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Lawyers and the Media

Benefits of the media

They may be friendly, but they are not your friends. They are skilled, resourceful and tenacious. And most drink too much coffee. Not to suggest a sinister intention, but their job is get information from you — information you may not want to share — whether it serves you or your clients or not.

There is a unique synergy between you though. Sure, you may be at odds most of the time, but you can come together in a highly productive manner if prepared and with a healthy dose of caution. 

Strange bedfellows

If there’s anything in common between lawyers and the media, it’s their love of words. Lawyers love to torture them, and reporters love to play with them. Lawyers’ daylight hours revolve around words, even the interpretation of everyday words, punctuation, and dangling modifiers; whereas the media have a larger, kinder – if not more public — playground.

Lawyers have tripwires everywhere. Use the wrong word in an agreement and your client could be exposed to a lawsuit, and so, they are verbose. While members of the media count in column inches, words, or seconds so that everything fits, and you can still get the lid on.

My idea of amusement? Watch them edit each other’s work. Now that would be fun.

One is discrete and just like your best friend, who can keep a secret – or at least keep it out of print. The other likes to shout from rooftops to anyone who will buy their paper or tune in to their show. 

Lawyers and the media. They are strange bedfellows and it’s only between rare and trusting lawyer-reporter working relationships that “off the record” pillow talk can happen. Otherwise, consider that microphone “hot” and recording. Same goes for iPhones, BlackBerries, handheld recorders, any type of smart phones … you get the idea.

Don’t go in alone

Most lawyers would rather be anywhere than in a media interview. Reporters are skilled interviewers and it’s hard not to spill the beans to someone who appears so darn interested in anything you have to say.

Despite all that, there is a symbiotic relationship between the two. You need each other to either tell a story to readers, or help a client generate public awareness, support or sympathy. Or heavens, it might even help generate work for your practice, your colleagues or raise awareness of your law firm – you know, the stuff money can’t buy.

And at the very intersection of the two camps, is trust. The reporter must trust that the lawyer will respond before deadline, say something that will be interesting and likely to resonate with their audience. “No comment” is not it. Say something else, smart people! How about “I am completely focussed on my client’s interests right now and hope to be able to speak with you later” or “These are unfortunate circumstances and no one is winning here.” 

Yet, the lawyer may see an opportunity to advance the client’s matter by releasing select pieces of information to the media, and that it not be misquoted, misconstrued or misrepresented in any way. Some lawyer clients will ask me if they can read a draft of the piece before it goes to print or air, and well, no their work is not usually subject to our review.

When working with a client on a media campaign, my own level of trust, generally speaking, is relative to the seniority of the reporter. Not to suggest junior reporters are running amok, or intentionally making mistakes. That’s just not what I’ve seen. Instead, they take comments out of context or leave a bad impression with their interviewee. It’s ok, we’re not all friends, but when a reporter makes a mistake, it can have huge consequences on you or your client.

At times, a reluctant lawyer will only speak to the media with the aid (or coaxing) of an internal marketing pro or an external public relations consultant. Let them do the heavy lifting and navigate a safer passage for you. You will be better prepared and more relaxed, so you’ll have a clearer head to give a great interview.

Crib notes for media interviews:

  1. Get consent from your client to speak to the media. If your Law Society doesn’t require it, loyalty from your client probably does.
  2. Get help as soon as possible – get an experienced interviewee, a marketing or communications professional, or a former journalist. They can all help you prepare.
  3. Understand your message(s) – jot them down and study them.
  4. Practice articulating each message differently until it rolls off your tongue comfortably four or five different ways. Make them your own, even if you didn’t write them.
  5. Consider what you’ll be asked, including the tough questions you don’t want to answer. Get answers for each and media training if you’re struggling with the tough ones.
  6. Boldly ask the reporter what they’ll be asking you. Many will tell you. Some will dodge and weave. 
  7. You are not on the witness stand. You don’t have to answer the question as it’s asked. Take a deep breath, think, and then speak. Consider your audience and how best to tell them your story. Avoid legalese and do use picture words and descriptions. 
  8. Unless it’s radio, find some visuals to accompany your story. Photos, props, video, evidence, other interviewees, etc.
  9. Get as comfortable as possible. Conduct the interview on your own turf if possible.
  10. If your image will be used, take a moment and check your appearance. It’s time to primp. Fellas, powder is not just for women.

When you’re called for an interview, just stop for a moment and consider why you should do it. Then, start preparing to meet a new “friend”.

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