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How to Win Your Case in the Court of Public Opinion

How to Win Your Case in the Court of Public Opinion

When the local newspaper puts a story about you on the front page, this is media attention that money can’t buy. But the media doesn’t care about you—they care about the interesting stories that your clients have. The media wants compelling, news-worthy stories that will attract the most readers and viewers.

The free press is invaluable. You can use the press coverage to attract attention to an important cause, develop relationships with members of the media and gain valuable links to your website from high-ranking news media websites.  A well-run press conference is a win for you and your clients.

The Power of Public Relations for Lawyers

Here’s the problem: lawyers do not understand how to use public relations and publicity.  This is a huge missed opportunity.  Remember, members of the public will be jurors one day and their first impression will shape how they perceive every subsequent development.

What is a newsworthy case? You need to connect the theme from your case to a greater overall good. 

“This is systemic. Kingston Hospital has been doing this [failing to comply with requests for medical records] over and over again with people just like Sherry…and the hospital is stonewalling them just like they stonewalled Sherry.”

You cannot rely upon reporters to find your newsworthy cases. Your lawsuits will linger in anonymity unless you reach out to reporters, give them the heads-up and tell them why your case is newsworthy.

9 Steps for an Unforgettable Press Conference

There are 9 steps for running a press conference that will grab the media’s attention:

Step #1:Draft a Press Release

A press release should consist of:

  • A bold headline that grabs attention
  • A summary of the newsworthy case (5-8 short paragraphs)
  • A few quotes from you and your client about the case 
  • 2-3 sentences about your law firm
  • Media contact (your name, cell and email)
  • “Run of Show”: a mini-agenda for the press conference (e.g., names of speakers and times that they will speak) 

Send the press release to members of the media and ask them to call your cell for more information.  Always be available 24/7 to members of the media—you want them to know they will have easy access to you whenever they want.  If a reporter calls you, walk them through the facts in your case and share the most important points.

Step #2:Create a Media List

The media list should include the names, email and phone numbers of the reporters for newspapers, radio and TV. You can get the email and phone numbers of reporters and producers from the media companies’ websites.

The ideal media list consists of reporters and producers who have covered the same topic previously, and thus will likely have an interest in your press conference.  If the reporter has covered this topic before, they will almost certainly want to attend your press conference.

“You want to get reporters to know, like and trust you.”

--Wayne Pollack, founder and managing attorney at Copo Strategies

Trade publications, e.g., the American Association for Justice’s TRIAL magazine and the New York Law Journal, are a great place to start when looking for legal reporters.  Search the term, “lawsuits” and find reporters who cover legal cases. 

Step #3:Live-stream the Press Conference and Promote as a Facebook “Event”

Make the press conference easy to cover by live-streaming the press conference on Facebook Live.  

Promote the press conference as a Facebook “Event”. With a Facebook “Event”, you can invite up to 500 persons to attend your press conference virtually. Ask your friends and employees to share the announcement of the press conference on Facebook. 

“When you are in the news, people see you as an advocate in action. You’ve positioned yourself as an expert.”

--Wayne Pollack, founder and managing attorney at Copo Strategies

Hold the press conference at a media center with professional cameras and lights for a more professional setting than your law firm.  A media center is in the business of conducting press conferences.  This is worth the extra $.

Step #4:Bring Your Clients and a Guest Speaker to Press Release

Have your client and their family sit next to you at the press conference.  This is not a media grab by a lawyer, but a tragedy that affects real persons. This will make the press conference more interactive when you ask questions of your client during the press conference. 

Prepare your client for the press conference. If your client speaks, make sure they do not get into the specifics of the case. Your entire case can be undermined if your client speaks about liability.

Bring in a guest speaker who can address the key issues facing your client.  At the press conference on September 4th, we brought Melanie Carpenter, co-founder of ChartSquad, to lay out the chronology of our client’s failed attempts to get the medical records from Kingston Hospital.

Step #5:Tell a Story at the Press Conference

Don’t begin by thanking people for attending the press conference—this is a waste of time. Instead, grab attention with a bold statement: 

“As soon as Charlie’s doctor walked into the room, the doctor gave the news that no patient ever wants to hear: ‘I’ve got bad news. I think you’ve got cancer.’”  

Then, tell the story of what happened and why it led to the need for a press conference. Don’t use notes—look at the camera and speak from the heart.

