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Media training for lawyers – three things every lawyer should say to a journalist and three questions that they shouldn’t
June 4, 2024

Media training for lawyers – three things every lawyer should say to a journalist and three questions that they shouldn’t

As the leading provider of Media Training for law firms, we’re quite often asked by the lawyers on our media interview workshops about what they should and should not say to a journalist.

Why should lawyers speak to journalists? 

The answer to the first question is that it’s a great way of raising the profile of the firm and of individual partners. If you’re speaking to a journalist and getting media coverage, you’re increasing the opportunity for new business. Also the fact that if you’re not talking to the journalist and gaining this coverage, you can bet that your competitors are.

Why do journalists want to hear from lawyers? 

Lawyers can provide important, factual, information, the kind that is relevant to readers viewers and listeners. They add authority to a report and tick the all-important “What’s in it for me?” box, in other words, information that is useful to the audience.

There are, however, risks involved in solicitors, barristers and other legal professionals speaking to the media. This is why we’re providing more and more Media Training for law firms. 

Here are three things that a lawyer should say and three things they should not say to a journalist.

1. “How can I help you?”

Although your comms team or PR agency will certainly have checked with the journalist what subject they are covering and what they want to hear from you it’s always worth confirming this at the start of the interview. You probably won’t get the exact questions from the journalist, but they should certainly tell your media people about issue that they want to look at.

However, by checking this before you start speaking to them, you can break the ice a little bit, begin the conversation in a gentle way and just make sure that you’re absolutely clear about what you’re going to be asked.

2. “Let me give you an example”

Journalists love examples, case studies and even simple stories and anecdotes. These do two things. First, they illustrate the point that you’re making. How many times in conversation with family and friends do we find ourselves saying “Just imagine…” or “For instance…”? 

These examples and case studies can also prove your point. You might be claiming that something is happening, and the law requires firms to act, or that you’re seeing a trend in the market. Providing an example proves that this is true.

Telling stories is a natural part of human communication. According to research by the university of Liverpool about two thirds of all human conversation is storytelling.

3. “What we’re saying to clients is…”

This relates to the point above. Journalists want to hear from lawyers about the advice they’re giving to their clients. This is topical – it’s happening just now. We journalists always want to hear the latest, after all the news is new! Talking about the advice you’re giving clients or what clients are asking you about also emphasises that what you’re doing is very much at the coal face. It’s not just abstruse legal theory. It’s what companies and individuals are currently concerned about and what they should or should not be doing. Journalists always look for practical detail and therefore these phrases will grab their attention and improve your chances of generating positive media coverage.

Okay, that’s what lawyers should say to journalists. What lawyers not say to a journalist?

1. “I’ll need to see the article before you submit it.”

This requirement might seem perfectly logical to a lawyer, but it will usually be met with a contemptuous laugh by the journalist. We provide media training for lawyers around the world and we’re aware that in some cultures interviewees are allowed copy approval. This is not the case in the UK in the US, though. In fact, many publications don’t allow journalists to check their copy with interviewees.

However, one bit of advice we do give to lawyers doing media interviews is that they can ask rather than demand to see their quotes. You might want to say to the journalist: “I’ve given you quite a lot of technical detail there. I hope that I’ve made myself clear. If it’s helpful I’d be happy to check any quotes or facts with you so that we get it right.” We journalists are quite happy to annoy people and to say things that are controversial, but we always like to get our facts correct. There’s nothing worse than having to print an apology. So, if you, offer rather than demand to check facts, the journalist is more likely to cooperate.

2. “My personal opinion is…”

It’s quite tempting for lawyers in media interviews to offer their own opinion on a particular judgement, case or new regulation. As an expert with extensive experience of a particular sector, you might have strong personal views. However, a media interview isn’t the place to express them. You are not speaking as an individual but as a representative of your foot. You can still have strong opinions and express them forcefully – we love that in the media. But you just need to ensure that whatever you’re saying has been agreed by your comms team.

In fact, we always say that the trick to a good media performance is to sound as if you’re speaking personally and spontaneously with that kind of authenticity and natural conversational language but, in fact, everything you say, is in line with what the firm publicly says and believes.

3. “Off the record…”

What does “off the record” mean? We’re often asked about this in our Media Training workshops for law firms. Because all of our trainers are working journalists they know from their practical, day-to-day experience how these things work.

They may well have contacts who provide them with off the record briefings. However, for those who are not in the media business and don’t have regular contact with journalists, getting into off the record and background conversations can be risky. Off the record only works where you have continuing, valuable relationships. A PR person might enjoy this with a journalist but a lawyer who will only ever speak to the journalist once or perhaps twice doesn’t have the same luxury. A reporter could easily “burn” you, in other words, report your off the record comments and attributed them to you.

It might well be the case that your PR company or Comms team arrange for you to provide a journalist or a group of journalists with some background briefing on an issue. They might also arrange for you to have an informal conversation with the media about possible story ideas. This is a great way of giving journalists ideas for their pitches to editors and for showcasing your knowledge and expertise. However, it’s usually done under the arrangement that the journalist will come back to you for an official on the record quote if they’re commissioned to write the article that you’ve help them to develop and pitch.

Media Training for Lawyers

We offer Media Training courses for lawyers who are about to have these conversations and want to know what they should and should not say to a journalist. We also give them insight into what makes a story for the media and what a journalist will want to hear from them as well as how to avoid getting into controversial areas.

What should you do if a journalist asked to speak off the record? It’s best to say, “I’m happy to keep this all on the record if you don’t mind,” and then carry on to your key points.

In our media training courses for lawyers, we’ve got lots of other tips and techniques that will enable lawyers to make the most of their interactions with journalists. Come and talk to us. You can follow us on LinkedIn here.

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