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The Six Essential Rules for Lawyers Dealing with Reporters

Thanks to Mary Flood for this article…

Whether reporters are calling about a crisis or just to tap your expertise, here are the six things all lawyers should know before talking to the press. An unanswered or botched media call can be a nightmare, or at the very least a lost opportunity for advocacy for both client and lawyer.

Reporters and lawyers will always have different goals and different roles. The relationship can be symbiotic, but it isn’t always. The First Amendment clashes regularly with the Sixth Amendment. And the media don’t have to follow hearsay rules or rules of evidence.

You know there is a wild array of quality among lawyers? The same goes for reporters. There is a wide spectrum of intelligence and sense of fair play. But most reporters want to be fair and accurate. Following these six essential rules should help you navigate the situation so that the result is a news article that’s fair.

1. “No comment” gets you nowhere

A “no comment” makes it appear you are hiding something or are ill-prepared. It also means you passed up an opportunity to say something positive about your client, the judge, the jury or even the process. It can be an opportunity to explain something about the law that will favor your client.

The disciplinary rules do not bar lawyers from explaining the basics to a reporter. Making a comment doesn’t require a substantive statement about a client. You could explain what happens next, how long this could take, what the law is, or why the system works this way.

If you need time to prepare, call or email the reporter to say you’ll get back to them as soon as possible, and then keep your promise. But before you say, “No comment,” ask yourself some questions, such as: If the plant exploded, can we explain safety procedures? If someone stole from the company, can we discuss company policies? If a trial is set, why not explain what we still have to do pretrial? You may be able to comment generally even if it would not be smart to answer the reporter’s specific questions.

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