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"Use The Court of Public Opinion for Litigation Support" Says Public Relations Pro Scott Lorenz
By Scott Lorenz, President, Westwind Communications

Get The Public On Your Side When Stakes Are High

Winning or losing in the court of public opinion can be just as important as what happens in the halls of justice. Lawyers and their clients need to develop litigation media relations strategies as part of their overall litigation support weapons.

This is especially true when lawyers are involved in high-profile litigation, in such cases communications strategies need to be included in the arsenal.

Litigation media relations, also known as public relations or PR is important for any law firm for several reasons beyond the scope of the immediate case:

  • It may help to attract more business to the firm.
  • It may attract top talent to the firm.
  • It would establish the veracity of the claim in the mind of the public
  • It could manage the reputation of a client during the trial.

Media is a tool in your bag, you've got to use it. If you don't know how, or don't have the time, contact a public relations professional to help. Find one by searching the Web under topics such as 'litigation support' or 'litigation media relations.' A public relations person will take the case, distill it from a legal document and put it into language understood by the common man. The salient points will be crystallized, thus creating an angle that will be appealing to the media.

Furthermore a publicist will work with the media to help them understand the lawsuit and assist media personnel in gathering of information, quotes, photos, and other material so that the final published story reflects the position of the client.

As a public relations and marketing consultant, I've been working with lawyers and their clients to help them get all the publicity they deserve and more for several years. I've handled public relations and marketing for numerous lawyers, doctors, authors, inventors, and entrepreneurs since 1980 and am an integral part of the marketing strategy for many firms.

Any lawsuit must compete for attention in the "hard news" slot and so it must be compelling and people need to care about it. On a tour of the Detroit News a few years ago I asked to be taken to the mailroom. There I saw 20 giant four foot tall mailbags that come into the mailroom every day. All I could think of was how many thousands of press releases were in that pile, and how the odds of any one of them seeing the light of day were not good. If your press release is in that pile, how do you get your story to get to the top of the heap?

The answer? Retain a public relations professional who has built up contacts in the media, who trust them for story ideas, and will know where to pitch a certain type of story. They'll have phone numbers, email addresses, personal fax and cell numbers because they deal with members of the media everyday and have established relationships.

A comprehensive litigation media relations program to enhance your litigation support and get maximum exposure for high-profile litigation should include:

  • Developing an overall communications strategy
  • Preparing key talking points and key messages
  • Preparing and distributing press releases and support material
  • Analyzing the dynamics of a case from a media perspective
  • Helping the media at every opportunity to present your client's side of the story
  • Handling local and national media relations, and monitoring that coverage for accuracy
  • Training clients in effective media relations

Remember that you cannot count on the press to be aggressive in seeking out both sides because the media will tell the story with whatever information is available before deadline. The media-savvy lawyer, or his representative, will pursue the media and make sure their side of the story is told.

Among the examples of litigation support provided by Westwind Communications are:

  • Engate vs. Esquire, et. al. Westwind Communications assisted Esquire Deposition Services, LCC, a national court reporting agency, in litigation support involving a lawsuit in which Engate accused Esquire and other court reporting agencies of infringing patents on realtime court reporting software features. When Esquire countered by filing a lawsuit asking that the patents be declared invalid, Westwind Communications issued a press release the day the motion was filed. Articles were prepared to target court reporters, attorneys, and software companies so Esquire's message would be clearly communicated to diverse audiences. Complicated legal issues were distilled to be understood by reporters, editors, and assigning editors.
  • Glass Choice vs. AAA of Michigan. Westwind Communications represented Glass Choice, an association of Auto Glass companies in their lawsuit against AAA of Michigan, the largest auto insurer in the state. Westwind Communications obtained numerous media placements in publications such as the Detroit News, Jackson Citizen Patriot, the Grosse Pointe News as well as an undercover investigation by the NBC affiliate in Detroit, WDIV-TV-4. The very successful campaign brought to the attention of the public the unsavory practice of "steering" by an insurance company. The media coverage also brought extra pressure to bear on AAA as its reputation was damaged by the media reports. The client credited the media coverage for assisting in the movement of the case.
  • Mark & Jean Gordanier in their lawsuit against the City of Farmington Hills, Michigan. Their claim was that their local fire department was at fault for extra damages to their home because they could not find the home due to outdated maps and poor training. Westwind Communications generated media coverage that embarrassed the City of Farmington Hills including placements in the Associated Press, a live 3 minute interview on the ABC affiliate in Detroit, WXYZ-7, interviews on WWJ News Radio-95 and in the Oakland Press and the Observer Eccentric Newspaper.
  • Terry Cochran is an Attorney and Partner in the law firm of Cochran, Foley & Associates, a Livonia, Michigan based firm specializing in personal injury. Media highlights include 40-plus appearances on FOX-2 Detroit's Legal Briefs, articles about cases won in the Detroit News, Television appearances on the Detroit NBC affiliate WDIV-4 and regular submissions about cases won or settled to Lawyer's Weekly.

We'll use one approach when pitching national media, producers and assistant producers of national television shows, and a different approach when promoting cases via the radio or Internet. Each media outlet has a 'public' they must communicate with and each have different needs that must be met. For example TV is looking for a good visual, they really don't want a bunch of attorneys in suits standing around because that's not good TV. Since they're not often able to bring cameras into the courtroom they are very careful as to the types of legal stories they cover.



Scott Lorenz is President of Westwind Communications ( www.westwindcos.com ), a public relations and marketing firm which specializes in marketing authors. His clients have been featured by Good Morning America, FOX & Friends, CNN, ABC Nightly News, ESPN, The New York Times, Nightline, TIME, PBS, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Family Circle, Woman's World, & Howard Stern to name a few. To discuss how Westwind Communications helps its clients get all the publicity they deserve and more visit www.westwindcos.com/book or call 734-667-2090 or email scottlorenz@westwindcos.com.

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