Step #6:Hold the Press Conference Before Noon (ideally at 11 a.m.)

Hold the press conference at 11 a.m. when reporters still have time to get their stories for the day. If you hold the press conference in the mid to late afternoon, the reporters may be less interested because they already have their stories for that day.

Step #7:Share the Video on Facebook

Share the video on Facebook and ask your friends to do the same.  Sharing the video will increase the number of views.  Within the first 48 hours after our press conference on September 4th, the video of the press conference received 1,039 views on Facebook as well 63 comments and 6 shares on Facebook.

After the press conference, search online for mentions of the press conference. You will find that, even though many members of the media did not attend, they will watch the video and post a story on their newspapers’ website. Share any coverage of the press conference on your Facebook page.

Send a video recording (via a link) to all members of the media on your media list and ask them to call you with any questions.

Step #8:Post the Video on Your Website

You should create the web page within 1-2 hours after the press conference and share the web page via a link to members of the media. The web page should include the video and the press release.  This will generate valuable links to your website from high-ranking media websites—this is extremely powerful for SEO and internet marketing.

Step #9:Consult with an Expert in Public Relations for Lawyers

You shouldn’t hold a press conference without consulting with a public relations expert. This are potential ethical issues when it comes to commenting on pending litigation and you have to make sure you avoid defamation pitfalls.  

Wayne Pollack, founder and managing attorney of Copo Strategies in Philadelphia, helps attorneys engage the media in a way that is ethical, strategic and proactive.  Wayne helps lawyers create a media strategy, including ethics compliance and defamation avoidance, and the side benefit is that he will help build your practice in a way that is ethical and promotes our profession.

“If you are a trial attorney, that is where you can use the court of public opinion as a tool for your clients and simultaneously, use it as a marketing tool for you and your firm.”

--Wayne Pollack, founder and managing attorney at Copo Strategies

I would not do a press conference without Wayne Pollack’s guidance. You can contact Wayne Pollack at CopoStrategies.com.

Ethical Considerations for a Press Conference

There are two ethical considerations for a press conference:

#1:  Get Approval from Your Client: You need to get approval from your client before talking about their case. Otherwise, you might disclose confidential information or release private information that your client did not want to be revealed. ABA Model Rule 1.6.  Porn star, Stormy Daniels, sued her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, Esq. for speaking about her case and using her face and name without her permission.

#2: Only Discuss the Claims in a Lawsuit or Comment upon a Public Record: You should not talk about information or evidence that might not be admissible at trial. ABA Model Rule 3.6 (you should not make comments that have a “substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing” an adjudicated proceeding); see also, Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada, 501 U.S. 1030 (1991). 

The concern is that juries should not be privy to inadmissible evidence, e.g., that the victim of an alleged rape had a history of licentious conduct. When in doubt, you can always talk about the claims in a lawsuit or discuss a public record.

Look for Newsjacking Opportunities

Let’s say you don’t have any newsworthy cases. Don’t let that stop you.  Be on the lookout for newsjacking opportunities.  When you’ve got an interesting opinion on a high-profile case, call or email a reporter:

“Hey, just thought I’d share an interesting angle with you. This is how this problem can be avoided.”

There are negative connotations of lawyers as untouchable—become more accessible to reporters by reaching out to them.  Introduce yourself to reporters via email, and let them know that you’re available whenever they have questions about a case or need a comment. Never decline to comment when asked by a reporter.

Go Beyond Just Lawyering

Does the media influence public opinion?  Just ask the insurance companies who have convinced the public that personal injury lawyers are blood thirsty and our lawsuits are nothing more than a money grab by greedy plaintiffs. Insurance companies are masters of the art of public relations, but there’s no reason you can’t do the same.

And just think, a well-run press conference can get front page coverage for your law firm that $ can’t buy.

The Anatomy of a Press Release

This is the press release from our press conference for our class action lawsuit against Kingston Hospital and Ciox Health, LLC filed on September 4th. 

For Immediate Release

Kingston Hospital Sued for Preventing a Widow from Investigating the Death of her Late Husband by Demanding Illegal Fees for his Medical Records

Kingston, NY (September 3, 2020)-Healthalliance Hospital Broadway Campus—better known as Kingston Hospital—was sued today in Supreme Court, Ulster County for allegedly stonewalling a recent widow’s attempts to investigate the death of her late husband, including a possible medical malpractice claim against the hospital, by demanding she pay a fee for her husband’s medical records beyond what is required by federal law.

