The Case against 'No Comment'

Jim Grandone Apr. 20, 2012, 3:29am


You've seen it on the courthouse steps and on television. A group of reporters following a high-profile case firing a barrage of questions while surrounding or following an attorney and client. While answering questions on the run may be inadvisable, answering with the phrase "no comment" has implications some attorneys have not considered.

The impression left by that phrase can range from guilt to deception. In the mind of a reporter, it can raise the question "What have you got to hide?"

That is a legitimate question. After all, you have spent days, possibly weeks meticulously preparing submissions to court in support of your client. You have anticipated every angle of attack of the opposing counsel and addressed each one with a strong response. You have prepared to present complex legal issues to a jury in a manner in which they can understand them.

Then, when you have an opportunity to reach your audience, you condense all that work into two words. Really? Even if you tell the reporters you have nothing to say, the resulting impression is the same. What have you got to hide?

"No comment" is an unacceptable response to the working press and it is a disservice to your client. Reporters all have electronic access to lawsuits filed in court and, while they may not read your every word, they often know what is in the summary.

Generally, reporters' questions follow the pattern of the five Ws. Who? What? When? Where? And Why? When asked a question by a reporter, it is an opportunity to get your main points across to your audience; whether that audience is a single judge or an entire jury pool prior to voir dire.

So, if you want to get the message across to a judge or potential juror, why not answer reporters' questions so that your audience can read it in the newspaper, hear it on the radio or see it on television. What a stellar opportunity to make your points before trial begins! Of course this does not imply you tell reporters all you know, just reiterate what is in the public record.

Another reason you want to avoid "no comment" is that the reporter is going to do a story anyway and you can bet he or she will contact opposing counsel. The space you leave in the story may allow more space or time for the other side to make their points. Why would you give them that opportunity?

Instead of dodging reporters' questions, consider answering them an opportunity to begin winning your case.

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