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How to Handle Media Backlash From Your Most Unpopular Client

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

A handful of attorneys are lucky enough to have the problem of dealing with public backlash for representing unpopular, high profile clients. When the media makes your client a villain, it's not always easy for a lawyer to step to the side and not be cast in the same light. But, with high profile clients comes media attention, which is, basically, lots of free advertising.

Even when attorneys are maligned publicly for being willing to represent the reprehensible, the process of name/brand recognition is at work. Seeing the recent critical articles written about O.J.'s pending parole might make some lawyers wonder whether tying their shingle to unpopular causes and names is really a wise choice. After all, bad press is good press, except when it's really really bad, right?

Even the Devil Deserves a Defense ... Lawyer

Historically, the attorneys who are remembered have stood up for what they believed to be is right. Clarence Darrow famously quit as the railroad's GC in 1894 in order to represent the labor union. The attorneys that take on the unpopular sides of high profile disputes can often become even more famous, or infamous, if they obtain an unpopular outcome, regardless of right or wrong. For example, when Johnny Cochrane obtained the acquittal for OJ, his status as a celebrity lawyer (rather than a lawyer for celebrities) was solidified.

Unfortunately, making history matters less than paying the bills, or upholding your duties to your clients. Representing a hated individual doesn't have to harm your career. If you're thoughtful and careful with your public statements, and take the case seriously for its legal significance, it can potentially open new doors for you professionally, and maybe even personally. You can go from being just another lawyer to "that lawyer that represented so-and-so" and one that actually gets interviewed by reporters.

All About Balance

When it comes to the media attention you may personally receive, it is important to ensure you do not get caught up in the whirlwind and end up saying something that lands you or your client in trouble. You need to be cautious, even when answering questions with the phrase "no comment." However, if you are asked why you took on the case, take a tip from Timothy McVeigh's former attorney, Stephen Jones, who explained that he felt duty bound as a lawyer to take on the unpopular cases and clients.

However, some lawyers may not be cut out for high profile cases. Though many can handle it by meditating, practicing mindfulness, or just regularly exercising, the added stress can cause havoc on a person, physically. If you plan on taking a high profile case, you need to make sure you are taking care of yourself, cause if you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of others.

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