Five Questions

One of our speakers at the Dealing with the Media and Fighting Like You Mean It seminar last Friday gave us this tip for dealing with the media the next time they catch you coming out of the courtroom. Answer five questions for them:

Who are you? (What is your name? Spell it.)
What happened in court?
What does that mean?
How is your client doing?
What happens next?

Then thank them and end the interview. This gives the reporters and cameramen something to take back to their boss so they don’t have to hound you, but doesn’t add any fuel to the publicity fire.

0 responses to “Five Questions”

  1. May I give you my perspective from the standpoint of a former newspaper editor?

    Answering only those five questions during a media crisis can, often times, be a dangerous strategy.

    About two or three years ago, I interviewed Clarence Jones, an award-winning investigative reporter who worked for both TV and newspapers, and who works today as a crisis communications counselor. The title of our teleseminar was “In a media crisis, your lawyer will be wrong.”

    Attorneys too often are concerned only about winning in the court of law and disregard the court of public opinion.

    When that happenes, a client who refuses to talk to the media could damage his own reputation so severely that by the time his case winds its way through the court system, his company is bankrupt and his reputation is in ruins.

    Not commenting frequently sends the message “I’m guilty as hell.”

    For the real scoop on what to say to the press, even if you’re a lawyer, read Clarence’s excellent book “Winning with the News Media.” It’s a fast, fun and thorough read. You can find it at

  2. Joan,

    Thanks for the comment. I’ve ordered the book (Winning With the News Media).

    Your point is well taken: there are some clients whose cases are high-profile because of who they are; these people need a media strategy as well as a trial strategy. Martha Stewart’s case, for example, was at least as much about the value of her name at the end of the day as about how much time she would do.

    Most of the time the cameras are there because it’s a juicy case; in those cases (the vast majority) the best way to preserve the client’s reputation is to let the media storm blow over.

  3. I’ve had this argument many times with friends in the media, who truly believe that they provide a public service by revealing salacious details about criminal defendants.

    There are going to be defendants whose profile, or brand as in Martha’s case, leave the attorney no choice but to deal with the media. There are others for whom the media is a gnat. Where the need falls along the spectrum must be determined in each instance, though there aren’t many Martha’s around.

    What my media friends can’t appreciate is the consequence of spouting answers, particularly to non-legal questions. For example, they demand that you disclose your defense and reveal your witnesses 30 minuts after the arrest. They demand it again the week before trial. Oh, mediapeople, IT’S A SECRET. If I tell you, then the other side gets to hear it and I lose the element of surprise.

    So where would you prefer to lose: The court of public opinion or the court that can sentence you to death?

    If you’re really lucky, and adept in dealing with the media, you can skirt the issues while being honest and satisfying the producers. That’s a combination of luck and experience.


  4. There is a danger of getting some kind of ethics complaint for commenting to the media. You probably have another blog post about it. Attorney General Drew Edmondson has an ethics complaint pending for fairly moderate comments about a case.

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