Monday 22 February 2010

Five-minute Abchat: Allan Dunlavy, Schillings

In the first of a regular series, Allan Dunlavy, Associate at Schillings, the leading law firm protecting the reputations of high-profile individuals, corporates and brands, talks to Abchurch about life on the legal side of reputation management.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Well, obviously there were the usual childhood and teenage fantasies of playing professional sport but these quickly faded as my lack of talent became apparent! If I wasn't practising law and I hadn't just won the lottery, then I think I would have liked to have been an archaeologist. I have always enjoyed history and you get to see remote corners of the world, excavate long forgotten sites and use your brain.

How did you get into reputation management law?
I have always wanted to be a lawyer and always had an interest in media law. At my previous firm I received a few instructions, got some good results and really enjoyed the work. I decided to pursue my career in this area and chose to join Schillings because of its expertise and reputation in the area of defamation and privacy law.

Describe your role in ten words or less (if that’s possible!):
Wow, that’s a challenge for a lawyer! I will try and keep it brief! I assist clients, both corporate organisations and private individuals, to protect their reputations and private information when they come under threat from external forces such as the media or non-media sources such as those with an axe to grind, malicious insiders and business or political rivals.

So, if I wasn’t talking to you now, what would you be doing?
I would probably be taking instructions from a client in regards to a soon-to-be-published newspaper article likely breach their confidentiality or privacy, and then liaising with the client’s PR team and the newspaper’s legal department to prevent publication. Failing that, I would be running to court to obtain an injunction preventing publication on the basis that the article would breach our client’s confidentiality / privacy and would not be in the public interest.

What is the most interesting thing about your work?
Schillings has an enviable client list including some of the worlds highest profile businesses and entrepreneurs and, on the other side, high profile sports, music and entertainment personalities. The work that the Firm and I do for them varies enormously and is often international in nature incorporating the laws of several different jurisdictions simultaneously.

Is there a common misconception about the reputation management?
The first misconception is the word ‘management’ – I prefer to call it reputation protection as the work we do complements that of PRs. We work with PR as an extension of their team to provide the client with legal tools. Second, is the idea that reputation protection is about restricting freedom of speech. No doubt all of us, regardless of our professions, believe freedom of expression is a basic tenet for any democracy. However, it is essential that this is counter-balanced with a company’s and an individual’s right to a reputation and an expectation of privacy; which is also crucial. Without reputations how can people decide who to vote for, at which school to educate their children, which companies to purchase products from, or who to work for? Every day we rely upon the reputations of people and organisations to make good, informed decisions and therefore it is essential that commentary affecting this is fair and accurate. At Schillings we play a vital role in providing access to such fair and accurate commentary.

How has the industry changed over the last couple of years?
It has become much more International with the explosion of the Internet and social media. This has made it possible for anyone, anywhere to become a ‘publisher’ and has increased the volume of media sources exponentially, thus the threats not only come from a greater volume of sources but also from all over the world.

Countering this is the increased protection available for a company's confidential information and an individual's privacy. This has come about through case law, which Schillings has been pivotal in establishing, and as the result of European legislation. Information of this nature is now better protected and we have the tools to ensure that private and confidential information that should not be in the public domain remains confidential.

What developments do you expect to see in the next twelve months?
It’s an interesting and exciting time. The Firm is currently involved in the Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee enquiry into “Press Standards, Privacy and Libel” concerning the self-regulation of the media, and we are part of the Ministry of Justice’s 2010 Working Group on Libel reforms. This area of law is constantly moving and as such it receives intense scrutiny from the media, not least because they are directly affected by it. It is unclear what the outcome will be but the Law will no doubt continue to adapt to deal with changes that arise.

Whilst it is important to permit publication of matters that are genuinely in the public interest, too often reputations are damaged, and privacy invaded, by the publication of stories that are untrue, or where the main aim is to satisfy salacious curiosity about the lives of the rich or famous irrespective of the distress caused to them, their families, and their friends. The aims of existing laws are sound, but in practice, they frequently fail to achieve a satisfactory balance between the public interest and truth and privacy. As a result, public figures, such as CEOs, may be unable to prevent themselves being defamed, or suffering invasions of privacy which are essentially unlawful. Schillings believe there are opportunities to continue to help clients protect their privacy and reputations without compromising the vital principle of freedom of expression and we have developed a ‘Blueprint for Change’ paper outlining three key changes as a way forward.

For more information about Schillings, please visit You can also download selected publications from Schillings here.

Follow Abchurch on Twitter @AbchurchComms

No comments:

Post a Comment