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A newly elected president of a state bar association, recently profiled in a prestigious legal publication, shared his vision for the organization for the coming year. Incredibly, during this interview the bar leader asked the reporter for something that no journalist should ever permit: He asked if he could review the article before publication. Many lawyers have opportunities to serve in leadership positions in legal and civic organizations and are called upon to interact with the press. The incident of the newly elected bar president underscores how inept many experienced lawyers are in grasping the most fundamental rules in press relations. Similarly, those lawyers who are so uncomfortable with the press that they feel the need to ask to review an article before publication are probably not cut out for media relations. After giving an interview, some journalists will agree to read back the source’s comments. However, don’t ever expect a reporter to tell the source which quotes he will use, and never expect to see a story before it is published or aired. Effective media relations are clearly a reflection of one’s ability to engage in healthy human dynamics. Nevertheless, another key rule to good media relations for novice and experienced sources alike is to establish the ground rules in advance of any interview. “On the record” is universally understood. It means that anything a source says can be used for publication. (Television interviews are particularly intimidating, but the cameras, studio lights, microphones and the presence of high-profile interviewer are frightening reminders that everything said is on the record.) However, journalists have varying interpretations of expressions such as “off the record,” “not for attribution,” and “on background.” The only sure way to make one’s terms clear is to spell them out in detail in advance. Generally, “not for attribution” or “on background” means that the reporter can use what one says, but not identify that person by name as the source. If the topic of the interview is delicate, be sure to discuss how the source will be identified. Unless one is careful, the person can be characterized broadly as a “well-informed source” or narrowly as “a member of the executive committee of the state bar association.” ACCURACY REASSURED The term “off the record” is more difficult to define. One chief judge recently told a columnist, “there is no such thing as off the record.” Even so, most responsible journalists adhere to the principle that “off the record” means the information will not be published nor will the information be shared with other sources in developing the news story. The purpose of “off the record” information is usually to reassure the reporter of the accuracy of the information being generated by other sources. Because such information can hinder as much as help an investigation, many reporters will never go off the record. In reviewing these ground rules, lawyers should avoid the temptation of exercising too much caution in interviews. In these instances, it is too easy to alienate the reporter by appearing uncertain, stiff or secretive — and thereby enhancing the likelihood that the lawyer will not be quoted. There are also ground rules if the publication sends a photographer for the interview. Don’t expect to have any say in which photograph accompanies the news story. Even so, by working with the photojournalist and anticipating his or her needs, one can assist the photographer achieve a more dramatic shot that benefits both the publication and the lawyer. Finally, civic-minded lawyers who are too uncomfortable with meeting the press should consider publicizing the goals of their organizations by writing in law reviews, trade publications, popular newspapers and through speaking engagements — or by participating in important behind-the-scenes activities. Law firm marketing consultant John T. Duffy is an attorney and a former legal journalist. He is the author of the book, “A Lawyer’s Guide to Getting Good Press,” and co-author of the Lexis Nexis national reference, “Rainmaking: Client Development for the 90s.”

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