HOW DOES A GOOD LAWYER COMBAT NEGATIVE MEDIA ATTENTION SURROUNDING A CRIMINAL CASE?
Aug. 1, 2020
Media content can be accessed almost anywhere and at almost any time of the day. It can be a client’s worst nightmare to read or hear about how bad of a person they are or how they are for sure guilty. It can then be the attorney’s job to help clear up the negative attention or at least mitigate the damages.
How Does An Attorney Limit Or Handle Media Exposure On Their Case?Well first off, when it comes to making statements about cases, Kansas attorneys need to remember professional conduct:
Rule 4.1 Transaction with Persons Other Than Clients: Truthfulness in Statements to Others. Subsection (a) of this rule states that while representing a client, an attorney cannot make false statements of material fact or law to a third person. “A lawyer is required to be truthful when dealing with others on a client’s behalf, but generally has no affirmative duty to inform an opposing person of relevant facts. A misrepresentation can occur if the lawyer incorporates or affirms a statement of another person that the lawyer knows is false. Misrepresentations can also occur by failure to act.” An attorney needs to be aware of what they can and can’t say to media coverage when they are interviewed about a case or if the attorney wants to release a statement in order to “clear the air” or if the attorney chooses to ignore the media’s questioning.
Dealing with the media can be a difficult component to representing a client. Although reporters can “damage” a case, they can also be very beneficial as well. Providing positive insight about your client and clarifying common misconceptions of the case to reporters can help combat the negative attention attached to the case. Attorneys should be aware that the media is not your friend and that what information that is provided to the media should be accurate and concise to avoid misinterpretation. Although some interviews, especially high-profile cases, may take place outside of the courthouse, it is acceptable for an attorney to ask to do an email interview. This will allow you to “think through your words much more carefully and may reduce the risk of mistakes by the reporter.” Further, it creates a written record of what was said in case the reporting was changed.
But what if an attorney doesn’t wish to contact the media at all but still wants an avenue to portray the positive sides of the client to the general public? Sometimes a law firm hire a publicist or public relations firm to help spin negative media attention. These individuals will maintain constant communication with the attorney about each facet of the case and will be skilled on how to position your clients before the media. Further, an attorney hiring the PR firm directly, instead of the client, will help preserve attorney-client privilege. The PR firm will also be able to discuss strategy on what message should be communicated and to which media it is communicated to in order to “protect and further your client’s reputation”.
Professional conduct rules do not prohibit attorneys from explaining the basics of the legal system and the law to the press. Interview comments do not have to be substantially about the client either. Comments could just explain what the previous hearing was held for, where the case goes from here, or even just clarifying the law. These will all give an attorney a chance to explain the case from their client’s perspective or how their client will be benefiting from a process in the legal system. Not giving this bit of information will allow the media to only have one side of the case which then in turns makes their story heavily one-sided and usually not in your client’s favor. Overall, any communication done with the media should be to help comfort your client and to put them at ease. A well thought out and informative comment will show that an attorney really has their client’s best interests in mind and are dutifully representing them.