Most of our clients are very familiar with our nationally recognized work in the fields of estate planning, special education, and higher education issues.
At first blush, the extensive experience of several of our attorneys in criminal law might seem to have a modest connection to our work in these key practice areas. However, in our modern society, issues of criminal law unfortunately often connect closely with every area of legal practice, including those in which we specialize and have the most frequent public recognition. For example, our work in estate planning frequently overlaps with matters such as abuse of vulnerable populations, including the elderly, persons with disabilities, and other fragile individuals; in some cases, family members have issues with the criminal justice system which must be carefully considered in developing appropriate estate planning documents, guardianship petitions, and elder law plans. Our special education work on behalf of children with disabilities often involves cases where our clients are the victims of bullying, harassment, and physical assaults which require protection within the criminal justice system; in other circumstances, our clients may be involved in truancy proceedings due to a child’s inability to attend school or may have other contacts with the criminal justice system. Our work in representing individuals in university discipline matters – either victims or accused – often involve collateral activities by law enforcement which must be the subject of careful coordination and analysis during representing of these individuals in these administrative proceedings.
The background of our attorneys in the criminal justice system permits us to handle cases which intersect with this system with a broad range of experience and insights. For example, Joseph McGettigan was the First Assistant District Attorney in both Philadelphia and Delaware Counties, and is nationally known for his successful prosecutions of serial child abuser Jerry Sandusky and millionaire murderer John EleuthereDuPont. Dennis McAndrews was a Special Prosecutor in the duPont murder trial, and served for over 17 years as a prosecutor in Delaware and Philadelphia Counties. Jennifer Bradley and Michael Gehring had significant, distinguished careers as prosecutors in Pennsylvania, and many of our other attorneys have addressed criminal law matters collateral to representation of our clients in our areas of expertise.
These extensive backgrounds in the criminal justice system recently led the national news media to request daily commentary from Dennis McAndrews and Joseph McGettigan during the recent criminal prosecution of comedian, actor and entertainer Bill Cosby. Dennis and Joe were featured in such national outlets as NBC, CBS, NPR, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, and many others, including local broadcast news outlets from Philadelphia, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and the Lehigh Valley.
Since its inception in 1982, McAndrews Law Offices has maintained excellent relationships with a great many members of the print and broadcast news media.
During the past 35 years, our attorneys and I have found journalists to be hard-working, insightful, and committed to providing news stories which are accurate, interesting and beneficial to the public. We have always been willing to provide journalists with the benefit of our experience and expertise in areas such as criminal justice, education law, wills and trusts, disability law, and public policy. We understand that journalists have a critical job to perform in our democratic, constitutional system, and that the work of a free press in informing the public is crucial to our national interest. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.” Of course, experience is the best teacher. We have learned over the course of our professional lives that connections with the news media do not happen overnight, but like any association, attention and effort must be invested in the relationship. Below are some of the lessons we have learned in maintaining good relationships with the news media.
- Reach out in advance.Where a member of the firm has experience and background which might assist reporters as they prepare their stories about a major news event, reporters appreciate knowing that an individual with expertise is willing to speak on the record about that issue to provide substance and direction in the news reporting. We all must keep in mind that most Americans do not have a law degree; therefore, journalists are often very appreciative to have the assistance of someone with such a degree and background which allows them to dissect and explain a current issue (news/ hot-topic) for the general public.
- Always have something highly relevant to offer.No one likes to have their time wasted, and news journalists are always writing or reporting to a deadline. As Hall of Fame broadcaster Richie Ashburn once said,
“If you don’t have something to say, don’t say it.”
- Stick to your area of expertise. Simply because you’re a lawyer or doctor or other professional, does not mean that you can talk on any subject within your profession. The world is highly specialized, and journalists need accurate and insightful information – not banal generalities.
- Before offering comment, do your research and your homework in advance. Providing useful and insightful comments to journalists is work, not play. And nothing is worse than being quoted in an article, only to have other more insightful commentators forcefully rebut your statement. This is also a proven way to cut off a valuable relationship with a journalist.
