I was chatting recently with an attorney who is preparing for a hearing on an issue that could have industry-wide implications. The issues have already received media attention, so the question was “what should he do?” Here’s the advice I gave to the attorney — Get out in front of the story:
- Identify the reporters who have already written on this specific case or issue. Include both those who have been favorable to the issue, and even those who have not been.
- Contact the reporters the day prior to your hearing. In advance of the conversation, let them know that the information is embargoed until the next day, but that you have a hearing coming up on an important issue to the case. Provide them enough details to peak their interest, and get the story started, but not to reveal any confidentialities, or information that might damage your argument if they are leaked. Make certain to note their deadlines.
- As soon as the hearing has concluded, make certain to email over to the reporters copies of any court documents. If a reporters deadline is approaching, reach out and make certain they have everything they need.
- Have a client statement prepared for, or client representative available to speak to, the reporter to fill in the details.
- Have extra hard copies of your briefs, press releases, back up documentation, etc. available with you.
- Have a blog post prepared and ready to go immediately once court is adjourned. You can always go back and update the blog post later in the day. Make certain to have PDFs of all relevant court documents, press statements, back up documentation, etc. uploaded.
I don’t know about the reporters at your local papers, but the LA Times has seen more layoffs than, well, most papers I know. With reporters under tighter constraints and operating with fewer resources, help them out. Give them a head’s up when a “story” is about to break. Become that trusted resource. If the issue is being argued in open court, has industry-wide implications, is note- or gossip-worthy, than it will be written about with or without your assistance in major news publications, legal and industry journals, and blogs. And there are so many legal blogs out there now, from “news” publications, such as JD Journal to “gossip” blogs, such as Above the Law, not to mention the plaintiff firms’, which are very popular and can be quite damaging, as well as strong “influencers” to the “hard” news So, why not get out in front and control the message and the distribution of the information as best you can? If the story is negative to your client or issue, you might be able to mitigate some of the potential damage by being a friendly resource. It’s been said that there is no such thing as bad press. I will argue that there is, and that’s seeing “no comment” or “the representative/attorney did not return our call.”
DISCLAIMER: Make certain that anything you do in regards to speaking with the press is done with the express knowledge, agreement and consent of your client. A client might want to “sit” on the story, or they might have specific roles they would like you, their lawyer, to take when it comes to handling the press. A press release on a matter should be approved and signed off (in writing) before posting or distribution. In other words, WORK WITH YOUR CLIENT on any and all message points.