At Communicate Media we provide media training for law firms in London, throughout the UK and around the world. The solicitors and barristers that we work with have interesting topics to talk about and they’re lively and challenging media training course participants.
Having said that, we’re always aware that lawyers and journalists are very different creatures whose preferred ways of communicating are frequently poles apart. Solicitors are uncomfortable about the fact that journalists are looking for a headline – a single, simple message. Where the law is all about detail and precision, the media takes a broad-brush approach.
Essentially, a journalist just wants to know the essence of what’s going on, how it will affect their audience (preferably in a negative way, as this is more likely to grab their attention) and what they need to do as a result. If a lawyer can answer these points concisely in simple language, then everybody is happy.
Except, that very often they don’t. Well, not if they haven’t been media trained by us, anyway.
What journalists like about lawyers
Journalists like the fact that lawyers provide factual information and lend extra authority to a report. The media are always looking for commentators and contributors who can add provide explanations, insights and advice. Solicitors and barristers can do all of these things.
If the media approaches an organisation for comment, it’ll probably be for one of three reasons:
- You might be promoting something, such as a new product or service.
- , You could be defending something – you’ve made a mistake, upset a customer or you’ve made a controversial decision.
- This is usually a situation that might see a journalist wanting an interview in which you’re commenting or explaining something. We’ve got the facts and now we just need someone to help our audience understand them. Very often solicitors fall into this third category.
There are opportunities in this case to promote your firm and your own expertise. However, as with any media encounter, there are risks. Say the wrong thing and you could find yourself apologising to a client, defending yourself to your boss, or even looking for a new job. Our media training courses for lawyers are partly about risk management.
How lawyers should talk to journalists
The first thing that any lawyer should do is to use their press office or comms department. If you haven’t got this kind of support, you should take down all the details of the journalist, the outlet, the subject and the deadline and promise to come back shortly. You can then decide whether you want to comment and, if you do, what exactly it is that you want to say.
During our media training courses we always advise legal professionals when doing a media interview to get to the main point right away. How will the issue, the case or the legislation affect the audience? What is it that they need to know and what action should they be taking? You can fill in the background and put the issue into context later if there’s time.
As we mentioned above, risks and threats will attract the attention of the journalist and of their audience so introduce these early on. Take a look at our blog discussing how to handle journalists’ interruptions for tips on staying in control of tricky interjections from interviewers You can then go on to offer a solution. In some ways talking to a journalist is like writing a client alert letter. You don’t have to go into detail here and give too much away. The idea is that any potential clients, seeing that you’re knowledgeable and that you’re aware of the latest developments in this issue will get in touch and instruct you.
Keep your language natural and conversational. Some lawyers are concerned that this might damage their authority but, actually, it has the opposite the effect. High status, self-confident individuals tend to use simple, everyday language. As Einstein said: “if you can’t explain it simply then you don’t understand it well enough.”
Use simple examples, case studies and anecdotes. Obviously, you’ll want to respect client confidentiality but there are ways around giving too much away about a particular client.
Finally, keep it relevant to the audience. If you’re talking to the Financial Times, then include messages and use language and examples that will resonate with an FT audience. If you’re talking to the BBC’s You & Yours programme about consumer rights or a legal journal about a new issue in your sector, then think about what your audience will want to hear and how you can make a connection with them.
Journalists need lawyers and, dare we say it, lawyers need journalists. By following these simple guidelines, a media interview can be a win-win for both parties.
Talk to one of our team here if you feel apprehensive about handling an interview with a lawyer or want to find out more about how we can help you understand what journalist’s are looking for.