Lawyer Tips: Do's and Don'ts of Speaking to Reporters
Lawyers should always be ready to interact professionally with the media. You never know when a reporter will call to ask about a case.
For example, there was an incident when TMZ was reporting on my case before I got back to the office. For five days straight, all I did was answer phone calls and grant interviews to the media. News agencies literally from around the world wanted to know about my case.
We settled the case confidentially -- and favorably -- so I can't share details about it. But I can tell you some do's and don'ts about talking to reporters.
- Talk to reporters. If you don't talk to them, they will write about your story anyway but without your input. Often, it will look like this: "Joe Blow declined to comment," or "Jane Doe did not return phone calls." Only it will look worse with your name.
- Prepare your best quote. Do you think Johnnie Cochran thought of his most memorable line on the fly? Be ready to give reporters your best quote because it may be the one that defines your career.
- Speak for your client. While there are business benefits from talking to the press, you are a lawyer first and Andy Warhol-famous second -- make that 15 minutes. Anyway, your message should advance your client's interests.
Don't Do This
- Don't breach confidences. When talking to the press, client confidentiality should be like a back-seat driver -- a voice constantly nagging at you about which way to go. Be clear that you do not divulge anything your client wants to keep confidential.
- Don't assume anything is off the record. Unless you have a history with a particular reporter that you trust, do not say anything "off the record." If you grant an extended interview, it's a good idea to make your own record.
- Don't violate ethics rules. This goes without saying, except some lawyers will say anything. Whatever you do, don't make a statement to the media that will prejudice a judicial proceeding.
Lawyers are trained courtroom communicators, but they are not trained for the court of public opinion. Often a legal expert will struggle to find words that make sense to the general public. And in an era of instant communications, cases and careers can be won or lost in a sound bite.
So if you find yourself in the middle of a media storm, it may be a good idea to get some professional help. Or at least bookmark this page on your smartphone or computer for quick reference.
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- Rules to Keep in Mind when Interacting with the Media (ABA)
- 3 Reasons Attorneys Fail When Speaking to Reporters (FindLaw's Strategist)
- Should Lawyers Be Able to Sue Their Firm Anonymously? (FindLaw's Strategist)
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