Viewing entries tagged
lawyer

Comment

Trust me, It’s Okay To Talk To The Media!

By: Daniel Cherrin In today’s media saturated environment, where we can share pictures or Tweets from our phone instantaneously with the world, that may even end up on CNN or FOX News, many clients will turn to their lawyer for advice, counsel and a response. So lawyers should have a basic understanding of interacting with the media, on line and off. In fact, in today’s litigious environment, legal issues permeate the headlines, placing brands and reputations at risk. Today, clients are demanding their lawyers not only defend them in a court of law, but also in the court of public opinion.

I am speaking before the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association as a featured speaker during their monthly Drink n' Learn Happy Hours on the subject of media relations and the law. Here is a brief summary of my remarks:

It’s okay to talk to the media If the media is interested in your client’s story and you or your client avoid talking to them, then someone else will, and chances are you will not like what they have to say. As attorney’s it is okay to talk to the media. Just watch what you or what your client have to say and know why you are saying it.

Stick to the facts Try to stay above the rhetoric and stick to the facts of the case without revealing your legal strategy. Use the media as an opportunity to gauge the public’s interest in this case and perhaps test certain messages.

Our Top Tips For Working With The Media

• Know why you want to talk to the media & who to talk to – It should not matter whether a reporter calls you or you call the reporter. In representing clients, attorneys should look at thee big picture and see how a legal problem could quickly become a PR problem for their client. Therefor, in engaging with the media figure out first, what you hope to achieve in talking to them. Then understand who their audience is. Be familiar with their latest story and angle. Go on their website, perhaps they have a blog or check them out on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. This will help you craft the appropriate messages that resonate with the right audience.

• Know what you want to say – Once you know why you want to approach the media, and who the audience is, know what you want to say. Have a few key messages written out that you want to convey to the reporter and think of a few questions they may ask -- and be ready to respond. It is important to have three or four key messages that you want to make sure you get across to the reporter. These are the messages you should stick to throughout the interview.

• What not to do with the Media -- Never say “No Comment” or “Because a lawsuit was filed we cannot comment on active litigation.” Instead say something more general and stick to your messages, or “I can’t tell you that now, but what I can tell you is..." Don’t repeat a negative question or phrase. If you do, it may be attributed to you. And whatever, you do, stop using legal jargon or technical lingo – we don’t want to hear it.

• During the interview – Think of it as a debate not a conversation, unless you are on Oprah

As much as we want to be everyone’s friend, remember, a reporter has a job to do and so do you. In fact, the reporter may be using the interview to gather information or to find a story. Therefore, stay on message, don’t get diverted from the topic at hand, correct any misinformation, only answer the questions asked and remember who you are talking to and who they work for.

• Don’t hide anything you don’t want them to find later. When speaking to the media be concise and thorough and tell them everything that you can with in reason. You do not want them finding out information on their own and then confronting you when you are not prepared to answer their questions. In addition, don’t panic if you are asked a question during an interview that you do not know the answer to. Be honest and tell them that you do not know the answer but that you would be happy to look into it and get back to them. Never attempt to make something up and never lie.

• “Off the record” or “For background only” – As a general rule, if you don’t want it in print then don’t say it. However, an ethical reporter will respect what you are trying to say and will work with you to make sure what your saying is accurate. It helps to know the reporters covering the issues you are working on and have a good working relationship with them. It also helps to not be confrontational and to respect them for having a job to do and that you want to work with them in preparing their story.

• Timing – Just as a lawyer sticks to deadlines prescribed by the court, reporters have deadlines to keep and times they need to either file stories or air them. You will develop better relationships with a reporter if you are sensitive to their deadlines.

• Preparing for an ambush – If a reporter catches you by surprise, stop in your tracks, address the reporters questions (you can be vague if you want), then let them know that you have another commitment and that you will get back to them by their deadline. If a reporter calls by phone take their message, find out what they want and when their deadline is, and get back to them in a timely manner.

