18 January 1999
The days when lawyers could quietly concentrate on client matters are long gone. The profession is now, more than ever before, facing intense scrutiny by an increasingly cynical public and an ever-critical press.
This is as true for City firms as it is for rest of the profession. With a number of firms reported to be under investigation over money laundering and links to organised crime and censured in the press over excessive fees and £1m salaries, the need for transparency in our practices is more important than ever.
Unprecedented changes are taking place in the profession, which are compounded by the clear intention of the Government to reform the law and the way the law is practised. And the industry's clients (including the Government as the dispenser of legal aid and buyer of legal services) and society as a whole are demanding greater accountability.
Fighting the profession's corner not only invites public scrutiny, but requires a willingness to answer and explain. This means that firms must have an open-door policy when it comes to talking to the media, even when the views of the press are likely to be hostile.
It also requires an awareness among firms, which must be shared with clients and colleagues, that part of doing the job properly will often involve running the gauntlet of publicity - something which should not always be seen as threatening. Reasonable journalists know when there are good reasons for "off the record" or "unattributable" conversations and there are advantages in discourse, if only to clear up misunderstandings that could potentially be harmful.
City firms often berate the coverage they get in the press, or the editorial line of certain publications, but getting publicity cannot be avoided. It is therefore better to seek to influence the outcome of press probings by advancing the positive and, as effectively as possible, providing explanations for the negative.
Having represented the interests of large corporations and defended in high-profile litigation cases, I have had a lot of contact with the media. I cannot recall a single occasion where journalists that I've spoken to have not valued accessibility and co-operation and, as a result, the published article has carried a balanced viewpoint which might otherwise have been absent. I have no complaints about being misquoted. I consider it the responsibility of the individual to state clearly what they intend to communicate, whether speaking on or off the record.
It was, of course, different a few years ago, but taking into consideration the media explosion, I very much doubt whether solicitors in private practice these days can properly serve the interests of their clients, those of their firm or of the profession as a whole unless they are able to cope with the glare of the media spotlight.
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