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.