Large profile cases are prone to varying degrees of pre-trial publicity. This often-unavoidable reality is something that some defense attorneys are forced to deal with, which requires a nuanced approach.
In a recent podcast episode, How to Utilize Consultants to Address Pretrial Publicity, we spoke with John Trimble about pretrial publicity and what it means to his practice. John is a partner with Lewis Wagner, and his practice focuses on insurance coverage disputes, bad faith defense, and insurance agent malpractice, to name just a few.
When exploring the topic of pretrial publicity, John outlines what he considers the starting point:
I would say it [pretrial publicity] starts with a defense lawyer’s knowledge of implicit biases of the community and where the catastrophe has happened. You need to know how they were raised. What their views are. Are they conservative, liberal, or moderate?
This shines a light on the importance of understanding where the community stands in relation to the impact of a local trial. John explains, “Local news is big. National news influences. It used to be that people in the community were only influenced by the local news and that was their view of the world. But now with cable news, more times than not, people’s views of litigation and the judicial system are influenced by cable news networks that either supports the judiciary or attacks the judiciary and talk about big verdicts.” This is why the foundation of any pre-trial publicity navigation strategy requires an understanding of the news permeating the community.
Next, legal teams should remain conscious of the narrative spreading across social media. John continues, “You also must think about what is on social media because every television station has a place for people to go online and comment about stories. Every newspaper has a place to go online and comment about stories. All the social media outlets [offer places to comment] and people are influenced by what they see there, so there is a big hodgepodge of information that comes out after a catastrophe that colors and flavors the views of the local community. It is a fact of life if you are a defense lawyer.”
Given the digital mediums for communication, it seems impossible to be isolated from major publicity. This manifests itself as an issue that must be handled properly by attorneys. However, the news cycle moves faster than ever, which is something that attorneys can use to their advantage. John says, “One of the realities of news is that the news cycles move so quickly that people move on from one story to the next and forget about ones that happened just a month ago.”
No matter the issue or the context of the issue within the local community, attorneys should be prepared to address pretrial publicity. John states, “When a lawyer is hired after a catastrophe, they need to have a toolbox of ways to address pretrial publicity. The first one [tool] that I would mention is public relations consultants. Anybody who is representing a party in a major catastrophe needs to have a PR consultant.” The range of benefits associated with a PR consultant includes social media monitoring, response strategy, interview prep, and more.
Throughout our conversation with John, he provided a number of useful tips and strategies to prepare for pre-trial publicity. If this is a topic that you’re interested in, be sure to listen to his full episode. We were honored to speak with him and hope that you find our conversation most informative.
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