A lawyer I worked with summed up the love/hate relationship between lawyers and the news media as follows, “We spend 50 percent of the time trying to get publicity about our firm and the other 50 percent worrying about what they press is going to write about us.”
Half of that is a waste of time if you know what you can and cannot say to a reporter. Rule 3.6(b) (per 2010 Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct) is clear on what can be said.
Despite its dire warning about “extrajudicial statements,” the rule continues that notwithstanding, a lawyer may state:
- The claim, offense or defense involved and, except where prohibited, the identity of the persons involved;
- Information contained in public record;
- That an investigation of a matter is in progress;
- The scheduling or result of any step in litigation.
Why then are lawyers so reluctant to speak to reporters? They can make their case by simply stating the summary of what has been publicly filed. While there are different rules for discovery and evidentiary disclosure that carry with them penalties (Rule 770), those should be adhered to in any case. What matters is how to promote what you and your firm are doing that is admirable, successful, or high-profile to promote your firm for future business.
While lawyers are limited by Rule 7 about what they can say in their advertising, news is not advertising.
Reporters already have instant, electronic access to what you have filed, so why not emphasize the most important messages? You can reach your most important audience outside the courtroom by simply reiterating what you have already said in court documents, even if it is only the summary.
The audience for legitimate pretrial and trial publicity of this nature can be a single judge or an entire jury pool. Advocate your client’s position while abiding by the rules and you are doing your job not breaking the rules. You also can begin to establish yourself and your firm as experts in the readers’, listeners’ and viewers’ minds, which can lead to business development.
Litigation PR does not advocate polluting the jury pool by disseminating information that would be a serious threat to the fairness of the adjudicative process. Lawyers need to develop a message and clearly communicate the key points of the case for the good of the case and the benefit of the law firm.
Various tools exist for identifying key media messages and getting them into the media in a way that makes them most effective.
Techniques include media training, which reviews how different media works and how their needs are different; adjusting your message to each medium is another tool that is most valuable to lawyers who are accustomed to speaking in terms of the law, rather than to laymen.
Another is learning how to bridge from a question that may be inappropriate, without ending the interview, and still getting your main message across.
The least you have to gain by talking to reporters is getting your firm’s name in the news promoting something positive about it or positioning yourself as a strong advocate for your clients.
Of course, winning your cases helps too!