When a Lawyer’s Reputation Can be Damaged by Public Relations Consultants

This week, I had two meetings at a legal trade magazine where the reporter interviewed my clients from different law firms for two profile stories. I sat in the room quietly, listening as my clients shared their experiences as attorneys. I enjoy sitting in on these meetings because I often learn something new about my clients. I also make a point to keep my mouth shut and avoid trying to control the conversation. However, there’s a situation when meetings among a client, reporter and publicist can backfire in a big way.

The Seattle Times reported that a high-profile trial attorney, Anne Bremner, wants a court injunction to block the sheriff’s office from releasing investigative reports and video from her arrest two months ago on suspicion of drunken driving. The story goes on to say that the interview with the paper took place in the office a public relations specialist. The article also said:

Bremner is a well-known defense attorney who has often appeared on cable and national television stations to offer legal analysis. According to her website, she covered the Michael Jackson child-molestation trial in 2005 for CNN and has appeared on TruTV, “Good Morning America” and Fox News. Over the course of her 26-year career, she’s represented numerous police agencies, officers and sheriff’s deputies.

Clearly, Bremner is media-savvy. However, having this meeting in a publicist’s office was a strange move. If she’s as innocent as she says, why not meet the reporter at her offices or at a coffee shop? Why have a publicist in the room if you’re telling the truth about what happened? A publicist should not be seen or heard in these circumstances. Rather, a good prep session with the publicist and client before the meeting is the way to go.

It raises some suspicion that she needed to have the protection of a publicist and is trying not to allow the media to see her public records. This creates a “loop hole” for the media and citizen journalists to exploit, which opens up a new can of cats.


Is Second Place as Good as First Place?

The battle over Arizona’s controversial new immigration laws has caused quite a stir. I’m in Chicago which is about 1,752 miles from Phoenix and I’ve felt the anger first-hand, from protesters who have marched in the Windy City.

Now comes news that Virginia police officers can question stopped motorists about their immigration status. According to a CNN report, the state’s attorney general said that Virginia law enforcement officers, may, like Arizona police officers, inquire into the immigration status of persons stopped or arrested.

I’m fascinated to see how this will play out. There’s no question that states with sinking revenues are frustrated with anything they see as unnecessary financial burdens. So removing the illegal immigrants is helpful because, for US tax paying citizens, it creates the perception that law breakers who are using up resources during a recession are being brought to justice. At the same time, some businesses have exploited these illegal workers for their own profit. For purposes of staying out of the argument, I’m going to focus on the public relations issues of when and which states decide to take a position on the matter.

As a rule, first always wins out. Arizona got a tremendous amount of national and international news coverage. And “as a rule,” whoever is second gets the leftovers when it comes to significant media attention. I would imagine the rule gets broken fast when you think of a crime spree or copycat criminal acts.

However, regardless of what happens with these immigration news stories, Arizona’s laws are likely to always be a reference point. Is that good? Depends. If future states that generate media attention follow Arizona’s legal guidelines, that’s good because it proves that Arizona has a legitimate point. And for the states that follow, regardless of their position on checking the immigration status when someone runs a stop sign, if they’re smart, they can adjust their public relations’ message to possibly play better than Arizona’s.

What tickles me will be to see how the media plays “cat and mouse” with the new states that will enact controversial police check policies with immigration status. Will they simply play off of “the states verses (fill in the blank with “Federal Government,” “immigration rights activists”) or will they find ways to communicate the comparisons and contrasts to reveal copycat illegal immigration busters?