I believe a lawyer has a duty to advocate for a client in a court of law and in the court of public opinion.
I have long been an advocate for several high-profile clients over the years who found their reputations under attack in the court of public opinion by members of the media or "talking heads" who use the media as a forum to publish accusations or express opinions based on incorrect information, incomplete information or too often, no information at all.
These clients include Richard Jewell, falsely accused in the Olympic bombing, John and Patsy Ramsey, falsely accused in connection with the brutal murder of their six-year old daughter, JonBenet, and the victim in the Kobe Bryant case whose privacy was invaded and whose reputation threatened.
Lin Wood is a trial lawyer and partner at Bryan Cave, Atlanta. He has been lead attorney in several high-profile civil cases, including Olympic bombing suspect Richard Jewell the estate of Anna Nicole Smith, and Rep. Gary Condit.
I have counseled many clients with respect to a media strategy and assisted them in public relations efforts to clear their names and set the record straight.
I agree that too many lawyers are not "media savvy" and do not always consider the impact of their "legal" decisions on the public perception of their clients. But not every public controversy involving a client demands that the client speak publicly. The decision must be made on a case-by-case basis.
Lawyers Suited for Court of Public Opinion
I believe that trial lawyers are uniquely situated to advocate for their clients in the court of public opinion because many of the same skills, talents and tools that are designed to persuade in the courtroom are equally effective when put to use in "the media courtroom."
The truly wise trial lawyer must know the opponents' case as well as the clients' case in order to effectively advocate for the client. However, I do not believe that attorneys should be PR agents for their clients or publicly engage PR firms (other than to arrange interviews or keep up with media inquiries when the lawyer and client are in the middle of a media frenzy).
PR professionals are viewed as being charged with coming up with slogans or strategies designed to "spin" their clients' situation.
Lawyers cannot "spin" in a court of law or in the court of public opinion and any effort to do so will surely backfire as it will negatively impact the credibility of the lawyer and the client. In both courts, credibility is the key to success.
That is why I have characterized Tiger Woods' dilemma as a choice between "telling all" or simply refusing to publicly discuss issues that are historically and inherently private.
If a client decides to publicly address the accusations or speculation running rampant in the media, then the client must be willing to answer every question, i.e., "tell all." Selective disclosure is a recipe for disaster.
Celebrities Entitled to Privacy
I do not believe that celebrity status of a non-public official, however achieved, results in a right granted to the public and the media to invade the sanctity of a marriage or a bedroom.
So, my advice to Tiger Woods remains the same despite the mounting accusations against him and the continued media frenzy and efforts to uncover more alleged salacious accusations about him.
The core issues have not changed. These issues relate to his wife, his family and his private sexual life.
In my opinion, for Tiger to speak out now and discuss details of these private matters would not stop or alter the public debate, discussion or media frenzy.
For Tiger to speak out now would be a public relations disaster and he would risk being accused of discussing such private, intimate information solely to protect or preserve his public image.
My advice remains consistent, keep private matters private.