be found in a book.

In that talk at the National Security Agency, Comey said, “It takes far more than a sharp legal mind to say ’no’ when it matters most.  It takes moral character.  It takes an ability to see the future.  It takes an appreciation of the damage that will flow from an unjustified ‘yes’ (and) when it can be, to ‘no’ when it must be.”

I couldn’t agree more.

© 2020 Hennes Communications. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 236
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About this Author

Bruce Hennes Crisis Management Hennes Communications
Chief Executive Officer

Bruce M. Hennes is CEO of Hennes Communications, one of the few firms in North America focused exclusively on crisis management and crisis communications. Hennes Communications serves government agencies, corporations, manufacturers, education and healthcare institutions -- as well as law firms and their clients -- that are “on trial” in the Court of Public Opinion.

With over 40 years’ experience in communications, Bruce and the firm’s past and present clients include the Cleveland Host Committee for the 2016 Republican National Convention, the...

216-321-7774 ext. 101
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