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  • Writer's pictureClint Ford

Litigation Public Relations - a lesson by Malcolm Turnbull.

Updated: May 12, 2021

The Australian Prime Minister is well known for two major jousts before entering Parliament. The ill-fated Australian Republican Movement campaign of the late 1990's and the extraordinary "Spycatcher" trial during the 1980s.

It was last year that I picked his book "Spycatcher" up from a second-hand book University book sale. I must admit, I thoroughly enjoyed the read and again recently flicked through it for a refresher.

I am a noted advocate of litigation PR, and have been published in twice in Lawyers Weekly and also in The West Australian on its upsides and pitfalls.

It is mainstream in the US to use public pressure and public leverage as a part of your litigation strategy. Increasingly, it's becoming an essential tool here as well; both defensively (managing share-price, stakeholder and regulatory license), and proactivley (e.g. pushing the other side to settle through damaging their reputation).

What caught my eye in "Spycatcher" was some commentary in the early pages of the book on his work for Packer in the Costigan affair, a Royal Commission which according to Turnbull "appeared likely to destroy him (Packer), his family and his company."

Turnbull goes on to say that "tackling Costigan by conventional means was futile and I persuaded Packer to counterattack with a violent public attack on Costigan. We launched our campaign with an 8000-word press release written by me which was printed in full on the front page of every newpaper in Australia, none of them owned by Packer. I followed that up with press and television appearances whipping up opposition to Costigan's Star Chamber tactics."

What is interesting is that Turnbull goes on to highlight how out of place this was in the 1980's legal fraternity and how it drove him from the NSW Bar to being a solicitor..."my efforts on Packer's behalf certainly made me notorious. I became very unpopular with my former colleagues at the Bar who resented my use of the media to defend a client. So I became a solicitor."

Thanks for both the history lesson and the tutelage in Litigation Public Relations 101 Malcolm. I enjoyed it.

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