Litigation Lawyers Need to Improve Communications With Media

There was a report on a survey today that said news reporters who cover litigation are not getting adequate help from lawyers when it comes to helping them understand the core issues in their cases. I’m not surprised. For many years I’ve tried to encourage lawyers and law firms to engage the media and to get out of the mindset that the media is the enemy. I’ve tried equally hard to encourage journalists not to see lawyers and PR professionals as the enemy.

Unfortunately, many lawyers still don’t trust the media to get the story right or allow their PR professionals to intervene effectively. And too many journalists still view lawyers and PR professionals as obstacles instead of resources.

These stereotypes all need to change if media coverage of litigation is to improve — so the public can better understand the justice system. (We all have a stake in that).

The good news is that more lawyers and law firms today understand the importance of communicating effectively with the media. They know that it has an impact on their reputation, their client’s reputation, and the law firm’s bottom line.

But everyone can do better.

–Lawyers can make a little time for the media that will help their clients in the court of public opinion at all stages of litigation. “No comments” and not returning reporters’ phone calls do not serve the client (or the law firm) well. Those firms with experienced PR help in-house or through an outside agency should take advantage of it, particularly during high-stakes/high profile litigation.

–PR people can help their lawyers to build relationships with key reporters long before the litigation. That makes it easier to get the right reporter’s attention when litigation hits. Good PR people assist the attorneys by distributing court documents and other background materials to the media, briefing the attorneys on the media outlet and reporters who might be covering the litigation, helping to draft key media messages, provide media training, arranging interviews and monitoring/measuring the impact of subsequent media coverage.

–Journalism schools and media outlets can do a better job training reporters and producers to cover complex litigation and legal issues. Due to mass layoffs in the media and so many newspapers/magazines out of business, there are less experienced legal reporters and beat reporters who cover the courthouses. That makes this training more important than ever.

–Bar associations can do more seminars/CLE’s with journalists that educate lawyers about how to work with the media.

Organizations like the Legal Marketing Association have done a good job at bringing journalists and legal marketing/legal PR professionals together to have frank discussions about how to improve their working relationships.

Over the years, I’ve been part of many situations in which journalists, PR professionals and attorneys all worked well together and the end result was a more informed public about a litigation matter. I know many of my colleagues in the legal marketing/legal PR world would agree.

What do you think? I’d be interested in hearing from attorneys, journalists and those in legal PR/marketing.

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