Lawyers in Atlanta: Deciding Whether to Speak with the Press

The morning Atlanta paper had a story about an investigation regarding alleged securities fraud in which a very good local attorney who I know was quoted.  That lawyer basically said that his client had not done anything wrong.  Good for him, sometimes an attorney needs to be proactive in defending his or her client, both from the investigation and from adverse publicity.

However, I have another matter where we convinced the government that they should not seek criminal charges against my clients, we worked out a civil settlement in which my clients agreed to pay money but did not agree they did anything wrong, and the prosecutors just issued a lengthy and over-the-top press release announcing the civil settlement.  My clients and I are trying to decide whether to make a public statement in light of this press release.

I have written previously on how the modern “press” often avoids its responsibility in such matters by simply repeating whatever press release is issued by law enforcement agencies and prosecutors offices.  Old-fashioned journalists used to try and get both sides of a story prior to publication, and a few of those reporters still exist.  However, in modern times that is becoming more and more rare.

Lawyers need to also consider the old “let sleeping dogs lie” principle when counseling their clients on whether to “go public” in the face of a government press release.  Sometimes, there is so much “news” that reporters simply do not write a story about each and every governmental press release.   The always-gabby lawyer who fires off a statement when no reporter intended to write a story seems to be doing a disservice to his or her client in this context.  The judgment call is whether to be proactive, or to ride out the storm.

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