How to Answer When a Reporter Calls
“As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employ that knowledge in reform of the law, and work to strengthen legal education.”
—Preamble to the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct
Dan Abrams, chief legal affairs anchor for ABC News, was working to strengthen legal education as he explained the concept of the statute of limitations. Reporters at the table asked questions, and he did his best to give concise, understandable answers.
When reporters come to you for information, they want a clear, succinct discussion of a legal question that adds information to their story. How should you respond?
If you decline the offer, a simple call or email politely doing so is sufficient and keeps the door open for future interviews. You don’t have to explain your reasons for declining.
However, if you decide to answer some questions on a legal topic, there are some questions you can ask beforehand.
You want to know where the article will be published: In a daily newspaper, a monthly magazine, or the internet? What information does the reporter need—a comment on a recent case in the news or an explanation of a complicated legal issue? What is the deadline and how long will the interview take?
Once you agree to the interview, set some ground rules such as where it will take place, whether it will be recorded, how long it will last, and the topics it will cover. As you prepare, think about one or two essential points you want to make, show your enthusiasm for the topic, be interesting, and be patient with the reporter.
The law is a complex subject; let the reporter know you are available to clarify any quotes or misunderstandings. Find out when the article will be published and ask for a copy if you are not a subscriber. Read it, thank the reporter for the interview, and keep your inner critic to yourself. Your cooperation will put you on the reporter’s list for future articles.
Roberta Gubbins has served as the editor of the Ingham County Legal News. Since leaving the paper, she provides services as a ghostwriter editing articles, blogs, and e-blasts for lawyers and law firms. She is the editor of The Mentor, SBM Master Lawyers Section newsletter.
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