By Geri L. Dreiling
After an indictment is filed in the U.S. attorney’s office, often a legal new release is issued to the media, summarizing the charges. When an attorney general settles a suit on behalf of the state her or she represents, a legal press release announcing the results may be sent out to reporters. Yet when a private attorney files, settles or wins a lawsuit involving matters of public policy, safety or an incident already widely covered in the press, the act may very well go unnoticed.
This isn’t because reporters make a point of ignoring private attorneys. Short of parking a reporter next to the filing clerk’s office in every courthouse in the state, it is virtually impossible for news organizations to learn about all of the important legal developments that merit ink.
Having represented clients as an attorney, covered lawyers as a legal and investigative reporter and worked with lawyers as a legal PR specialist, I’ve seen firsthand what works when it comes to legal PR and legal news releases. I’ve distilled these best practices into a set of guidelines that I refer to as the “six C’s” of news releases.
In part one of a three-part series I discuss the first two C’s: The candidates and contents.
Candidates for News Releases
Not every case, legal development or settlement will pique a reporter’s interest. Selecting the proper topic is one key element of an effective legal public relations campaign.
A lawsuit filed when someone sustains soft-tissue injuries in a fender-bender won’t make the news—but a lawsuit filed on behalf of someone who was injured in catastrophic highway crash involving a tractor-trailer that killed several people and was widely covered by the media would certainly merit a press release.
A contract dispute between two parties over the terms of a business lease probably won’t be news. However, a class action on behalf of consumers alleging that the terms written into a payday-loan agreement are predatory is news.
A product liability petition alleging that a mechanic was injured when a tire exploded may not merit a news release, but a suit involving a defective tire that has a record of exploding, has been the target of numerous lawsuits and has injured scores of people would be newsworthy.
Generally a lawsuit will generate legal PR if the issue affects a wide swath of the public, rather than just your client, or it involves an incident that has already received attention from the press.
Contents of a News Release
Think of a legal news release as the CliffsNotes version of the lawsuit. The legal press release summarizes, in narrative form, the allegations contained within the suit. Except for a quote from the attorney bringing the case, it typically stays within the confines of what is alleged in the petition or complaint.
The first sentence, simply stating who is suing whom for what, is followed by a paragraph or two summarizing the factual underpinnings of the case and then a paragraph briefly outlining the legal theories asserted by the plaintiff.
The legal press release should identify the attorney who filed the case, the caption of the case, the court in which it was filed, the case number and the filing date. It should also include a contact name and phone number for a reporter who wishes to follow up on the case.
The legal news release may also contain brief statement from the lawyer, perhaps touching on why the suit was filed in the first place—for instance, “We believe that this danger has existed for years, and it is my client’s hope that by bringing this case she will be the last person to be harmed.”
There are very specific items that reporters will be looking for when reading your legal press release. Include them and it will boost the chances that your legal PR effort will succeed.
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