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A law firm’s presence in the media is one of the key factors in determining its public reputation. When reporters and bloggers interview your attorneys and/or staff, portraying the firm in the best possible light is not something that can be taken for granted. In light of this, we encourage all firms to adopt a media policy governing contact with the media by staff, associates and partners. It is important to have such a policy in order to manage who in the firm speaks with media and under what circumstances. A media policy is also essential during crisis communications situations. [Note: Jaffe has a separate Crisis Media Policy template, which can be found here.]
[Firm Name]’s Media Policy
At [Firm Name] we value our relationships with reporters, editors and bloggers, as we understand the role that media coverage plays in the perception of our firm by current and prospective clients, as well as many other audiences in the wider community. At the same time, reporters and bloggers have a job to do, and their agendas and goals for covering [Firm Name] may not always be the same as ours. Because of this, we have carefully developed a firm-wide policy governing how to manage contacts from the media. Its purpose is to maintain our relationships with reporters, editors and bloggers by being as helpful as possible, while ensuring the firm’s messages and positioning are properly communicated.
Below is the firm-wide policy governing how to respond to proactive contact from journalists and bloggers.
[Note: The firm has separate policies governing staff and attorney use of social media and firm communications during crisis situations. Please refer to those for additional guidance.]
Responding to Contact From Reporters and Bloggers
At [Firm Name], we give a high priority to contact from the media. Media inquiries generally involve either requests for interviews about the firm and our clients, or requests to interview attorneys as subject matter sources. Each requires a slightly different communication technique.
I. Media Requests About the Firm or Clients
At any given time, media may be pursuing stories about our firm. These may be about positive topics (new hires, pro bono work, community involvement, firm donations), or reporters and bloggers may be asking for comments from the firm regarding clients or sensitive internal matters. Regardless, all media requests about firm matters should be immediately referred to the designated firm media representative(s). At [Firm Name], we have designated the following individual(s) as firm media representative(s). They are the only personnel authorized to comment on firm matters.
[Firm Name] Media Representative(s)
[Provide list of approved firm media representative(s) (managing partner(s), senior management member(s), marketing contact(s), outside PR contact(s). Include both e-mail and phone contact information.]
If you receive a phone call from a reporter asking for comment on a firm matter or a firm client, politely tell them that you will direct their inquiry immediately to the firm media representative(s) and that they will hear back as soon as possible. In addition to their name and the media outlet they work for, ask for their deadline. This is important as we want to be sure to respond to reporters in a timely manner so as to maintain credibility and relationships. Also make note of the nature of the reporter’s inquiry and the information they seek. Pass all of this information on to the designated firm media representative(s) via e-mail or phone as quickly as possible.
Note: It is possible that a reporter calling for an interview about a sensitive internal matter or a firm client will try to secure information from anyone who answers the phone. It is important to refrain from making any comments to a reporter that could be used in their story. Stick to the “script” outlined above: take their information and assure them, politely, that they will receive a call back from the appropriate individual(s) in time for their deadline. Do not engage the reporter in conversation or idle chatter.
II. Media Requests to Interview Attorneys as Subject Matter Sources
Having our attorneys quoted as trusted sources in the media and in blogs on issues, topics and trends relevant to our clients’ business is crucial to maintaining [Firm Name]’s positioning in the marketplace. Clients and prospects rely on research when choosing new counsel and when making decisions regarding renewing their contracts. A significant source of their research comes from media mentions of our attorneys. Attorneys who are quoted as subject-matter sources are viewed as credible authorities on the topics they are quoted speaking about. The media act as a third-party “endorser,” which enhances our attorneys’ – and thus the firm’s – reputation. Therefore, it is extremely important for such interview requests to be handled quickly and efficiently, with the reporter’s needs in mind.
Below are specific guidelines for staff, associates and partners regarding handling these types of media inquiries.
