Legal and criminal justice professionals are active producers of popular culture and other media stories. They contribute to news articles by answering questions to newspaper, magazine, and online reporters. They participate in television and radios news programs and talk shows. They offer their views in documentaries. They also write their own stories in press releases, websites, articles, and documentaries. Creating stories— both directly and indirectly—has become an essential aspect of their professional practice.

Lawyers who represent clients in high-profile cases involving public figures must, where appropriate - and [...] always consistent with the canons of ethics and the rules of court - engage in their own press advocacy as part of their defense on behalf of a client (Bennet, 1996).

Lawyers produce stories directly and indirectly. They produce stories directly when they write press releases about their court victories or their participation in multimillion business deals, when they create a story for their websites, or when they tweet about their involvement in a case. They also create stories indirectly when they answer questions from reporters about their clients’ cases or when they participate in radio talk shows or TV news programs commenting about legal developments or law reforms. Police officers and other criminal justice agents also deal with the press practically on an everyday basis.


Working with the press requires specific knowledge of the conventions that rule the media. The language that reporters speak is radically different from the language used in the courtrooms, law firms, and police headquarters. Journalists use words and phrases that lawyers and criminal justice professionals do not normally use. The layers of editing shape the stories in a way that is not common in legal and criminal justice circles. Journalists tend to get all sides of the story, whereas trial lawyers tend to advance their clients’ positions (Cotter, 2010). What’s more, each media outlet has its own idiosyncrasies, which lawyers and criminal justice agents need to know how to navigate.

There are also ethics rules governing lawyers’ relations with media. For example, the American Bar Association Model Rule of Professional Conduct restricts lawyers’ right to “make an extrajudicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know' will be disseminated by means of public conununication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.’’‘The rules on maintaining the integrity of the profession also apply to lawyers’ dealings with the media.[1] Most state bars and local associations also contain very detailed mles regulating lawyers’ contact with the media. For example, in Ontario, Canada, the Law Society mles include a series of conditions that lawyers must satisfy before making public statements to the press.

Working with the press requires careful preparation. Legal and criminal justice professionals need to prepare for their dealings with the press. This requires being informed about the big picture of the case and not just the angle of the lawyer’s client or the specific investigation carried out by a police officer. If, for example, a police officer is investigating a new' street drug in his jurisdiction, he must know if this drug is part of a new' modality of drug consumption within a certain demographic. If a lawyer is defending a company accused of pollution in a certain industry, she should know' about changes in the public perception of environmental risks in that industry. This preparation also requires crafting messages for media consumption that speak the language of the target media outlets. In general, these messages must be brief, precise, and accurate. They should be crafted in a language that is catchy and apt for being quoted in the press. In Gone But Not Forgotten (2005) Betsy Tannenbaum knows that media can help her get her message across to the largest audience possible. So, she always prepares clear, punchy, and catchy sentences that newspaper journalists love to quote in their articles and TV news anchors like to show in their news programs. Her statements are never boring. They have a hook that makes reporters keep asking her questions and that elicits invitations to radio call-in shows and TV talk shows.

In contrast, in The Accused (1988), assistant deputy prosecutor Kathryn Murphy treats the press as an obligation that she wants to get over with as soon as possible in order to get back to her investigation and prosecution. As a result, she is grilled by the press. Any minor mistake she makes is magnified by tabloids and TV news programs, which try to destroy her and her main witness in a major rape case.

  • [1] ‘American Bar Association Model Rule of Professional Conduct, Section 3.6. -American Bar Association Model Rule of Professional Conduct, Section 8. 2 •’Public Appearances and Public Statements Communication with the Public 6.06 (1) Provided that there is no infringement of the lawyer’s obligations to the client, the profession, the courts, or the administration of justice, a lawyer may communicate information to the media and may make public appearances and statements. Commentary: Lawyers in their public appearances and public statements should conduct themselves in the same manner as with their clients, their fellow legal practitioners, and tribunals. Dealings with the media are snnply an extension of the lawyer’s conduct in a professional capacity. The mere fact that a lawyer’s appearance is outside of a courtroom, a tribunal, or the lawyer’s office does not excuse conduct that would otherwise be considered improper. A lawyer’s duty to the client demands that, before making a public statement concerning the client’s affairs, the lawyer must first be satisfied that any communication is in the best interests of the client and within the scope of the retainer. Rules of Professional Conduct, Law Society of Upper Canada.
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