- Be accessible. Recognize that journalists have deadlines and require a quick turnaround on telephone calls or emails. From a practical perspective, if you are not accessible, journalists will work with professionals who make themselves available for interviews and respect the time-sensitive needs of journalists. If you get a call back from a reporter, be prepared to know their deadline can be within just a few hours. With the internet available at our fingertips, news is being published constantly, meaning, reporters want information as fast as possible vs. “in time for tomorrow’s newspaper”.
- Park your ego at the door.If a tiny, 1000 Watt ethnic station asks you for comment, treat them with the same respect and courtesy as you would a national news program. And remember- national news reporters started somewhere, most likely at a small radio station and they do not forget who respected their professionalism as they climbed the journalistic ladder. Finally, always keep them posted on developing issues that pertain to your areas of expertise.
- Assist the media, even if you aren’t going to be quoted. Journalists have a demanding job, particularly because they are expected to be well-versed on a wide variety of topics. Journalists will often call outside sources for background information to better understand an issue or a legal process, and it is important to be willing to assist them even when it is clear that the story will not mention you. As noted above, journalists will not forget the fact that you helped them when it was of no immediate value to you, and they will swing back to you when they need comment for publication.
- Be uniformly pleasant. If you are interviewed for a television broadcast, thank everyone, not just the on-air reporters. The cameramen, producers, and runners are all working hard, and they appreciate being recognized with a handshake and a genuine “thank you”. Ask all of them about their lives and families, as they are often called away from their loved ones and appreciate recognition for their hard work and difficult schedules. Working in the news media business is never a 9 -5 job, so keep in mind that they have a hectic workload that they endure on a daily basis.
- Always remember that you are not the story-EVER.If you are being interviewed, the purpose is to seek your comment about something much bigger than yourself, and a good journalist can immediately tell when a person being interviewed is more interested in being quoted than in helping the reporter and the reading and/or listening public in understanding the news event. Remember, if you are being interviewed, it is often because of your expertise, so there is no need to boast about yourself – you are already being interviewed for a specific and unique reason.
- Don’t hold grudges. The ebb and flow of news reporting will sometimes cause lengthy interviews or promises of interviews to be pushed aside, ignored, or forgotten. In the chaotic contemporary 24/7 news cycle, it is inevitable that interviews will fall to the cutting room floor. This is no one’s fault, but is simply a fact of journalistic life, and no one should ever feel disrespected by the fact that it happens from time to time. Everyone has a job to do, so remember that nothing is personal. Breaking news is out of anyone’s control.
- Stay in touch. As a final follow-up to Tip #1, there is never harm in reaching back out to a reporter or media personnel post-interview to thank them for their time and offer assistance in their future news stories. When it comes to relationships with the media, there isn’t success in being silent – meaning, it’s always important to maintain a positive and proactive approach to staying connected with the news media in an effort to assist them in relaying the most accurate news to the public.
High profile cases provide extraordinary and unique challenges for all participants-defense attorneys, prosecutors, trial judges, court personnel, witnesses, the accused, and the media.
Criminal prosecutions of significant cases are always stressful for these participants, as the stakes are high, with personal liberty and individual reputations in the balance in every such case. And when public interest in a criminal case is high due to the identity of the defendant, the victim, or the nature of the crime, the glare of public view and intense media coverage place all participants in a spotlight which raises the stakes and diverts the attention of the legal participants from the tasks at hand.
At MLO, several of our attorneys have worked on exceptionally high profile cases. Most notably, Joseph McGettigan and Dennis McAndrews successfully prosecuted the wealthiest murderer in American history, John Eleuthère DuPont, and Mr. McGettigan successfully prosecuted the most notorious child abuser in American history, Jerry Sandusky. Due to the unique nature of high profile cases, the national news media has reached out to these attorneys for comment and analysis on recent cases. Just today, Dennis McAndrews was interviewed/quoted in The New York Times, USA Today, and Penn Live, and Joe McGettigan was interviewed by the Washington Post.
Both Dennis McAndrews and Joe McGettigan were featured on multiple episodes on The American Law Journal, a program on the Philadelphia CNN-News affiliate WFMZ-TV, in collaboration with The Legal Intelligencer. Full episodes can be found here: