Headline News: Tips for Speaking to the Press

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 14, 2015 3:56 PM

If you're an expert in your field, or if you're representing a noteworthy client, you should expect to get contacted by the press at some point. A reporter may want background information on tenant's rights or healthcare law, or ask for your comments on an important ruling.

Great! Getting your name out in the media as a legal expert is exactly the kind of publicity lawyers should court. If your clients are involved in high-profile litigation, speaking to the press can help you get their side of the story across.

Make sure, though, that when you speak to the press, you do it right, focusing on getting your points across clearly and avoiding any ethical entanglements. Here's some tips:

When Discussing General Items

Showing up in an article as an expert in your field is a great way to burnish your firm's image and can potentially lead to more clients -- that is, if you provide value information in a timely manner. When speaking to reporters, keep in mind that they often work on tight deadlines. That means you should respond to their inquiries quickly and ensure you have all your facts and information straight. If you're not an expert in that exact area of law, consider referring the reporter to someone who is.

Know Your Audience

Of course, there's more to speaking with the press than just knowing your stuff. You need to actually talk to them, and to the people reading the story.  Don't pass a reporter on to support staff, even if they're knowledgeable, the reporter wants to talk to you -- not your aides. At the same time, make sure you speak plainly and avoid jargon. You're talking for a general audience. If you're not sure of something, don't speculate, particularly on unfamiliar laws or jurisdictions.

If It's About Your Client

If the questions relate directly to your representation, tread more cautiously. You should discuss your media strategy with your client at the onset of representation. Some clients may want you front and center on the evening news -- others may prefer a lower profile.

Remember as well that revealing information about forthcoming and pending proceedings can subject you to bar discipline. Most state bars have rules on trial publicity. Generally, these prevent lawyers from making statements which would have "an imminent and materially prejudicial effect" on a proceeding. The ABA states that some topics, such as speaking about the character, credibility or reputation of a party and discussing guilt or innocence of a suspect, are "more likely than not" to be prejudicial.

That does not mean that lawyers should not speak to the press, particularly if their clients want to win in the court of public opinion as well as actual court -- but when they do, they should do so cautiously.

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