• Anything else? – This is always the last question in any interview, so be prepared to summarize your key messages; say anything that you forgot to say before; or clarify any statement that needs further explanation.

• Monitor the media – Know what is being said about you, your clients, your firm and your industry.

Social Media Tips Social media is becoming more than a tool for us to stay in touch with our friends or family, it is becoming a new area to look out for our client’s interests and/or a new medium to promote our practice. It also is our opportunity to control the message and to clarify misinformation. However, interacting with those using social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN or YouTube, is a little different than working with the traditional media. Therefore,

• Know the influentials – There are millions of people using a variety of social media sites everyday. Know who the ones that are followed the most and what to see who is following them.

• Monitor the chatter – Once you know who to follow you should monitor the chatter. Listen to the tone of the comments and questions and participate where appropriate. A good way to monitor the media is to create Google Alerts, Twitter feeds or Facebook updates. Even if you don’t join the conversation, be aware of what people are saying about your company on different social media platforms.

• Engage the community – Once you are able to gain an understanding of social media and how it works, go ahead and begin to engage the community. However, in using social media one’s credibility is gained through transparency, honesty, relevance and value.

Daniel Cherrin is the former Communications Director/Press Secretary for the City of Detroit and to Detroit Mayor Kenneth V. Cockrel Jr. He is now the Managing Director of Fraser Consulting – a Lansing based Public Affairs and Government Relations firm, and an attorney and Director of Marketing for Fraser Trebilcock. You can reach Daniel at dcherrin@fraserlawfirm.com or (313) 965-9039 or follow him on Twitter @DanCherrin.

Comment

Comment

Who's watching what is posted on social media sites?

YouTube logoAnother case to watch is one emerging from (Turin) Italy that involves four Google executives who are charged with defamation and violating the privacy of an autistic youth by allowing a (2006) video of the child being abused to be posted on YouTube. This case is being closely watched by the public relations community as it has far-reaching implications for sharing video and other content on the Internet. The defendants are: chief legal officer David Drummond, former chief financial officer George Reyes, senior product marketing manager Arvind Desikan and global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer. All have denied any personal or professional wrongdoing. When the video sparked outrage, Google removed it. The company cooperated with Italian authorities and police found the youths, who were sentenced to community service.

The issue is: Who polices peer-to-peer video sites? Some rely on the users to flag inappropriate content. But once the video is out there, what is the responsibility of the company? What responsibility does the user have to avoid posting clearly offensive junk? Stay tuned to YouTube for its conclusion.

Comment

Comment

Law Firms Must Adjust To Meet Client Demands

From the boardroom to the bedroom, government affects everything we do. So its time to embrace it and learn how we make government work for us. And perhaps more important, in addition to providing our clients with a legal remedy, we must also provide them the opportunity to seek legislative remedies or use the court of public opinion to reach their business objectives. Many clients are turning to law firms to assist in the public policy process, yet many firms are ill equipped to handle government relations and are not well versed in public relations as a legal tactic. Yet it is the lawyer who knows the law and knows what laws would best benefit their clients as well as how to best position their clients in either a court of law or court of public opinion. It is the lobbyist that knows how to effect legislative change and to assist in drafting the right laws. And it is the brand manager, who knows how to position the issue and the client so that everyone emerges a winner.

In addition, with government getting bigger and more complex, and government funding becoming sparse, regional mid-sized law firms are well equipped to create a practice that blends law, media and public relations with the legal expertise many mid-sized firms have.

Also, with budgets getting tighter, the government is seeking greater partnerships with the private sector. With a solid client base, law firms are well-positioned to assist clients in finding creative opportunities within the government and sound private sector solutions for public problems.

More and more issues in Congress and the state legislatures are having a direct impact on business. Businesses are learning that they can no longer sit on the sidelines when government decisions directly impact their future. Likewise, with tough economic times, businesses are looking for new areas to expand. And despite tough economic times, securing a government contract remains one of the most sought after business development opportunities.

