How and When to Engage with the Media Throughout Your Career as an Attorney
In your 40-year career as an attorney, you will encounter multiple points for contact with the media. Whenever people see you quoted in news stories and read articles in legal and client industry publications, they will glean insights that will support business development, remind lapsed clients of your work together and reconnect with referral sources. Attorneys in every practice area will benefit from contact with the media.
When you join a firm as an associate, the Marketing team will manage any announcement. When a major transaction is about to close or a trial is about to conclude, ask your Media Relations or Marketing colleague about any potential press activity. There may be a reference to the attorneys, including associates, who worked on the matter.
When you launch your own firm, be sure to contact the local law journal and the local bar association where you are a member. Compose a press release with basic information: name of your firm and areas of practice. Include any clerkships, plus the names of your law school and undergraduate college. Send this press release also to the local business reporters, as well as the relevant industry trade publications. Whether they run an announcement or not, you will distinguish yourself as a source for future comment on timely legal and business issues relevant to their readers. Of course, send the press release to the alumni publications of your law school and undergraduate college.
Commenting on News
Whether you are a solo practitioner or a partner, you may wish to speak with reporters about your own cases when you file a case in court or when you have reached a favorable outcome for your client. You may also comment on developments of other cases in the news. Use a Media Profile to professionally introduce yourself as an authoritative and accessible source on litigation in progress.
A Media Profile is a straightforward summary that highlights specific areas of interest. Send it to journalists who focus on specific industries relevant to your practice area; you will be tapped as a source for up-to-the minute observations on business and legal issues for that sector.
It often is difficult to generate media interest in a pro bono matter. When the case is viewed in terms of a trending social issue, reporters may take notice.
Many a change in regulation and legislation that will materially affect companies in relevant industries represents a publication opportunity. These issues may prompt a client alert that guides business executives so they can best implement the new rule.
Reporters at industry trade publications who recognize how this new law or regulation will affect operations may write news stories on this topic. They probably will look for an attorney to explain to their readers the new situation and its consequences in layman’s language. Send a note to them and offer yourself as a source to explain any technical aspects, perhaps attaching the relevant client alert.
Consider whether this change may also provide an opening to co-author an article with a client. Working collaboratively has several benefits:
- it enhances the credibility of you as author, because your co-author speaks the industry’s language;
- the frequent contact to draft the article will help strengthen your relationship with the client;
- the publication of the article will raise the client’s stature among their peers. Readers in that industry sector appreciate it when a market participant shares the lessons learned.
Most legal and industry publications welcome article submissions, whether on a rolling basis with the topic of your choice or for a scheduled special section. As an associate, you may be required to have a partner as co-author for a legal publication.
Before you write the article, propose it as follows. Send an email to the editor in which you suggest a topic in three sentences, include three bullet points to develop your thesis and, finally, request the word count and deadline. It can be risky to write the entire article in advance; what if it is longer or shorter than the publication’s preferred length? When your proposal is accepted and you know the appropriate length, you can tailor the discussion accordingly.
If you are active in a professional or industry organization, presumably one where your clients and referral sources are also members, you may contribute a Legal Update periodically to the group’s newsletter.
When you publish articles and are quoted in news stories, the media mention is not the end of the road. Potential clients, contacts in your many professional circles, referral sources and lapsed clients may not see the article or watch that news program. Plan to extend the lifespan of these media references by promoting them on your website and via social media channels, to grant them even wider distribution.
Tips for Obtaining Media Coverage
In some situations, you may want to reach out to the media directly to draw attention to a case or shed more light on a cause for which you serve as an advocate. Just as a salesperson must be adept at making presentations to clients, you must develop proficient pitching skills as an attorney to entice media members to learn more.
While pitching to the media is not an exact science, these guidelines can increase the likelihood of attaining favorable results.
1. Be Aware of Deadlines
Newspaper reporters and other media professionals adhere to tight schedules when submitting their stories for editing and publishing. If you contact a reporter to pitch an article idea while they're trying to meet a deadline, they likely won't have time to talk to you. It's best to start a conversation by asking if it is a good time to speak. If it isn't, schedule a more convenient time to call the reporter back.
2. Make a Favorable Impression
Media members are often inundated with story ideas and requests for coverage from multiple sources. You will have a better chance of standing out if you do some research before contacting a reporter. Know their beat and the types of stories they typically write. If possible, tie one of their previous articles to your topic. Be brief and to the point to show that you respect the reporter's time.
3. Know the Publication Frequency
The frequency with which a media outlet updates its publication will impact the type of story a reporter will consider. For instance, if you have information that applies to a hot-button legal issue and falls under breaking news, you should contact a daily publication that can go to press with the details immediately. On the other hand, a complex legal matter is more likely to appeal to a weekly publication or trade magazine.
4. Avoid Being Overly Salesy
Don't attempt to sell your firm and its legal services, as this will detract from your message and appear unprofessional. Stick to the facts of the case or legal situation when conversing with media personnel.
If you are interested in learning more about media relations and marketing strategies, you can explore more from Janet Falk here, and you can find the Sample Attorney Executive Media Profile & Worksheet here.
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About the Author
Written by Janet Falk, Ph.D.
Janet Falk is Chief Strategist of Falk Communications and Research. She has more than 30 years experience in-house and at public relations agencies. She advises attorneys with a solo practice and at small law firms on Media Relations and Marketing Communications. She has taught several courses at Lawline on these subjects.
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