Clients often want to be heard: by their lawyers, by the courts, by the public. Some take to the media to get their side of a story aired. Letting clients speak directly with the media, however, can have severe risks, especially when a client is unpredictable, unprepared, or unsympathetic.
Perhaps you've heard the story about the recent shooting death of Kate Steinle. Ms. Steinle was allegedly shot at random by Francisco Sanchez, though that "allegedly" is getting much weaker after Sanchez gave a jailhouse interview confessing to the crime and asking to be put to death. Those statements aren't going to make his lawyer's job any easier, highlighting the risks involved with client-media contact.
An Extreme Case in Many Ways
Of course, Sanchez's circumstances are a bit out of the norm. Sanchez, a 45-year-old Mexican man, has seven felony convictions and has been deported five times. Earlier, he said that he could not remember the shooting and had been high on sleeping pills, according to a separate interview he gave Telemundo. Steinle was shot to death while walking along Pier 14 in San Francisco's Embarcadero, a popular tourist destination.
It's unclear whether Sanchez had a lawyer at the time of the interviews and to what extent his lawyer may have been involved with his public comments. He is currently represented by public defender Matt Gonzalez, however, who stood by Sanchez as he entered a not guilty plea at his recent arraignment. Gonzalez might help both himself and Sanchez out by cutting off the stream of interviews the accused has been giving over the past days -- and might want to get him evaluated by a medical professional.
Handling Client-Media Contact
Most clients aren't media savvy. Some, overtaken by stress, fear or anger, may make statements that they will not stand behind later. Others may reveal damaging information. Simply feeding a media-frenzy can take valuable time away from a lawyer's legal work and force an attorney to become a PR specialist as well as representative.
In general, if clients wish to speak to the media, it's best if their contact is mediated through their lawyer. This way, a lawyer can influence what information is released and how, can counsel a client on how to respond to inquiries, and can make sure that a media message is tailored to aid, not undermine, the client. After all, if a client desires to speak publically, it should be for the client's benefit.