Finding Your Edge with Legal Reporters

In my former life as a legal journalist, my days were often spent huddled over my notebook in crowded courtroom galleries, covering oral arguments or reporting on the latest white-collar criminal trial. You could also find me among the scrum of reporters in Foley Square hurling tough questions at the latest disgraced congressman, celebrity attorney or entertainment figure bolting from the Manhattan federal courthouse.

But as exciting as those days were, they only accounted for a fraction of the work I actually did. Most of my time was spent scouring the dockets, working the phones and talking to lawyers—all in search of the next emerging trend or hidden story to pursue.

Now that I’ve made the transition to PR, I am working with law firms and other clients to get those ideas percolating in the press. Here are a few lessons I’ve taken from my time as a reporter. While these tips are rooted in my experience reporting on the law, they can be applied broadly across industries and market sectors.

Always Be Forward-Thinking

Journalists are always looking for an edge compared to their competition. For some, this means breaking a big news story or obtaining that one important detail that no one else has. But for others, the advantage comes in being able to see what’s coming next. Be sure to talk with your clients about the key trends on the horizon, and game out how a story is likely to develop over time. These insights, paired with sound strategy and effective outreach, will help you and your clients establish strong relationships with some of the most plugged in and influential reporters on the beat.

Avoid Jargon

Journalists deal with a ton of jargon, regardless of what they cover. Whether they’re pouring over head-spinning legalese or translating dry government and policy lingo, a major challenge for journalists on a day-to-day basis is to find ways to turn often dull source material into engaging copy for their readers. As PR professionals, we should learn to be proficient in both languages, but always remember to make our pitches as plain and concise as possible.

Don’t Be Transactional

A favorite mantra of my former editor, this means that you should always be thinking beyond the business at hand. As a reporter, I was taught not to settle for the quote or comment that I immediately needed for a story, but instead always to ask the follow up questions—“what else are you seeing” or “anything else I should be aware of.”

Now, in my dealings with journalists, I try to anticipate those questions, while always being sure to ask some of my own. The more we know about reporters’ interests, projects and plans, the better we are able to serve our clients by proactively positioning them as resources and thought leaders.

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