Businesses today cannot afford to ignore the legislative process and adjust to new laws once they are passed. To be successful, business must stay current on legislative issues that could have repercussions on their business or industry. They must also seek to effectuate change where appropriate making lobbying, government relations and public affairs a natural extension of the legal services law firms are already providing.

By integrating strategic communications and public affairs into the practice, combining law, policy, politics and strategic communications, attorneys will provide new and existing clients and integrated approach to their legal problems. This practice group will provide firms with new channels to cross-sell firm services and maintain core clients by expanding into new areas to complement your firm’s legal practice. A successful public affairs and strategic communications group will not only help stand out from other law firms, but it will enhance their core practice groups, advance client relations and increase firm profits, while developing new business.

Comment

Comment

Juries all a-Twitter

This week, Michigan Lawyers Weekly features a story about jurors tainting themselves by Tweeting from the jury box or accessing the Internet from their mobile phones to learn more about the cases they are presiding on. See Juries all a-Twitter, 23 Mich.L.W.847, July 6, 2009. Like the media, the courts need to adjust to the constantly changing landscape of how we communicate and how we access information. The Internet and mobile devices such as the iPhone or Palm provide jurors and others access to instant information about the cases before them. The Michigan Supreme Court amended rule 2.516 of the Michigan Court Rules to prohibit the use of computers, cell phones or other electronic devices during the trial to obtain information on the case. This is mandatory, not discretionary. The rule was amended in response to a number of cases being thrown out due to curious jurors, researching defendants and witnesses and then Tweeting their opinion before any opinion was rendered.

Social media sites, such as Facebook, Linkedin, MySpace and YouTube also provide excellent opportunities for plaintiff's counsel to mine the Internet for information to throw out a case or force a settlement. Mined appropriately and thoroughly, attorney's can learn a lot about the parties to a lawsuit or potential lawsuit.

And finally, some lawyers are using the Internet, the same way they were using television to argue their client's case in the public eye. Instead of turning to investigative reporters or "problem solvers," they are now turning to the Internet to bolster their client's position.

In the article, I caution attorneys to do their own due diligence and see what is being said about their clients on-line. This includes social media sites such as Twitter, You Tube, Flickr, various blogs and other on-line feeds and sites. The same is true for the opposing party, including opposing counsel.

Attorneys may want to consider retaining PR counselto monitor the Internet and/or use the Internet and social media to preserve, protect and enhance their clients reputation on-line. Attorneys may also want to consider hiring a computer forensics or e-discovery firm to see what information they can find on-line. For now, attorneys can set up Google alerts, RSS Feeds, or find other ways to monitor the media.

Regardless, we all need to do a better job of monitoring the Internet. Just as we should secure our credit report every six-months to monitor for identity theft, we should periodically Google or Bing our name, our company name, client's name or other key terms we should be keeping an eye out for.

Comment

Comment

Today’s legal strategies demand public relations

Q&A with Daniel Cherrin, attorney, lobbyist and PR executive High-profile litigation involves not just the defense of the legal claim but also the protection of the client’s public image. Where a case has aroused public or media interest or has the potential, it is vital that attorneys are prepared to face the media. After all, when the damage is done publicly the legal outcome becomes irrelevant.

In today’s 24/7 news cycle, attorney’s through their public relations counsel, can position clients to avoid litigation, minimize risk and protect their reputation, by blending law, policy, politics and strategic communications to provide clients an integrated approach to resolving or avoiding legal problems.

As an attorney, lobbyist and public relations executive, Daniel Cherrin has counseled a wide range of clients during crisis situations providing critical insight and recommendations to deal with situations and how to communicate effectively under less than the best conditions. In the following interview, Daniel draws on his experience in responding to questions about using public relations as an effective part of a legal strategy.

Q: Why do lawyers need to be concerned about public relations?