Staff: Unless specifically designated, non-attorney staff members are not permitted to give media interviews. Many staff members are responsible for answering phones at the firm, however, and therefore play a key role in fostering our relationships with media. If you receive a call from a reporter, take down their name, the name of the outlet they work for, the details of their request, and their deadline. Tell the reporter they will hear back from someone as soon as possible, and in time for their deadline. Be courteous, respectful and professional, but do not engage in conversation or idle chatter.
If the reporter calling wishes to speak with an attorney with whom you work, pass the request and all of the information you collect on to that individual. They will decide what next steps to take. If the reporter does not ask to speak with a specific attorney, or someone you know, forward the request immediately to the list of individuals noted above. They will decide what next steps to take.
Associates: Unless specifically designated, associates at [Firm Name] are not permitted to give interviews to media. The exception may be if you are working with the firm’s marketing or PR staff on proactive media outreach, or if you have been cleared to speak on specific topics by your immediate supervisor or practice group leader. If you receive a call or e-mail from a reporter looking to speak to an attorney with the firm regarding a specific topic that is not about a client or internal matter, follow the steps outlined above for staff.
If you are cleared to speak with media on specific topics, and the reporter is calling regarding one of those, follow the steps outlined below for partners.
Partners: All partners at [Firm Name] are expected to take on some marketing responsibilities. This may or may not include working with the media and doing interviews on topics related to your area of practice. If you have chosen to participate in the firm’s PR efforts, you may receive interview opportunities from internal or external PR personnel. They will provide you with all of the information you need to do the interview, including – if appropriate – background on the reporter, the subject of their story, the information they seek, the kinds of questions they want to ask, and previous articles they may have written. PR personnel will also handle scheduling the interview and any follow-up. They are also available for just-in-time media training to help you develop messages and strategies for the interview.
You may also receive inquiries directly from the media, either to your direct phone or e-mail, or via a staff member or associate. Below are guidelines for handling this type of media contact:
- Check for client conflicts and obtain client approval if necessary before providing substantive information to a reporter. If the subject of the interview is something that would concern a client, or if the reporter is asking about a sensitive client issue or an area that presents a potential conflict, contact the firm’s marketing and/or ethics personnel to ensure the interview is permitted. You may also need to seek specific client approval if you are talking about a client matter such as a litigation victory. If in doubt, it is always better to secure permission than to move ahead with an interview that could potentially cost the firm a client or raise other issues.
- If you receive information about the media request from a staff member or associate and you feel comfortable getting back to the reporter to do the interview, do so. Be sure to respond to the reporter in time for the deadline. If the information you receive is incomplete, or you would like counsel regarding the interview opportunity, contact the firm’s marketing department or PR personnel. They can follow up with the reporter and secure additional information, arrange the interview, or politely decline on your behalf if the reporter wishes to discuss something that is either outside of your area of knowledge or you are not comfortable addressing. It is also advisable to alert marketing and PR personnel that you are doing the interview, regardless of whether or not you require their assistance. They will be able to handle any follow-up stemming from the interview and track for the story.
- If you are contacted directly by a reporter, either via phone or email, do not feel pressured to do the interview right away. It is perfectly acceptable to ask for the reporter’s deadline and tell them you will call them back. Even if it is just 15 minutes later that you make that call, it will give you time to mentally prepare for the interview, check for conflicts or sensitivities, and seek any help from the marketing department or PR personnel. Also ask for more specifics about the reporter’s story and the questions they want answered, if you want, but refrain from answering them until you are sure you want to do the interview. Be sure to call the reporter back in time for their deadline, even if it is just to decline the interview. This will help foster your relationship with them. You may also elect to have a firm PR representative call the reporter back to decline the interview.
As noted above, [Firm Name] values its relationships with reporters and the coverage it receives in the media. By following the above guidelines, you can help ensure that media inquiries receive the prompt, appropriate attention that they deserve and that they are handled properly.
When anyone in the firm is asked a general question about the firm they may always refer the member of the media to our website as another public source of general information.
If you have any questions about this policy or working with the media, feel free to contact [Name, title, contact information].