LONDON — British law firm Schillings, which specialises in defending clients in often high-profile libel cases, is to set up a specialist reputation management agency.

The new communications firm, which has not yet been named and will open for business in January 2024, will be led by founding partners George Pascoe-Watson and Victoria O’Byrne, who will become equity partners.

O’Byrne is a former communications director for the Prince and Princess of Wales, Richard Branson at Virgin Group, and the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. She began her career as a communications advisor for the Labour Party.

Pascoe-Watson is currently chair of Omnicom PR firm Portland, which he joined 14 years ago. He was previously editor of the Sun newspaper and worked for the UK tabloid for 22 years before going into communications consultancy.

Schillings CEO David Imison said: “With the pace of technological change, intensified scrutiny, proliferation of falsehoods and the ramification of cultural and generational faultlines, the reputational terrain has never been so complex to navigate. This terrain requires a new map.

“We are launching a strategic communications consultancy alongside our legal, intelligence, investigations and security practices to offer world-class counsel – the first of its kind under one roof. Our integrated approach will mean that clients have the resilience they need to capitalise on high-stakes opportunities and successfully manage high-stakes threats.”

In its statement announcing the move, Schillings said the new business was being created “in response to an increasingly complex world where licenses to operate for individuals and organisations have become dependent on reputation, now made both in the court of law and the court of public opinion.”

It added: “In the modern age of intensified scrutiny, digital and privacy threats, smear campaigns, complex reputational risks and overnight cancel culture – super-charged by the ultra-high pace of the digital age – today’s contested space requires a broader and deeper bench of experts.”

The law firm has represented contentious clients including Sir Philip Green, cyclist Lance Armstrong, Meghan Markle, Johnny Depp, JK Rowling and German payments group Wirecard. It already lists digital communications as one of its core service areas, including research, analytics, social listening and "resilience building". 

Schillings is not the first law firm to branch out into communications: in June 2021, Dentons Global Advisors (DGA) was set up with a minority stake from the world's biggest law firm, Dentons, and has gone on to make a number of acquisitions and senior hires from other strategic communications firms.