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A disturbing sidebar to the story about accusations that Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein engaged in decades of alleged sexual misconduct features the performance of his former lawyer, Lisa Bloom.
Bloom, who resigned after clashing with the Weinstein Company’s board of directors, was recently exposed for presenting to the board a plan to undermine her client’s accusers in the news media by planting pictures and stories showing their chumminess with him.
Board members were rightly appalled. But journalists and communications professionals weren’t surprised. We’ve seen it before. This is what too often happens when lawyers pretend to be media strategists.
In a memo to the board that was leaked to the Huffington Post, Bloom criticized the “largely false and defamatory” New York Times story that broke the news about Weinstein’s behavior. She declared that the piece constituted a “violation of journalistic ethics.”
Bloom, the daughter of celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred – herself a publicity-seeking staple of cable TV news programs – portrays herself as an expert on media relations and a master manipulator of journalists. In fact, she’s leveraged the media in her defense of the accusers of Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly.
But in the Weinstein case, like many other high-profile attorneys who prefer to weave their own media strategies, she did her client more harm than good. And like more than a few of her fellow lawyers, she believes that strategic communications is so simple anyone can do it.
The fact is that high-stakes communications today is a complex undertaking that requires experience, sound judgment, and a thorough understanding of the constantly evolving news media and social media landscape. Most of all, it requires a healthy respect for the bloggers and news reporters who work in it.
It’s funny, but lawyers who tout the necessity of their expertise in legal matters are fond of using a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “He who represents himself in court has a fool for a client.” And yet, many lawyers think nothing of taking the controls themselves of a communications strategy in the fickle court of public opinion.
Some lawyers will only allow qualified mechanics to work on their cars and will eat meals at restaurants only where capable chefs are in the kitchen. But PR, they think they can do themselves.
The smartest attorneys I’ve had the privilege of working with know what they don’t know. When it comes to litigation communications, they understand that the stakes are extremely high and that truly professional assistance is required.
Do it yourself PR is a bad idea generally. But for lawyers, it can lose clients and sometimes even lose cases.