The scope and focus of legal departments' duties continue to expand as the needs of corporations change. One of the more important trends is the increasingly vital role of the legal department in helping to manage and shape a company's image and reputation. Rather than simply telling management what they can and cannot say, legal often can help shape positive messages.
As a former journalist and former regional counsel for Microsoft Corp., I spent a significant amount of time as a media spokesperson for that company. I learned that rather than being passive during a media crisis, legal departments can help communications staff actively manage the crisis.
A company's reputation is clearly one of its most important assets, one that requires discipline to build and diligence to maintain. Without a strong partnership between the legal and communications departments, a company is vulnerable to a variety of external threats that can permanently damage its reputation and result in significant costs. With an enlightened partnership, the legal and communication departments can not only provide more effective protection for the company, but also can increase their value internally by enhancing the organization's long-term viability.
Janice L. Block is senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for Career Education Corp., an Illinois-based owner of career-focused schools and colleges.