By Susan Maynor and John Remsen, Jr.
From time to time, lawyers may find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings involving a high profile client or a significant or controversial matter. In many cases, the media is there to cover the story and feed their reader’s and viewer’s appetites for celebrity and controversy.
It’s critical that lawyers involved in these situations be prepared and ready to put their best foot forward when dealing with the media.
This checklist is designed to help lawyers, law firms and their clients deal with these challenging situations
First & Foremost
Before any media plan is devised, understand the applicable rules of ethics and law in the relevant jurisdictions regarding media relations.
Select an official spokesperson and do not allow anyone else to speak to media, including your client. All media requests should be directed to the official spokesperson.
- When leaving the courthouse, you can expect a “media blitz.”
- Avoid rushing past reporters and cameras with your head down. It makes you look like you’re hiding something or — even worse - guilty.
- Do not answer questions that you are not prepared to answer, just to please the media.
- Always take the high ground. Be positive and forward thinking.
- Be polite and confident. Act like this is your show and you are the one in charge.
- Never say “no comment.” Rather, calmly and politely state that you are not in a position to answer the question(s) at this time and offer to give a statement in the future.
- Spokesperson relinquishes control over public’s perception of client.
- Reporter will look to other sources for information.
- “No comment” implies culpability.
- Avoid legal jargon or inflammatory language. Do not react defensively or reactionary. Be factually accurate.
- Develop three or four concise and catchy, one-sentence messages and do not deviate from those messages. Your messages should not convey information that you would not say in open court.
- Be mindful of body language.
- Explain court proceedings or other helpful information to reporters. Alternatively, offer copies of pleadings or recent briefs that explain your client’s position.
- Keep your client close by. Don’t let the client step away from spotlight. If so, reporters will leave attorney and follow the client to ask questions.
- Sound bytes on local news: Your comments will be limited to 15-20 seconds so be concise, easily understood and accurate.
- Have an exit strategy. Devise a plan to end the reporters’ questions. Plan your last word.
- Keep reporters apprised of schedule changes in the trial.
- Always assume that you are “on the record.”
- Determine each media outlet’s trends or biases.
- Anticipate the types of interviews and quotes you want, and determine which media outlets will NOT be granted interviews.
- Learn habits and prejudices of particular reporters, their interview techniques and angles.
- Grant interviews to reporters whose work fits the story and who can be sympathetic to your client.
- Ask to review any and all of your quotes before they appear in the story to check for errors and omissions.
- Keep your client informed of requests for interviews.
- Do not ignore a reporter’s telephone call. It’s not advantageous to inform the public that the attorney was not available for comment or did not return a call. At least contact the reporter to say why you are unable to make a statement at this time.
- If you do not know the answer to a reporter’s question, state that you do not know the answer but that you will try to get it in time for the reporter’s deadline.
- Take time to explain how the legal system works. In the absence of legal training, reporters do not understand concepts such as summary judgment, etc. This will go a long way in cultivating a good relationship with a reporter.
- Assist reporters with reasonable requests in obtaining court documents.
- Respect the reporter’s deadlines and time limitations.
About the Authors
Susan Maynor is the Director of Marketing & Communications at the Romano Law Group in Boca Raton, Florida. She can be reached at 561.997.8949 or SusanMaynor@bellsouth.net.
John Remsen, Jr. is President of TheRemsenGroup, a marketing consulting firm that works exclusively with law firms. He can be reached at 404.885.9100 or JRemsen@TheRemsenGroup.com.