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Media : A good lawyer’s friend, especially in day of citizen journalists

January 2, 2007

Jonathan Stein says a lawyer should not be talking the media – that nothing good can come of it. Cites the case of the Durham DA in the Duke Lacrosse rape case who’s the recipient of an ethics grievance because of his comments to the press.

Sure there are cases where talking with the media is inappropriate. However, not talking with the media in many cases is not only impractical, but it’s also shooting yourself in the foot.

In 17 years of trial practice I learned that the media had a job to do and covering high profile legal cases was part of it. Part of that coverage requires comment from the attorneys.

Telling the press ‘No comment’ only alienates the press. In some cases, a lawyer, as an advocate of their client, is going to want to get a message out to public via the media. Try doing that when you’ve already turned off the people you need to be your messenger.

There were any number of cases which I settled for significant sums because the corporate defendant didn’t want the continued adverse media coverage. My clients received a good settlement and did not have to undergo the ordeal of a trial. Labeling my communications as trying the case in the media was a cheap shot from defense lawyers who didn’t like talking to the media or had an indefensible position.

I viewed members of the press as friends. They had jobs to do and so did I. I saw no reason to fight each other. It was certainly possible to talk to the media, whether proactively with a press conference or responding to their calls, in such a way that was ethically permissible.

We now live in a day where citizen journalists, via blogs, are joining traditional press in covering high profile legal cases. Smart lawyers will learn how to deal with the media, it’s reality.

In addition to speaking with the media, lawyers are already effectively using blogs for media comment, release of press releases, and distribution of pleadings to the press. The press appreciates it. I say ‘smart move.’

Bad facts make bad law. Same applies here. The Duke DA shot his mouth off about facts he did not have and said things that he knew were contrary to the evidence. He also did not disclose, as required by law, exculpatory evidence. Shame on him, but don’t use that as evidence that a lawyer should not be communicating with the press.