As an attorney—particularly a litigator—there is a great likelihood that you’ll eventually come across an opportunity to interact with the media at some point during your career. The first time it occurs will be a huge moment of pride as you consider the potential boon it could have for your legal career. It is true that publicity—when done well—can boost a client’s case, your firms’ credibility and recognition which then ostensibly can lead to new clients. However, that same publicity—when done poorly—can also have devastating effects on your clients' case, your firm’s credibility, and your career.
Easy Press Announcements to Consider
Firm announcements such as expansion (in terms of staff, or new offices) or that a firm attorney has received a particularly notable award, can help to reaffirm the idea that your firm is thriving, and thereby in demand. These types of branding announcements can only help in terms of firm recognition.
Additionally, experienced attorneys will sometimes use press outlets to champion up and coming stars in their firm. This tactic highlights that your entire law firm is powerful and effective. The method is relatively easy in that a partner or lead attorney on a case can re-route the media request to an up and coming firm attorney for response. I would not recommend this strategy on a bigger case with high stakes
Another safe and easy press announcement is a press release dealing with the advancement of the social goods your firm believes in and/or consumer safety you are trying to advance. Whether your discussions with reporters focus on a toy drive your firm is sponsoring for children, raising money for medical research, or highlights a consumer safety issue, media exposure allows you to invite the public to join you in charitable work, or provide valuable safety tips to keep your community safer.
Potential Pitfalls When Working With The Press
One must always remember that agreeing to work with the media isn’t without potential pitfalls. Any attorney on the receiving end of unfavorable publicity can attest to the horrors of bad press. One must always be conscious that quotes given to a reporter can easily be taken out of context, or shortened for space, which can lead to misinterpretation. Moreover, thanks to the internet, any quote you provide to a reporter can live online, forever. The same goes for written statements and/or press releases, which are subject to being shortened for space.
Other potential downsides of working with the media, include the possibility of giving a less than ideal reactive response to a question from a reporter, who perhaps catches you on your way out of a difficult day in court. Something as simple as refusing to answer questions from a reporter can result in the reporter printing that you “refused to answer,” questions, which can be interpreted negatively by your potential jurors and, thereby, hurt your client’s chances for a just result.
A word about social media is warranted here as well, as it’s become its own form of “press” over the last 10+ years. As a general rule, it is smart to refrain from using your professional profiles, and certainly your firm profile to make controversial political statements or weigh in on otherwise controversial topics. Likewise, refrain from commenting on any post that may be controversial, using your professional or firm profile. It’s just not worth the risk of alienating others.
Strategies for Maximizing Media Opportunities
To maximize the opportunities to benefit from media placements, preparation is key. Just as you wouldn’t go into a hearing or trial without a strategy, you should avoid interacting with the media without a strategy.
To increase the likelihood that you wind up with “good press,” treat a press conference like you would a closing argument. In other words, take time to develop key talking points ahead of time. Try to anticipate what questions you might receive and how you would answer it if asked about a case you’re working on, a ruling or verdict you receive (both in your favor and in favor of your opponent). Being proactive rather than reactive lessens the chance you’ll make an emotionally charged statement that you’ll later regret. To that end, when speaking with a reporter reiterate your main points frequently. That way, even if your statements are shortened, or taken out of context, your primary points don’t wind up on the proverbial cutting room floor.
In a similar vein, expect that anything you say is “on the record,” to prevent errors in judgment. Remember that journalists and reporters aim to “break news” wherever possible, and as such, you need to be on guard at all times. Over time, you might develop mutually respectful relationships with certain reporters and learn that you truly are able to speak “off the record” and trust that what you say won’t be published. However, until you establish such a relationship then err on the side of caution, and don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to have to defend.
Finally, a socially conscious attorney should always consider using publicity to help champion just causes. For example, as I am writing this, my partner is awaiting a potentially large employment arbitration award. During closing argument, opposing counsel for a large corporate bank attempted to bully the arbitrator into making a finding for their client. Our firm is already contemplating how to effectively use a press release or press conference to highlight the many pitfalls of the court’s recent trend of forcing matters into arbitrations instead of adjudicating cases through Seventh Amendments Constitutionally guaranteed jury trial.
In spite of the potential pitfalls, working with the press to garner publicity, educate your community, or to raise funds or awareness, is typically worth the effort. But it’s crucial to remember that getting good press won’t make you a good lawyer. On the contrary, being a good lawyer is what will generally secure good publicity, so your time is always best spent trying to be the best advocate that you can for those who need you.
Founder and Senior Trial Attorney at Rizio|Lipinsky Law Firm, Greg Rizio is one of the most successful and influential personal injury lawyers in Southern California. Rizio secured the largest ever plaintiff’s verdict in Riverside County, at nearly $58 Million. It was the #1 verdict in the state, in 2014, and the 10th largest verdict nationally. Rizio is heavily involved in the legal industry associations. He is a former President of the San Bernardino/Riverside Chapter “American Board of Trial Advocates” (ABOTA) board. He is the past president of the Consumer Attorneys of the Inland Empire (CAOIE). He also serves on the Consumer Attorneys of California (CAOC) Executive Board.www.riziolawfirm.com