It costs a lot of money to advertise and a lot of time to become well known as a Michigan criminal lawyer, or a Macomb DUI lawyer, or even a Michigan driver’s license restoration attorney. In fact, to become “known” through advertising, in any of these capacities, at least by the general public, would cost a fortune. As a result, when a case comes along and a lawyer is contacted by the media about his or her client, the opportunity for what amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars of “free” publicity presents itself. Without thinking, many lawyers will jump at the chance, often with a vague recollection of the notion that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” This is selfish and shortsighted thinking, at best.
If a lawyer’s primary concern is getting his or her name “out there,” then this is like winning the lottery. If, however, the lawyer’s primary concern is the well being of his or her client (as it darn well should be), then deflecting, rather than basking in the spotlight is very often the better, if not the more expensive choice. The inspiration for this article is the result of a recent case that came into my office. As I discussed the matter with my senior assistant, Ann, we realized that by doing the right thing for the client, I would literally be turning away an incalculable amount of free publicity. Yet it is precisely in my client’s best interests for this case to disappear, as much as possible, from the public radar.
Imagine that you are arrested for some kind of criminal charge, or even a DUI, and somehow or other, it winds up in the paper, or on TV. It doesn’t have to be a feature or huge, front-page story, but for some reason word of your arrest gets out. Immediately, people who know you start talking. Your employer may find out. At that point, what’s the best thing that could happen? When you really think about it, the best thing that could happen is for the whole thing to just go away. There is no way to undo the publicity that has already been given to the story, so what you really want is that no one else hears about it, and that everyone who already has just forgets about it.
That won’t happen with some self-serving lawyer yapping away about your case. No matter what he or she says, or how much he or she insists that you’re innocent, all the attention is just that- attention, and it focuses right on you. If you want a situation to go away, you need to make it go away, and the first way to achieve that is to NOT talk about it. Over the years, I have quietly been involved in many cases that have started out being watched by various media outlets. You wouldn’t know about any of them, and that’s precisely the point.
Beyond just deflecting attention away from a client, I believe in deflecting it away from the officials involved in it, as well. It is far better to handle a case when neither the prosecutor nor the Judge feel the weight and scrutiny of the public gaze. To be sure, there are some cases that will always hold the public’s attention. When a public figure (think Kwame Kilpatrick or O.J. Simpson) is in trouble, the media will follow the case no matter who says what. There are also certain kinds of cases that capture the media’s attention just because of the facts. Most often, these are serious cases. A particular murder, kidnapping, or even case of the church secretary embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars will sometimes be “interesting” enough to follow independent of anything any of the parties say about it.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that Judges are elected officials. So is the county prosecutor. As much as any politician wants “good” press, he or she certainly wants, more than anything, to avoid any “bad” press. Being seen as soft on crime is not a political asset. Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a Judge. When election time rolls around, do you think it could ever hurt you to be known as the Judge who is really tough on drunk drivers? Yet if your opponent were challenging you by claiming that you had been too soft on drunk drivers, you’d be stuck defending yourself. Looking at it from an electability standpoint, being seen as tough on drunk drivers is an asset, while being seen as too soft is a political liability.
Now, instead of being a Judge, imagine that you have, in fact, been charged with a DUI that made the Macomb Daily for some reason. Do you think it helps your case in any way to have the Judge or prosecutor feel like what they do is being “watched” by the press? Don’t you think it would just be “better” if your case was perceived as another garden-variety, almost anonymous, DUI? If there is any break to be given, it is certainly more likely to come in a case that no one is going to hear about, rather than one where the “break” has any potential to be a political liability for anyone involved.
For what I think are obvious reasons, I cannot go into much detail about how I manage to deflect media attention. Yet my job is to produce the best outcome, in any given case, for my client, and in virtually no circumstance is it helpful for anyone accused of a crime to have it, or any details regarding it, put back in the public spotlight. Again, the best thing you can hope for is that the whole situation just disappears from everyone’s consciousness. So maybe, at worst, a co-worker or neighbor hears that you’ve been charged with something. Better that they wonder what, if anything became of any such charge, rather than remind them of it every so often.
Once the story has broken, there is no way to take it back. Instead, the goal is to make sure the media loses interest. Going back the DUI charge that makes the Macomb Daily, imagine your neighbors talking a year or two down the road. It would be best if all that they could say about it was something like “Didn’t he get charged with a DUI a couple of years ago? I wonder what ever happened with that?” Contrast that with the same two gossiping neighbors talking, and one remarking, “Remember that DUI he got a few years ago? I bet his wife threw a fit; according to the papers, he got loaded up with all kinds of stuff and even had to go to alcohol counseling.” While neither situation is ideal, I’d rather be the subject of the first conversation rather than the second.
This is no profound revelation. You hire a lawyer to make things better. That means making the consequences go away. While getting your name in the paper, or getting on TV is free publicity to a lawyer, in most cases, it also keeps your client’s name in the press, and in a negative light, at that. That’s the opposite of making things go away.
On top of that, most lawyers say nothing of any value to the media, anyway. Stick a microphone in front of him or her, and the average lawyer will almost always say one of three meaningless things:
1. We look forward to the judicial process and the ability to show our side of the case. We’re confident that justice will prevail.
2. My client adamantly denies any wrongdoing in this matter.
3. We believe the evidence will show that my client is not guilty of the offense with which he’s charged.
When is the last time you found yourself utterly hanging on the words of some defense lawyer speaking for his or her client at the beginning of a case? I hate to be critical of my own kind, but most lawyers just go “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Ultimately the usual last comment you ever hear from any lawyer is a promise to appeal. And then you never hear from him or her again.
It would certainly be better to simply be forgotten long before messy details wind up stuck in anyone’s mind. People will think whatever they will, but it does no good to remind them of a regrettable situation. Accordingly, in most cases, the best thing a lawyer can do for his or her client is exactly what the lawyer will tell his or her client to do: Shut up. Whether it’s a notable criminal case, a DUI, or just a minor charge, the best thing to do is make the whole thing go away in every way possible.