A: Today’s business environment demands an aggressive strategy to resolve issues legally while protecting one’s reputation publicly. Unfortunately, most people do not realize they need PR until they get a call from a reporter, subpoena from Congress or it is otherwise too late. As a result, lawyers need to be more than legal counselors or advocates. They need to be familiar enough with how perception is created within the public eye and how to use the media effectively to manage that perception. Therefore, the potential impact any litigation will have on a client’s image, reputation, investor relations and future business must be considered in creating a legal strategy.

In preparing for litigation or creating a legal strategy to meet a client’s objectives attorneys must consider the impact on their client’s business and reputation. Reputations take years to create and only seconds to destroy. Engaging public relations counsel early can create a comprehensive strategy that will help clients succeed.

Q. Why is it important to have relationships with public relations experts?

A. In today’s economy decisions are made based upon perception and reputation. Therefore, it is important to have the necessary relationships to make sure a client’s reputation is protected should any litigation become public or even to help position the client to remain out of the public eye. But in establishing relationships with public relations firms, it is important that the PR counsel be sensitive to the legal ramifications of their actions as it relates to protecting the company’s reputation.

To protect a client’s legal interests and also to preserve the client’s reputation publicly, counsel should consider engaging public relations counsel early in the process, so as to develop a complementary strategy and get advice on how to deal with the media and protect the client’s public relations interests. In developing a broad legal strategy that embraces both legal and public relations concerns, lawyers need to look beyond the facts and include public relations concerns as a comprehensive strategy. Public relations counsel can assist attorneys by managing the public relations issues while the attorneys focus on the traditional elements of mounting a case. If both the legal and the public relations components are to succeed, it is essential that both legal counsel and public relations counsel coordinate their efforts.

Q. How can lawyers protect their client’s reputation?

A. A lawyer who is going to represent a client outside the courtroom must become more comfortable in talking freely about their client’s case. Lawyers, trained to protect client confidences and to control information, have a natural tendency to answer only the questions that are asked and to give no more information than is necessary to resolve the issue. In the view of the public, however, information and communication are the two factors that build trust and go a long way toward preserving one’s reputation.

A PR firm can train attorneys in media relations and crisis management so they can feel more comfortable in talking with the media or dealing with the immediate concerns of a crisis. A public relations counselor can employ specific tactics to protect the reputation of a company or an individual leading a company while reinforcing issues legally. For example, in the public eye, we are presumed guilty if we respond to a reporter’s question with “no comment.” A better way to respond to a question you do not want to answer or are not ready to answer is to deflect it, by saying something like: “That is a very good question, one that we are looking into at the moment. As soon as we learn something new, we will get back to you promptly.” Lawyers must be more diligent in looking at the big picture in protecting their clients’ interests in the court of law as well as in the court of public opinion.

Q. Can attorneys handle the PR directly?

A. Given the stakes in today’s litigation environment, attorneys may find it helpful to develop a relationship with a public relations firm, so that it can be ready to assist on short notice if and when it is needed. For example, some public relations firms are known for their expertise in crisis and reputation management while others focus more on soft promotions and publicist work. Some public relations firms focus specifically on litigation communications practice, and even have attorneys and registered lobbyists on staff. Regardless of the case, it helps to establish those relationships early.

Q: If a company would like to learn more about protecting their reputation when faced with potential litigation, how can they reach you?

A:I can be reached by email at dcherrin@northcoaststrategies.com or by telephone at (313) 300-0932.

Comment

Comment

IN THE PUBLIC EYE: PROTECTING A CLIENT’S REPUTATION

The sands have shifted in the practice of law. Gone are the days when clients were only concerned about the legal ramifications of a lawsuit or legal quagmire. Today, clients are often also concerned with how they are judged in the public eye and perceived by their customers, vendors and by their own families. In protecting a client’s reputation, “an attorney’s duties do not begin inside the courtroom door -- he or she cannot ignore the practical implications of a legal proceeding for the client.” An attorney should take reasonable steps to defend a client’s reputation.

