Why Solos Can Profit From Public Relations
This is a colorful story which is also a lesson for the new lawyer (and not so new lawyer). Today, even the new solo needs to understand one of her core competencies must be fundamental knowledge on how to handle a high profile case and the media, why solos need to understand the fundamentals of public relations.
This is the story behind the story of how two new solos (just four months after passing the bar) saw the PR value of doing pro bono work on a case which captivated the local media, got hired, then fired, not because they couldn't do the work...but because they didn't have PR experience. This is the case of the 'pink poodle'.
Joy Douglas, the owner of Zing beauty salon in Denver, Colarado had a white poodle, Cici, which she stained pink. The stain was perfectly safe, organic beet juice so there is absolutely no harm to the poodle whatsoever. She did this to support breast cancer awareness, pink being the color popularized by the cause, to create conversation to raise donations for the walks for breast cancer. Many well-meaning but misguided animal lovers thought she was abusing the dog and reported her to the Humane Society of Denver. The police, after numerous complaints, fined her $1,000 under a statute enacted five years ago to prevent dying of animals, primarily to prevent baby chicks and ducks being dyed at Easter.
In her wisdom, she sought out counsel because of the media interest in the case. She also hired two new lawyers who saw the PR value to their firm and wisely were going to defend her pro bono in exchange for the positive publicity. One lawyer had many years during law school working in the Denver prosecutor's office so the experience and connections were there despite his new lawyer status. The lawyers, in turn, contacted more experienced counsel to assist on the case because they had public relations experience. The experienced counsel declined (you'll learn why in a bit). As a result of the experienced counsel declining they contacted me to ask if I knew of anyone who could assist them with fundamental PR and to make sure they came across professionally. It was very wise to recognize they needed PR assistance.
I immediately contacted my friend Paramjit Mahli of The Sun Communications Group who does this for a living, educating lawyers on how to work with the media, creating strategies and systems before they are needed, kind of like practicing fire drills before the real fire. They were scheduled to speak with her two hours before meeting their client for an interview at the local FOX station. The consult never happened because the client called them and told them she hired another firm with more public relations experience. The firm: the one the young lawyers had asked to co-counsel with them on the case. (We won't get into the actions of the other firm.)
What happened to these young lawyers is more common then you may believe. Cases which have media value and the ability, if handled correctly, to propel new lawyers into the spotlight and garner more business (or cripple their reputation) are quite common. Why? Because many of these newsworthy cases are clients with little or no money and they seek out public defenders or hungry young lawyers or those who will do it pro bono. A smart lawyer who is starting out today must understand they need fundamental knowledge on how to handle the media, especially today with blogging and social media permitting everything to travel at the speed of light.
This is why I encourage you to read Paramjit Mahli's Profiting with Public Relations, put it in your RSS feeder, subscribe to her newsletter and, hopefully, she will be coming out with a primer on the basics of handling the media in the form of a white paper or e-book.
Regardless the years of experience, every lawyer should know the fundamentals of handling the media. To help you get started, a one or two hour consultation with Paramjit is a very wise investment. And those who work with me know I don't encourage clients to spend money unless it is a very smart purchase.