Publicity

You know, when it comes to publicity rights, that expansion of law that masturbates celebrity egos like no other, I can laugh it off when we hear from the likes of Lindsay LohanKatherine Heigl, and Dan Snyder. I mean, sure they’re famous and rich, but they still probably deserve that famous Hitchhiker’s Guide designation of “mostly harmless.” That their attacks on anyone who dares make even the barest reference to their holy visages typically fail usually serves as enough mental closure in my mind to keep the dogs from barking in my head at night.

Manuel Noriega, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal and his lawsuit against Activision over his portrayal in a Call of Duty game just makes me angry…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Joshua Stein gives some practical advice to lawyers on how to manage their relationship with the press.

Reporters can embarrass you. But they can also help you and your clients get your message and name out into the world, if that’s what you want.

When a reporter calls, any lawyer’s first instinct is to say “No comment.” That’s a really good first instinct, particularly for anyone except the most senior member of a legal team representing a client. For that senior lawyer, though, “no comment” might not always be the right answer at the end of the day.

Lawyers aren’t supposed to be founts of information, particularly about their client’s affairs — unless that’s what the client wants. All of that is a matter of legal ethics and client relations, and represents the first and most important element of any lawyer’s strategy in dealing with the press. It’s outside the scope of this article.

Once you get past that “gating issue,” you will sometimes want or need to talk with the press. Here are a few suggestions for how to do that….

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Long ago, my law firm won an appeal, and we were thinking of publicizing the victory for the benefit of both the client and our firm.

“It’ll be good to get some attention,” I said to the senior partner.

“It’s easy to get attention,” said he. “Just run naked down Market Street at high noon. We don’t want attention. We want good attention.”

The same could be said of corporate law departments: It’s easy to get attention. It’s harder to get attention for simply doing a good job.

Suppose you wanted your corporation’s law department to be the darling of the press and be nominated for “law department of the year” honors. What would you do?

It’s easy: Make the type of big, public announcements that draw attention: “Our law department is announcing three major initiatives. First, we’re announcing a pro bono initiative. All of our in-house lawyers will devote at least 500 hours per year to pro bono matters. Second, we’re implementing a diversity initiative. [Insert details here.] Third, we’re completely eliminating reliance on the billable hour. Henceforth, all of our law firms will work on flat-fee or other alternative billing arrangements.” (There are surely other items that one could add to this list, too, that are escaping my feeble imagination.)

Gin ‘em up. Send out a press release. Presto! Your law department would be the toast of the town. People would be beating down your doors seeking interviews. But what would you have accomplished?

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