This is particularly important in an environment where news is reported “24/7” and at times even delivered instantaneously to our cell phones. Likewise, with sales of newspapers and magazines at all-time lows, the media is hungry for a story even if no story really exists. Therefore, lawyers must be more diligent in looking at the big picture in protecting their clients’ interests in the court of law as well as in the court of public opinion.

Today’s legal strategies demand public relations

Today’s business environment demands an aggressive strategy to resolve issues legally while protecting one’s reputation publicly. As a result, lawyers need to be more than legal counselors or advocates. They need to be familiar enough with how perception is created within the public eye and how to use the media effectively to manage that perception. Therefore, the potential impact any litigation will have on a client’s image, reputation, investor relations and future business must be considered in creating a legal strategy.

To protect a client’s legal interests and also to preserve the client’s reputation publicly in a high-profile case, defense counsel should consider engaging public relations counsel early in the process, so as to develop a complementary strategy and get advice on how to deal with the media and protect the client’s public relations interests. In developing a broad defense strategy that embraces both legal and public relations concerns, lawyers need to look beyond the facts and include public relations concerns as a comprehensive defense. Public relations counsel can assist defense counsel by managing the public relations issues while defense counsel focuses on the traditional elements of mounting a defense. If both the legal and the public relations components are to succeed, it is essential that defense counsel and public relations counsel coordinate their efforts.

Protecting a client’s reputation

A lawyer who is going to represent a client outside the courtroom must become more comfortable in talking freely about their client’s case. Lawyers, trained to protect client confidences and to control information, have a natural tendency to answer only the questions that are asked and to give no more information than is necessary to resolve the issue. In the view of the public, however, information and communication are the two factors that build trust and go a long way toward preserving one’s reputation.

A public relations counselor can employ specific tactics to protect the reputation of a company or an individual leading a company while reinforcing issues legally. For example, in the public eye, we are presumed guilty if we respond to a reporter’s question with “no comment.” A better way to respond to a question you do not want to answer or are not ready to answer is to deflect it, by saying something like: “That is a very good question, one that we are looking into at the moment. As soon as we learn something new, we will get back to you promptly.” Retaining public relations counsel

The attorney-client privilege is generally preserved in retaining public relations counsel during the course of litigation. However, it helps when your public relations counsel also happens to be a licensed attorney. In fact, public relations seems to be a popular alternative career for attorneys. In any event, defense counsel should exercise care to ensure that any privilege is preserved. It also is preferable that the public relations firm be retained by and report to defense counsel rather than the client. This will help in mounting a coordinated defense and also help to preserve attorney-client privilege by ensuring that all communications pass through defense counsel.

Likewise, public relations counsel should include defense counsel in all stages of communication and consult closely with defense counsel in developing key messages to make sure it complements the legal strategy rather than puts it in jeopardy. Defense counsel should be present during any conferences involving public relations counsel and the client.

Given the stakes in today’s litigation environment, defense counsel may find it helpful to develop a relationship with a public relations firm, so that it can be ready to assist on short notice if and when it is needed. For example, some public relations firms are known for their expertise in crisis and reputation management while others focus more on soft promotions and publicist work. Some public relations firms focus specifically on litigation communications practice, and even have attorneys and registered lobbyists on staff.

Many of the larger law firms have a chief marketing officer that they can rely upon for initial help or guidance, while others have already retained a public relations firm to assist with matters that are beyond the routine. In any event, defense counsel should look for a public relations firm that has relationships with the media, both local and national, on-line, in-print and on-the-air. A useful source of information on public relations firm is the website maintained by the Council of Public Relations Firms at www.prfirms.org.

In preparing for litigation or creating a legal strategy to meet a clients objectives attorneys must consider the impact on their client’s businesses and reputations. Reputations take years to create and only seconds to destroy. Engaging public relations counsel early can create a comprehensive strategy that will help clients – and defense counsel -- succeed.

[i] Gentile v State Bar of Nevada (Kennedy opinion), 510 US 1030, 1043 (1991).

Comment