We all know those lawyers who seemingly turn up in every media report involving a legal issue. The “free” publicity these expert legal sources receive not only helps them build their public profiles but also enables them to grow their firms by staying top of mind and signing up new clients.
The benefits of being an expert legal source are many. Becoming one is a reachable goal for those willing to devote the time and energy needed to gain the trust of reporters, editors and, of course, the public.
The key is knowing how to deliver what the media wants, which is making complicated legal issues understandable for the masses. Not unlike presenting a case to a jury, the goal of any legal commentator is to prove to the audience that they know what they’re talking about.
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How to Become an Expert Legal Source for Media
Being a legal expert isn’t something reserved solely for big firm lawyers or those who regularly handle high-profile cases. While those credentials certainly can help, practically any attorney can become an expert source by effectively demonstrating their knowledge and providing helpful information
The first step is making sure media knows what a source can deliver and that they are available. The best chance at success typically can be found in local media outlets rather than those on the national or international stage. Many of the legal experts who are quoted on the front page of The Wall Street Journal are the same attorneys who began interacting with the media on a much smaller scale.
One way to let media know that a lawyer is capable of being an expert source is for the attorney to personally reach out to reporters and editors or allow a professional media consultant to handle the first contact. Such communications may be as simple as a short paragraph explaining the lawyer’s expertise and willingness to be interviewed.
Like most attorneys, reporters and editors are constantly pressed for time. That makes it difficult to get the media’s attention, but a well-crafted initial communication can make it possible.
For example, it was announced last month that Dallas County will be the first Texas county to go to trial next year in its claims against a group of pharmaceutical companies and others for their roles in the national opioid crisis.
This case will dominate local and national news, which is why media outlets will soon (if they aren’t doing so already) begin searching for experts who can explain what happens before, during and after the trial.
Any lawyer who wants to be called on as an expert should be reaching out to media soon to explain how their knowledge can benefit the coverage. Imagine an email to a reporter who has been covering the opioid litigation with a subject line that reads: “Expert Source Available to Discuss Dallas County Opioid Lawsuit.”
The email itself should include a brief introduction and explanation of the attorney’s expertise and availability. If the reporter doesn’t respond, don’t be afraid to call the newsroom and ask to talk to the reporter or editor who’ll be responsible for the coverage of the upcoming trial.
Expert Legal Sources Should Develop Media Relationships
Sending emails and making calls to media outlets is only as good as the resulting relationships. Offering oneself as an expert source is not the same thing as cultivating media contacts.
Lawyers who have the best media relationships spend a fair amount of time communicating with reporters about cases that may never end up being on TV or in the morning newspaper.
Good expert sources will send a news report or a case result that they think a reporter might find of interest with a simple note saying something along the lines of: “I’m not involved in this case but it seems like something that might be up your alley. If so, let me know if I can help. If not, no worries. Hope you’re doing great.”
Simple points of contact like this can go a long way towards showing that an attorney is more interested in trying to help a reporter than promoting themselves or their firms. Once a reporter is satisfied that a source can make their job easier, it can become the foundation for a beneficial future relationship.
Expert Sources Are Always Available
While technological advances such as email and video conferencing have been a huge factor on how the news is reported today, two of the biggest factors when it comes to who the media decides to rely on as an expert source are geography and availability.
The lawyers who fare the best in terms of being quoted in news reports do everything they can to be available when the media needs them. That may mean appearing on set during a local newscast while the attorney’s family is having dinner or taking a call from a harried reporter working on deadline while a lawyer is on vacation.
Ask any reporter why someone has become their “go-to” legal source and one of the first things they’ll say is: “I always call them because they know the issues or they know someone who knows the issues and they’re generally available when I need them.”
Repurposing Media Appearances for Best Impact
Being interviewed on television or in a print story brings immediate, albeit limited, results. An expert source can generally expect to receive congratulatory notes from family and colleagues as well as an uptick in calls to their office.
However, the afterglow of appearing in a news story is short lived, particularly in today’s 24-hour news cycle. Think of all the people who may not have turned in or who didn’t see the story in the paper. That is why so important that expert sources spread the word further to get the best impact.
Since most media reports live online for extended periods, I always advise clients to expand the coverage by noting their media appearances in as many ways as possible. That may mean issuing a press release, posting an item on the firm blog, spreading the word on social media channels, contacting existing clients with an email, or many of the other ways to prolong the news.
These are just a few examples of how an attorney can build successful media relationships and promote their role as an expert source to best benefit their practice. Getting in front of reporters and demonstrating an ability to effectively break down complex legal issues are the first steps on the road to being one of the lawyers that media always seem to call on.
Bruce Vincent is a writer and editor who has helped lawyers build media relationships for more than 20 years. A former print and broadcast journalist, Bruce has developed an extensive list of media friendships both locally and nationally. To learn more about how he can help increase your media profile, contact Bruce at firstname.lastname@example.org.