Self promotion — but at what cost to clients?

ShamelessSelfPromotionI’ve been struggling recently with the concept of lawyers’ self-promotion via the media.

Recently, I’ve noticed attorneys in several high-profile cases end up with a camera in front of them and a reporter shoving a microphone into their face, asking them for a comment. Some of these lawyers are younger; others have been around long enough that I presume they know what they’re doing.

Until the lawyer gives a soundbite that could not possibly help their client, and seems calculated only  to get the lawyer’s name out in the evening news.

In some matters, maybe the client wants a dog and pony show, and the resulting media circus might even help the client’s case. In criminal work, I’m not sure it helps all that often.

All lawyers want business. Most lawyers want more business. And free publicity in the news is something a lawyer can’t buy. But the lawyer’s desire to get media recognition may be directly opposed to the client’s interests in keeping a lid on it all, so we have potential competing interests — the lawyer’s ego and want for new business, and the client’s goals of getting a fair result in their case.

I’ve spoken with other younger attorneys about this issue, and some see it differently— Hell, clients aren’t going to come to see you if they don’t see you on TV right? Clients? There’ll always be another client. You need to get people taking about you and get your name out there!

To some degree, they’re right. Getting people talking about you is a great way to get new clients. I am unsure that I want people talking about me for me being on the news, and prefer they’d be telling their friends, colleagues, and family how well our firm represented them. I might have an antiquated view of how things work.

I recently turned down an opportunity to talk about a case to the media. It was tempting to give my soundbite and have my big fat head and my name on the TV, broadcast to the thousands who’d be watching the evening’s news — I couldn’t pay for publicity like that. Surely, it would surely have gotten people talking about our firm and likely we’d have gotten some client calls out of the deal as well.

Anything I said would have been merely for my benefit, and not my client’s. “I, Me, Mine,” aren’t in the rules of ethics. So I declined their offer.

Did I make the right decision? In this case, I think so. And for the same reasons I don’t blast every little update in our cases all over our website or twitter feed.

But I still wrestle with the idea — at what point does talking to the media cross the line from effectively advocating for a client, to self-promotion, to shameless self-promotion, to solely feeding the lawyer’s ego and need for recognition?

For now, I prefer to err on the side of “no comment.”

17 Responses to Self promotion — but at what cost to clients?

  1. Agreed omnibus. Arguably the best way to do good and incidentally to “do well” is to state bluntly that real lawyers try cases in court and not on the 11 o’clock news, and walk away.

  2. shg says:

    Sorry to spoil a baby lawyer assumption, but getting your name on TV rarely does anything for your practice. I realize that flies in the face of those who scream SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION is the path to fabulous wealth and prestige, but it’s not necessarily so.

    Hard as it may be to imagine, most people neither care nor remember the lawyer who name and face are on screen for 30 seconds. Lawyers are airtime fillers, nothing more. Aside from the lawyer and spouse, maybe kids (but usually not), nobody cares.

    And as for Bruce’s comment above, it’s not that simple. Rather than mindless rules, do it or don’t do it, think instead. If it serves the client’s interest, then do it. If you have something that might help your client, do it. If not, then don’t.

    Nobody likes the correct answer, “it depends,” but with a bit of effort and thought, and with the recognition that ego-driven decisionmaking is only fun for about five minutes and is otherwise unjustifiable, young lawyers can make wise decisions.

  3. David Sugerman says:

    I have been involved in a few high profile civil cases over the years. My experience is that a case widely reported in the press does not generate more business. It may generate a few calls, but those calls are rarely more than distraction. We are legends in our own minds. The 15 minutes of fame (if that!) means that the story is gone by two news cycles. The participants are forgotten even quicker than that. It is the rare case in which the client benefits from coverage, and that is the only test of whether to get entangled.

  4. It is hard to imagine many situations in which publicity helps a criminal case. Normally in those cases, the only time you want to see your name in the paper is when it is followed by the words “was unavailable for comment.”

    But I think you need to distinguish between self-promotion and publicity. Although I struggle to think of any way a lawyer’s self-promotion serves a client’s interest, and I agree with SHG that that is where you start, publicity for the case can sometimes be a good thing. If, for example, you are trying to achieve some public policy change through the litigation, you can only achieve the intended reform if people know about it.

  5. Anonymous says:

    taint the jury pool

  6. Reblogged this on hawglawblawg and commented:
    I’ve been struggling with this in a case too. I decided not to weigh in the media case and just focus on winning in court. I haven’t regretted it so far.

  7. Anonymous says:

    You all sound incredibly sanctimonious. Which is par for the course here at Fishtown world headquarters.

    Media coverage generally won’t hurt your client’s case if you can avoid sounding like an idiot. If you come across as knowledgeable and reasonable it will probably help. And, yes, it’s great exposure for your firm. If I have a newsworthy case and I don’t think press coverage will undermine the client’s litigation goals, I ask the client for permission to respond to interview requests. If the client says no, I muzzle it. If the client says yes, I give an interview and by the next week I get two fee-generating clients who otherwise wouldn’t have known how to find me. Every time.

    Get off your high horses.

  8. JRW says:

    You all sound incredibly sanctimonious. Which is par for the course here at Fishtown world headquarters.

    Media coverage generally won’t hurt your client’s case if you can avoid sounding like an idiot. If you come across as knowledgeable and reasonable it will probably help. And, yes, it’s great exposure for your firm. If I have a newsworthy case and I don’t think press coverage will undermine the client’s litigation goals, I ask the client for permission to respond to interview requests. If the client says no, I muzzle it. If the client says yes, I give an interview and by the next week I get two fee-generating clients who otherwise wouldn’t have known how to find me. Every time.

    Get off your high horses.

    • Leo M. Mulvihill, Jr. says:

      Thanks for your insight, JRW. Maybe next time I’ll care about your anonymous comment. Perhaps not.

      But in my relatively short career, I’ve rarely experienced a criminal client that benefits from extra press. Maybe you know differently?

      The main point: if talking to press benefits client, do it. If not, don’t. Client’s needs > lawyer’s desire for press.

  9. Noah Kovach says:

    There are so many other ways to get your “self promotion” in these days. With all of the different aspects of social media and things out there. I think that the majority of people think that just because they make it onto tv that they are somehow famous. Great article!

  10. Patrick K says:

    I like what Bruce has to say. Focus on doing your job right and the clients will come to you

  11. Sandra Dotch says:

    I think it is better to focus on proving you are good to your clients they are a great source of promotion you do good for them and they will tell there friends.

  12. Joe Carson says:

    Make a statement in court, not in the news.

  13. Bruce D. says:

    I completely agree with this post, and I really like how Joe states it.

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