Thursday, June 10, 2004


For some reason, our firm has been involved in litigation lately. We have clients on the receiving end of lawsuits or in fear of being indicted. It has started me thinking about litigation-support PR. It is a specialty but one used by many attorneys, especially tort attorneys pushing for settlements.

There is really one PR decision a lawyer takes when dealing with a case -- whether to try it in public or in the courtroom. A case may end up in the courtroom, as the OJ Simpson murder trial did, but there was as much posturing in the media as there was in the courtroom. I think Simpson's lawyers would say what they did with PR was to counterbalance those who had convicted Simpson before he was tried.

But there are as many reasons to keep a trial out of the press as there are reasons to have it there. For one, a case might not be interesting. Secondly, exposing it to the media might complicate things for an attorney in ways the attorney might not like. Third, when a trial is played out in the press, someone's reputation is ruined, whether or not the person is convicted. The Martha Stewart case was like that. Even if Martha had been found innocent, she would not have recovered the aura she had before she was indicted.

In high profile litigation, the case will be played out in public with "talking heads" who handicap the trial, tactics and jury. There are attorneys who thrive on this and others who loathe it.

Attorneys control litigation PR. Some are masters, and others are ignorant of how the media work. But that makes no difference. The PR counselor explains the mechanics and implications of media exposure, but the attorney makes the decision to proceed.

I have yet to work with a flamboyant attorney. Without exception, every one has been wary of the press and tried to keep a case below media attention. This has not always worked, but our job was to prepare for what might happen and hope it didn't.

There is tension when dealing with matters that may decide the fate of an individual or organization. One realizes there is no room for mistakes. Accuracy and alertness are essential.


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