Leveraging Your Reputation: Lessons for lawyers

Tom Ciesielka is President of TC Public Relations (www.tcpr.net). Tom has over 25 years of marketing and public relations experience, working with individual lawyers and midsize law firms. He is also a former board member of the Legal Marketing Association in Chicago and has spoken at Chicago Bar Associations CLE programs. Reach him at tc@tcpr.net.

Attorneys have acquired a law degree, in addition to other extensive education that helps them do their job well. However, there are some lessons that I wish were taught as part of a law degree that would help with media relations, and subsequently, your professional reputation.

Here are a few tips for you to think about next time you interact with the media:

  • Respond to Reporters on Time. Everyone is aware of the importance of court filing deadlines, statutes of limitations, and arriving to court on time. If attorneys miss any of those, it could lead to disciplinary actions. The same kind of attention is required when reporters want a comment from an attorney. They have deadlines, too, and since the news media puts out information quickly, and the news cycle moves fast, then attorneys should respond just as quickly. Not responding in a timely manner will mean you might be excluded from a story. You could give the impression to the media and non-media people that you and your client have something to hide, which can negatively affect your reputation.
  • Prevent Leaks. In a legal matter, attorney/client privilege is important for protecting a client. However, an attorney should hear all the details, good or bad, before someone else leaks sensitive information to the media. You might not be able to disclose confidential client information when you talk to reporters, but you should still respond in such a way that you stay responsible and maintain your credibility. Before you talk with the media, create statements that will not reveal anything inappropriate, but will still show reporters that you value them.
  • Be Realistic. Some attorneys have had no media experience or aren’t effective communicators outside the courtroom. If you have not appeared anywhere in the media or have not developed any kind of reputation as an expert, then don’t expect to become an instant source for the New York Times or a TV show. When implementing your public relations plan, you have to work your way up to more substantial media outlets. Even in a law firm, it can take years for attorneys to be promoted from associate to partner. The same is true for media coverage: it’s important to build relationships and establish your credibility with major news outlets. The exception is if you have an infamous client that attracts major media attention. But generally, you should be patient and realistic.

Use these tips to get you started, and as you continue to interact with the media, you will feel more comfortable and will see new connections formed that will help your practice and reputation.

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