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Survey: News Reporters Find Lawyers Unhelpful

News reporters who cover litigation say lawyers are not particularly helpful when it comes to helping them understand the core issues in their cases. Plaintiffs lawyers, however, are more helpful than defense lawyers. Asked which side in a case is more helpful to them, not a single reporter said it was the defense.

These are among the findings of a survey of news reporters who cover the courts. It was conducted by a New York City communications consulting firm, Montieth & Company. The survey may not be particularly bankable, given that of 301 reporters queried, only 43 responded. They are mostly from the United States and work for a variety of print, digital and broadcast media.

But its results ring true and suggest lawyers should learn to do a better job of communicating with the news media. Less than a third of those who responded said that the lawyers in a case were effective in helping them understand the dispute and the legal issues involved. When asked whether plaintiff or defense lawyers are more helpful, 38 percent said plaintiff, 9.5 percent said neither and no one said defense.

Notably, when the reporters were asked the one thing they would most want to change about the litigation process, over 70 percent said they would make it easier for the news media to access court documents. In written comments that accompanied survey responses, reporters singled out the federal court's PACER system as needing to be simplified and to enable nationwide searches across all venues.

Given that a communications firm conducted the survey, it may not be surprising that it reported that half of the reporters found PR firms "somewhat helpful" in communicating on behalf of the parties to a lawsuit. But only 19 percent rated PR firms "very helpful" and nearly 30 percent said they were "not helpful at all."

The "moral" of this survey is that lawyers need to learn to do a better job of communicating with news reporters. That means returning calls, respecting deadlines and speaking in plain English. Even when a lawyer is restricted from commenting on a case, the lawyer should speak to the reporter and explain that. The lawyers who shy away from journalists are the same lawyers who later complaint that the story did not present their side of the case.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on October 21, 2009 at 11:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)


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