According to the lawsuit, Sherry Russell, of Woodstock, NY, lost her husband, Charles, on October 28, 2019, to lung cancer.  Soon after his death, Ms. Russell retained a law firm in a potential lawsuit regarding the alleged delay in the diagnosis and treatment of her husband’s cancer. Specifically, Ms. Russell believes Kingston Hospital should have diagnosed her husband’s cancer a year earlier when a chest x-ray revealed a mass on his lung.  Ms. Russell believes that Kingston Hospital neglected to tell her husband about the mass on his lung, denying him the opportunity for the surgical removal of the tumor that could have saved his life.

In connection with her and her law firm’s investigation, in April, 2020, Ms. Russell ordered her husband’s medical records from Kingston Hospital.  Under New York State law, the hospital had ten days to comply with her request.  Under federal law, the Kingston Hospital had thirty days.  But, according to the complaint, five months later, the Kingston Hospital has not complied with Ms. Russell’s request for her husband’s records.

Even worse, Ms. Russell alleges that even though federal law requires her to pay no more than $6.50 to Kingston Hospital for the electronic version of her husband’s medical records—no matter how many pages in total the records consist of—Kingston Hospital has directed Ms. Russell to contact a third-party medical records company, Ciox Health, that insists that Ms. Russell pay photocopying fees for the electronic medical records she is requesting.

“Kingston Hospital’s treatment of Ms. Russell here is both shocking and, as we contend, illegal.”, said John H. Fisher of John H. Fisher, P.C., and the attorney for Ms. Russell.  “Instead of simply following the law and directly providing Ms. Russell her husband’s records for the price of about a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread, Kingston Hospital wants Ms. Russell to pay possibly thousands of dollars in fees to a third-party medical records company.”

In her lawsuit, Ms. Russell alleges that by forcing patients, their families and heirs to purchase their medical records from the hospital through a third party, Kingston Hospital is violating a federal law known as the HITECH Act of 2009.  Under the HITECH Act, healthcare providers can only charge patients for the reasonable cost of providing their requested medical records in electronic format at the “Patient Rate” of $6.50.

“I’m standing up for basic rights that were violated by Kingston Hospital”, said Ms. Russell. “I have no other choice. I want to make sure this doesn’t continue happening to other patients and their families.”

The company Kingston Hospital has directed Ms. Russell to pay for her husband’s medical records, Ciox Health, has previously been sued over the fees it charges for medical records. An August 2019 class action lawsuit alleged that Ciox systematically overcharges for copies of patients’ medical records.  The allegations related to inappropriate charges by Ciox for medical records from July 2011 to August 2019. Ciox agreed to pay $35.4 million to settle the lawsuit.

“We’ve battled hospitals and doctors before over access to medical records, but in over twenty years, we’ve never been forced to file a lawsuit to gain medical records at a ‘reasonable cost’”, said Fisher.  “We are standing up for the basic principle that hospitals should not profit from the sale of medical records.”

About John H. Fisher, P.C.

John H. Fisher, P.C. is a medical malpractice law firm whose practice is limited to catastrophic personal injury cases in New York, Alabama, Connecticut and Illinois.  The core purpose of John H. Fisher, P.C., namely, “Stopping Medical Injustice”, has guided the firm since its inception in protecting the rights of consumers and injury victims.  

John H. Fisher, founder and principal of John H. Fisher, P.C., is the author of the best-selling books, “The Power of a System” and “The Law Firm of Your Dreams”. 

To learn more about John H. Fisher, P.C., you can visit www.ProtectingPatientRights.com or call 845-802-0047

Media Contact

John H. Fisher

jfisher@fishermalpracticelaw.com 

845-802-0047 (work)

518-265-9131 (cell)

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Have your clients been wrongfully denied medical records from Kingston Hospital or Ciox Health, LLC?  If so, please let us know if your clients would like to speak with us about joining a class action lawsuit.  We are in the process of certifying a class for the lawsuit and we’d love to hear from you.  Please call my cell, 518-265-9131.

Leave a comment below telling me what surprised, inspired or taught you the most (I personally respond to every comment). And if you disagree with my take on running a personal injury law firm, or have a specific, actionable tip, I’d love to hear from you.
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