As the specialist Media Training provider for law firms, lawyers, barristers, and all those working in the legal world, we work closely with the in-house communications teams at a wide range of law firms, including those in the silver and magic circles and specialist legal advisors. We also help barristers to deal with media interviews so that they can get their messages across, raise profiles of themselves and their chambers – and minimise the risks involved in a media interview.
Here are five Media Training tips for lawyers, whatever the area of speciality and whichever kind of firm they work for.
1. Think about your audience.
This might sound obvious, but in our Media Training courses for law firms, one of the things we have to do is to help lawyers to think carefully about who they are talking to. Very often, the participants in these coaching sessions are focused on other lawyers – what will they think about the comments, and how will other members of the legal profession view what appears in the report? Obviously, this can be important if you’re thinking about raising the profile of your firm amongst potential recruits, but by and large, the aim for lawyers when doing media interviews is to talk to clients and, more importantly, potential clients.
As journalists – and all of our media trainers are working journalists, operating under strict nondisclosure agreements – we are obsessed with our audiences. We know exactly who they are, what they want to know, how they feel about an issue and, most significantly, how to grab and hold their audience’s attention. Therefore, as a lawyer, you must think about the audience for your interview. As you probably know from dealing with clients, the audience is not interested in the intricacies of the law; they just want to know how a ruling or a regulation affects them. Similarly, even if they understand legal phraseology and terms by using them, you’re not speaking the same language as your audience.
So, it’s essential to think about what the people you’re speaking to will want to know and express it in simple punchy language that will speak to them directly. It’s worth remembering that you almost certainly won’t be the only contributor to a report or broadcast news package. The journalist will be speaking to a variety of other people, and you are fighting for your place – if you’re dull, irrelevant, and you don’t make a connection with your audience, then at best, you’ll only get a small reference. At worst, you won’t be used at all and all your effort would’ve been for nothing. Therefore, consider the audience as you prepare with your in-house comms team or public relations agency.
2. Identify trends and current developments that you can talk to the journalist about.
Journalists are fascinated by trends. How often do you hear in a media report phrases such as “A growing number of organisations…” or “More, and more people…” or “It’s just one of a growing number of companies.” Journalistic arithmetic says one example or instance is interesting because it’s unusual and surprising. Two examples are difficult to know what to do with, but by the time we’ve got three, we can safely say that we’ve identified a trend. We advise participants in our media coaching for lawyers to introduce trends when talking to journalists. A phrase such as “What we’re saying now…” works very well for any media interview. If you’ve noticed that more clients are taking a certain course of action or that regulators are more likely to take one view over another, this trend or development is also meat and drink for a journalist and will earn you space in the report
Phrases such as “What we’re telling clients is…” or, to put it the other way round, “What more and more clients are asking for at the moment is…” will also work really well to show that you’re very much on top of current trends. You’re giving the journalist something topical and relevant for their audience.
3. Think about case studies and examples.
When people ask us what is Media Training about? We often point out that, in reality, we’re not teaching people to avoid a question – although dealing with difficult questions is a key element – more often, it’s about helping organisations and individuals to identify and tell stories that will illustrate and prove their points. We often say in the media that if you haven’t got an example, you haven’t got a story. An example can prove that what you’re saying is true – it could be a case study or even a simple anecdote. It also illustrates your point. How often during conversations with family and friends do you find yourself using phrases such as “For instance…” or “Just imagine….”
We know that this can be tricky for lawyers because of client confidentiality. That’s why in our Media Training for law firms and legal services providers, we have a range of techniques that will allow you to give your interviewer the kind of story, example, case study, or simple human anecdote that they’re desperate for, but which will not involve you embarrassing clients.
4. Take the initiative during the interview.
One of the most noticeable developments in our media training for law firms – and indeed, for almost all of the media coaching we do – is that at some point during the course, it will dawn on the participants that they, rather than the journalist, can be in the driving seat during an interview.
This is particularly relevant to those working in the legal sector because lawyers often take the view that it is safer to say very little, or at least as little as possible. This might be true when talking to a regulator or during a conversation with judges and others, but the situation is very different during media interviews.
By taking the initiative when talking to a journalist and setting out your stall at the beginning – including those examples and case studies we mentioned earlier – you take more control of the interview. The journalist is very often happy for you to do this as your knowledge will inevitably be greater than theirs. As we had to point out to one barrister during a Media Training course – you’re the expert here, not the journalist.
If anything, talking more can be safer than saying less. The danger of saying little during the media interview is that the journalist feels the need to throw in more questions – which could be either hostile or irrelevant. Taking the initiative during media interviews means that you can avoid this happening and keep the agenda relevant to you, allowing you to deliver those key messages that you’ve worked on with your in-house comms team or public relations agency.
5. Look out for difficult questions.
Journalists are not out to skewer lawyers. If you’re a slippery politician or the boss of a poison chemical company, then, yes, you’re going to get a hard time. Genuinely we can say as journalists that with 90% of the interviews, the aim is purely to get some interesting, relevant information for our audience. As we explain in our media coaching for law firms, if you’re going to do an interview with a journalist, you’ll be doing one of three things – promoting something, such as a new product or service; defending something because you’ve made a mistake or had to take a difficult decision or third, you’re commenting on current trends in the market. In the vast majority of cases, lawyers will be doing the latter, and these are very often the safest interviews to take part in.
However, there are risks involved here, as there are with every media interview. What happens if you inadvertently attack another law firm, get drawn into politics, find yourself invited to criticise a regulator (something you might be very ready to do in private!), or discover that the conversation is now beginning to turn to one of your clients? Journalists have no boundaries – we’ll ask anyone anything. It’s therefore essential as part of your preparation to do a good media interview that, as well as identifying positive messages that you want to get across, you also think about the risky subject areas and the dangerous questions that might be put to you.
We don’t want to put any lawyer off doing an interview. That’s why we help prepare lawyers to deal with difficult questions that might be thrown at them. We have a number of techniques that will allow anyone with a legal background doing a media interview to move away from a problematic or irrelevant subject back onto the key messages in a way that sounds reasonable and will also work for the journalist. We know that lawyers are very much risk averse, so this risk mitigation element is a key part of our Media Training for law firms.
A media interview with a journalist can be a win-win for both parties. The reporter can get some useful, relevant, topical information that adds authority to their article, while the lawyer can raise their profile and the one of their firm. One of the things that the in-house communications teams and public relations agencies of the many law firms we work with appreciate about our Media Training courses for lawyers is that we provide realistic role-play media interviews conducted by working journalists in a safe environment.
This means that partners in law firms, barristers and others working in legal services can learn the essentials for a good media interview and hone their skills so that when the opportunity to speak to a journalist arises, they’re in a good position to make the most of it.